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Brain Gym Lessons to Enhance Brain Function and Aid Learning

written by: Barbara Smith • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 1/9/2012

These brain gym movements will help children to improve focus, coordination, vision and memory. These are excellent exercises to be integrated into the classroom by teachers and occupational therapists.

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    How Brain Gym Works

    The brain gym exercises were created in the early 1970’s by educator Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D. and his wife Gail E. Dennison based on the theory that the human brain functions in three dimensions--laterality, focus and centering. Movements that involve crossing the middle of the body—such as when the right hand touches the left foot promote the laterality dimension. Exercises to promote focus involve stretching into positions while taking deep breaths. These movements are designed to improve attention and abilities to learn new information. Centering exercises such as “Brain buttons” are performed before reading or other visual tasks to relax the body and alert the mind.

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    Cross Lateral Exercises

    Cross lateral exercises are ideal for active children to perform at the beginning of the school day either in the gym or outdoors. These are simple free brain gym exercises that require no materials. Children can hop in lines, a circle or randomly as they touch the right hand to the left foot and the left hand to the right foot. This can be done as the child bends the knee to reach the foot in front of him or reaches behind to touch the extended foot.

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    Crazy Eights and Alphabet Eights

    Tracing repeatedly around a very large horizontal eight (or infinity sign) forces the child to reach across midline. It is recommended that they trace the shape three times with each hand and then three times with both hands together. “Alphabet eights” help children focus on forming letters and fitting them correctly in their spaces. The large horizontal eight is used again as children write inside the edges. Some letters are formed beginning at the center of the eight working from right to left. Other letters are formed at the center of the eight working left to right.

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    Exercises to Focus and Center

    The “Owl” exercise is an example of a focusing exercise because the child concentrates on breathing deeply while turning his head to the side and grasping the shoulder his head is facing. Holding two fingers under the lower lip while breathing deeply to perform "Earth buttons" demonstrates a centering exercise that can be performed anywhere, anytime.

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    Integrating Brain Gym into the Classroom

    Many exercises can be performed while sitting quietly at a desk. Children can be taught to engage in them when they feel their attention drifting or when they are feeling fatigued. Movements that take more space such as the “calf pump” where one leg is extended as the child grasps the back of a chair may require arranging classroom furniture to make space. Therefore, these exercises may be perfect to do as a group during a lesson break. Brain gym movements also provide opportunities to teach young children the names of more unusual body parts such as the thorax or pelvis, muscles and bones while also developing motor coordination and skills to follow directions.