Movement in the Classroom: A Closer Look at Brain Gym & Educational Kinesthetics
written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas
• edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch
• updated: 4/18/2015
Can moving while you learn allow you to better grasp concepts and learn more quickly? The theory behind Grain Gym says movement stimulates brain cells and promotes learning. Find out more about how this educational technique works.
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Stimulation of Cells
As brain cells are stimulated, they trigger a series of events that, in the simplest of terms, create a pathway for functions to occur. Different parts of the brain link to different functions of the body. Scientists have discovered that certain basic movements are necessary for the various areas of the brain to develop their functions. For instance, when a child crawls, the syncopated movements of hands and knees stimulate the child's ability to learn.
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What it Is and How it Works
Dr. Paul Dennison developed the Brain Gym technique based on the work of other pioneers in the field, in which repeated movements stimulate the brain. He found that the brain functions at a higher level and/or balances with movements that are taught to and performed by people. These movements or exercises are all based on the actions humans make as infants and children. Dennison found that by repeating these movements, learning becomes easier, especially for people with learning difficulties.
Therefore, by repeating a movement, the brain can be retrained to function at higher levels. As Dennison reports, this is not a new finding. Doctors and scientists have understood this connection from well over 80 years. For example, when a stroke victim goes to physical therapy, the therapists move or help move limbs that have become paralyzed by the stroke. The repetitive movements stimulate the brain, creating new neural pathways.
For children with learning disabilities, kinesthetic movements that are repetitious help develop the parts of the brain that appear to not be working. For instance, students become better able to control hand-eye movements after performing certain exercises. Additionally, students with writing and reading issues find it easier to write and read after practicing educational kinesthetic exercises.
Educational kinesiology improves the symptoms of two conditions found in many of today's learners: dyslexia and dysgraphia. What exactly are these conditions?
Dyslexia, according to Dr. Dennison is, "is an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read, write and spell in your native language despite at least average intelligence." The International Dyslexia Association defines it as "a neurological disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. Varying degrees of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing, in reading, in writing, spelling, handwriting and sometimes arithmetic.
On the other hand, dysgraphia according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities is, "Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting, and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers, and words on a line or page. This can result partly from visual-spatial difficulties: trouble processing what the eye sees and/or language processing difficulty: trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears."
The following articles will help clarify these conditions for which Brain Gym is used as a resource.
Educators should know that Brain Gym is a registered trademark with a copyright on their curriculum. However, repetitive movement using yoga or other forms of kinesthetic exercise have the same effect. Much of the research done by Dr. Dennison came from pioneers in the field of kinesthetics. These scientists realized that the development gross motor skills of infants and children were necessary for the development of the brain. Children needed to crawl because it stimulated other neural pathways that triggered speech and cognition. Therefore, many of the repetitive movements that help students are actually based on the movements humans make as infants and children. Take a look at the following articles for more information on using educational kinesthetics to improve learning.
As you can see from this guide, any discussion of Dr. Dennison's Brain Gym activities and lessons must have solid contextual information on how movement stimulates the brain as well as the conditions that are improved by the use of repetitive movement. Educational kinesiology is not a new field, as such, but the intentional use of it in mainstream classrooms is fairly recent. In the future, we should expect to see further research on the use of these techniques, along with ideas on how to integrate them into curriculum.