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Ask Susan

"As a teacher consultant I hear frequent complaints from other teachers that their students are always moving in their seats. Do you have any suggestions that I could pass along?"

Amy, Teacher Consultant

Dr. Dennison states “Movement is the Door to Learning”. This concept is supported by current research, which demonstrates the link between movement and getting information into long-term memory. I often observe students in classrooms creating their own movement opportunities if they are not provided in the normal class routines. Students will drop books, sharpen a pencil, lean back in their chair, wiggle in their seat or tap their feet as a way to keep them selves alert. The general movement rule to remember is that students will need to move every one minute per year of age. This means younger students need to move more often for example a 7 year old will need to move every 7 minutes for optimum brain functioning, and adults can only sit for 20 minutes before their brain begins to shut down. When we force our bodies to stay still our brains actually slow down. I call this the “screen saver effect”, because just like our computers need movement of the mouse to stay active, our brains need movement of our bodies to function at their highest level.

In the classroom have students stand often, take stretch breaks and incorporate Brain Gym® exercises throughout the day. P.A.C.E. movements, which I have explained previously, are always helpful as is the Energizer, Neck Rolls, Arm Activation, and the Elephant. Remember to keep their brains engaged in learning move often.

"As we start another school year it seems like my new students have more energy than ever and are having a difficult time settling down to learning. What do you suggest?"
Penny, 5th Grade Teacher

The start of the school year is such an exciting time for our students as they reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. Many times the students are still transitioning from “Summer Hours” to a school time schedule. It is therefore helpful to remind them to get to sleep earlier so they will be able to be awake and alert for the whole school day. The Brain Gym® movements called PACE will be very beneficial to enable all students to perform at their personal best. These letters are an acronym for the four states that support whole brain learning: Positive, Active, Clear and Energetic. We would like all students to be energized to learn, experience clear thinking, be actively engaged and maintain a positive attitude.

This sequence of four movements includes drinking WATER which improves the student’s ability to complete all academic skills, BRAIN BUTTONS which stimulates alertness, CROSS CRAWL which activates both hemispheres of the brain to work together and HOOK-UPS which encourages students to calm down and focus for academic tasks. PACE takes only a few minutes to complete and it is most helpful to complete at the start of the day and again after lunch. Your students will soon begin to look forward to these movements as they personally experience the benefit of improved performance in the classroom. As you use their energy in this programmed way you will see their time on task increase and the joy of learning continue. Have a wonderful year!

"My students have made so much progress this year doing Brain Gym® exercises daily in the classroom, what suggestions do you have to ensure they continue using these next year?"
Heidi, 2nd Grade Teacher

You are wise to support your students in maintaining the progress they have made while doing Brain Gym® in your classroom. The most important strategy is to review with each student two or three of the most beneficial Brain Gym® movements for them. You could provide them with a card with the exercises pictured and a short statement of the benefit. Examples might include; Belly Breathing – Helps you relax, Lazy Eights – Helps you read more easily, Cross Crawl – Helps you feel centered and Hook Ups – Allows you to calm down and focus. When students understand why a particular exercise helps them they will be more likely to use it independently.

Additionally, I would suggest that you make a copy of each student’s card to give to his or her next year’s teacher. This would allow next year’s teacher to know what Brain Gym® would best support each student and encourage their use.

You might also want to have your previous year’s students come back and teach your new students their favorite Brain Gym® exercises. They would become the “Expert” and would need to teach it correctly to the younger students, which is very empowering for them. Good Luck and soon you will have created Brain Gym® “Experts” throughout your school.

Ask Susan will return in September. Have a Great Summer!

"I have heard the term Participation Midline used in Brain Gym. Can you explain this concept?"
Jessie, Middle School Teacher

Since all of the activities that are done in school occur at the midline (or center of our body) it is important for our students to be able to work in this area effectively. Infants begin to develop their awareness of their midline when they bring both hands together to grasp a toy. Toddlers continue to develop bilateral (both sides of the body) movements as they master the skills of crawling and walking. School age students must learn how to use both of their hands, eyes, and ears together efficiently for reading and writing. The Brain Gym® Midline Movements assist students to cross the midline of their body and to integrate both sides of their body to improve eye-hand coordination and auditory skills. My three favorite Brain Gym® exercises for developing these two-sided skills are the Cross Crawl, Lazy Eights and Energizer. The Cross Crawl use whole body movements to prepare students for small motor movements like reading and writing. Drawing a Lazy Eight (or infinity symbol) improves eye-teaming skills and makes reading across the page easier. This can be done on paper or by slowly moving their hand in this figure eight design in the air and watching with their eyes. The Energizer improves the flexibility in the spine, releases neck tension and allows students to work more efficiently in their participation midline. As students continue to develop their sense of both sides of their body working together they naturally become more engaged in school activities.

"Help! The stress level of teachers and staff at our school are off the charts. Are there any Brain Gym® exercises that will help us get through this year?"
Jessie, First Year Teacher

As we face massive changes in education ranging from budget deficits, staff reductions, increased class size, and increased demand for improved student performance, teachers are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress. It is important for teachers to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and also understand the body's natural stress response so that they may take the necessary steps to reduce stress in their own lives as well as the lives of their students. Brain Gym® is very effective in this area and assists teachers and students re-establish a sense of safety when they are feeling stressed. As we perceive any type of threat our bodies automatically tighten our muscles in preparation for protecting or defending ourselves. Arm Activation, Foot Flex, Gravity Glider, The Grounder and The Owl are excellent exercises to lengthen these shortened muscles and restore our sense of equilibrium. These exercises can be done daily or more frequently whenever you are experiencing increased levels of stress. Breath is another important way to regulate our internal state and provide a sense of calm. Make certain that you take several slow, deep breaths throughout the day and incorporate Belly Breathing in your daily routine. Hook Ups is also a very effective way to bring the bodies energy back to your core, assist the muscles to relax, and restore inner balance. Holding your Positive Points or "emotional-stress release points" as Dr. John Thie in Touch For Health identifies them is very helpful to allow us to relax and calm. Remember if we are experiencing stress our students will intuitively notice and react making learning more difficult for every one. Decrease stress and you will automatically increase learning. Good Luck Jessie, this is a wonderful opportunity to model how to deal with stress for your students.

"As an administrator I am faced with both limited time and resources available for professional development for my staff. With so many compelling training opportunities available, why should I choose to invest in a Brain Gym® training?"
Paul, Elementary Principal

I agree with you that administrators must make difficult decisions with regards to beneficial professional development for their staff. Numerous potential topics will surface as you develop your unique school improvement plan. As someone who has worked in schools for over 40 years, I can assure you that Brain Gym® provides the "missing link" which makes available the needed foundational skills, which will in turn support all other school initiatives. I have observed teachers providing excellent instruction of well-developed lesson plans and yet their students did not absorb the content because their brain and nervous system were not fully engaged in the learning process. Teachers often remark that their students' greatest difficulty is with concentration and focus. Stress from many factors also hinders the learning of today's students. Brain Gym® provides the neurological understanding and the specific exercises to create whole-brain learning experiences that directly addresses these common classroom challenges and allows all students to thrive. Training in Brain Gym® will create those "Ah Ha" insights of why students are "misbehaving" and also provide the specific exercises needed for these students. Teachers will be able to implement these strategies immediately in their classrooms and will be confident that they can truly make a difference for all of their students and experience the joy of learning again. Best Wishes on a growthful school year and Remember…Students are 25% of our population and 100% of our future! Let's give them the skills they need to be truly successful.

"Many of my students struggle with handwriting when we begin cursive writing. Why is this, and do you have any suggestions?"
Monica, 3rd Grade Teacher

There are several reasons why your students find it difficult to transition to cursive writing. If you remember when you learned to write, you probably sat in desks that faced the blackboard. Many of today's classrooms have students seated around tables, with only some of the children actually facing the front of the room. This requires that the children observe the teacher and then rotate in space the images as they attempt to copy them on to their own paper. Previously, students also practiced their writing on a vertical surface and now most student work is done at their table. When a teacher gave the direction to start at the top, the students knew where the top was, now start at the top really means start away from you, and draw to the bottom, now means draw towards you. So often children who already have challenges with knowing their own position in space must learn to write following directions that are confusing for them. The writing samples that are printed may look correct however; often the students have not formulated the letters correctly so that their pencil placement at the completion of a letter is incorrect making it difficult to "connect" letters for cursive writing. As a result students will increase letter reversals and often used a mixture of printing and cursive within each word. Tracing the Lazy Eights for a few minutes before writing will support increased eye hand coordination, and writing practice using the Alphabet Eights will allow letter formation to flow in a natural rhythm. Have fun with these exercises and your students will soon remember the joy they had when they learned to write for very first time.

"My students have enjoyed our morning PACE routine, how can I incorporate additional Brain Gym® activities without taking too much time away from academics?"
Karen, 2nd Grade Teacher

The full impact of Brain Gym® occurs when students begin to use the exercises to support their individual learning needs in the moment. When your students can experience and notice how each exercise supports them in a slightly different way, they can become self- advocates for their own nervous system, and reclaim the joy of learning.

Encourage your students to incorporate Brain Gym® movements when they feel they personally need them. Many of these exercises can be done in their chairs without disturbing anyone else. Examples include Thinking Caps when a student feels they do not comprehend oral directions, Hook Ups when they want to calm and center themselves, and the Energizer when they feel sluggish and want to boost their attention to the tasks at hand. A laminated Lazy Eight sheet could be kept in children's desks to trace with their finger before any reading activity. You could also create a "Stand and Learn" corner where students could stand at the back of the room and do Cross Crawl, Arm Activation or Elephant for a few repetitions and then return to their seat for "Sit and Learn" time. Have fun as you expand your use of Brain Gym® exercises in your classroom; you are on your way to developing empowered learners!

"We are through the first marking period and many of my students still have challenges with simple organizational tasks. What can you suggest?"
Julie, 4th Grade Teacher

Many students continue to have organizational challenges through out their school years due to an internal need for balance. As I watch a baby learn to walk she stands and seeks her balance point before any movement or exploration can take place. This is referred to as the concept of "Stability before Mobility". As the child develops and gains equilibrium through her physical core, then her arms and legs are free to move and their eyes will work together centered over their torso. Many of our school-aged students who are "uncentered", distractible and unorganized are still seeking this physical and emotional equilibrium. Brain Gym® exercises can offer students of all ages a way to use their movement skills to gain an internal sense of stability. Once a student becomes aware of their own center of gravity as they move about their environment, they can then expand their ability to focus and explore new academic concepts. Brain Gym's Energy Exercises are specifically designed to support students planning and organizing skills as they interact within the classroom. Balance Buttons, Space Buttons and Earth Buttons would be of particular benefit for your students. These exercises will not only improve their organizational skills they will also allow your students to develop a sense of self that will be important through out their lives.

"As the weather turns colder, I am concerned that my students will be spending even more time watching TV. Do you have any suggestions?"
Laurie, 5th Grade Teacher

Yes Laurie, you are wise to be concerned about the impact of increased TV viewing for your students. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that students watch television an average of 3 hours per day, and the number jumps even higher if you count in video games. This research raises many concerns including the TV program content viewed, the decrease in physical activity, the lack of social interactions, and the overemphasis of two-dimensional images in the student's visual field. Since there are only so many hours in the day, it would be very helpful if your students brainstormed some alternative activities that they might do instead on sitting and watching TV. You could then do a survey each morning, and keep a tally of which activities your students participated, as a way to encourage new options. In your classroom I would emphasize Space Buttons, The Elephant, and The Energizer as Brain Gym® exercises that support the development of distance vision and peripheral vision, and provide a balance for the hours of near point vision used while viewing TV. Remember that while TV viewing can be educational, as educators we must assist our students to learn healthy habits for all media consumption.

"In Michigan October is MEAP Month, when a great deal of time is spent on preparing students to take the state assessments. Do you have any suggestion of Brain Gym® Exercises that may also help prepare our students?"
Kate, 5th Grade Teacher

Dear Kate,

Yes, Kate there are several things that I would recommend for your students. The most important thing is to encourage them to drink plenty of water, as all academic skills are improved when our brains are fully hydrated. Please start providing water several days before testing begins to allow their body's to become accustomed and it is no longer a distraction in the classroom. The following exercises will also greatly assist reducing the student's anxiety about these high stakes tests and will support memory retrieval:

• Lazy Eights
• Cross Crawl
• Positive Points
• Hook-Ups
• Earth Buttons

Remember a few moments of targeted movement just before taking these tests will greatly improve the focus of your students and will naturally result in higher student performance. You will soon be saying M-making E-every A-answer P-perfect !

"I am new to Brain Gym® and wonder if you have some ideas to start off the school year?"
Ashley, First Year Kindergarten Teacher

Dear Ashley,

How wonderful that you and your students will be starting off on this educational adventure together! As an educator, I have always felt like September was the start of the New Year rather than January. My first suggestion is to do all that you can to make your students feel welcome and comfortable with you as their new teacher. Then provide good classroom management by having clear rules posted and following them consistently. Both of these strategies will provide that sense of safety that children need to feel for true learning to occur. The following two Brain Gym® movements will also assist your students with feeling calm and balanced:

Hook-Ups – Stand or sit and cross your feet. Put your arms in front of you like you are going to clap (but miss) and overlap your hands. Interlace your fingers and place your hands on your chest. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Breathe slowly for 6-8 breaths. Then uncross your arms and legs and lightly bring your fingertips together as you continue to breathe slowly for 6-8 more breaths.

Positive Points – Gently place your fingertips on your forehead and hold lightly for 6 –8 breaths. Breathe slowly as you release stressful thoughts.

Most importantly enjoy your time with your new students; you have the power to transform their lives!

"My son has been using Brain Gym® exercises at his school to modify his behaviors with great success. I wondered if these same exercises may also assist adults? I sometimes have difficulty maintaining my self control when I am speaking with clients who are upset."
David, Customer Service Representative

Dear Dave,

Yes, Brain Gym® is very effective in providing the tools that allow adults to work with more ease and enjoyment. In his book Brain Gym® for Business, Dr. Dennison recommends three specific movements that best support you in maintaining your self-control during these though interactions.

1. Positive Points – The Positive points are located above the center on each eyebrow. Lightly hold these points on your forehead as you close your eyes and breathe slowly for 6 to 10 breaths.

2. Hook-Ups – Stand with and cross your feet. Put your arms in front of you like you are going to clap (but miss) and overlap your hands. Interlace your fingers and place your hands on your chest. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Breathe slowly for 6-8 breaths. Then uncross your arms and legs and lightly bring your finger tips together as you continue to breathe slowly for 6-8 more breaths.

3. Balance Buttons – Place two fingers behind your ear at the base of your skull. Place your other hand on your navel. Hold or massage these points for one minute as you breathe deeply. Change hands and repeat on the other side.

By taking a few moments each day to do these movements you will begin to notice that your ability to stay in balance in stressful situations has greatly improved. This will of course be to your benefit at work and also in your daily life, as we can all use more peace in our world.

"My students have enjoyed doing Brain Gym® all year in the classroom, and I would like to have them retain the benefits they have developed. Do you have any suggestions for them over the summer?"
Cindy, 5th Grade Teacher

Dear Lynn,

Summer is the time for fun and carefree activities, so tell your students to have fun with Brain Gym® the during their summer vacation. Make it simple and ask them to do just two movements. My favorite choices would be Lazy Eights for vision and the Cross Crawl for whole brain activation. Encourage them to use their creativity to see how many different ways they could incorporate these movements into their summer activities. You might even give a prize to the most original idea when they return in September. I have listed a few examples to get them started:

When you notice that some students are not paying attention ask someone to come and choose a “Brain Boost” card. Each card has a simple exercise or activity that can be done in 1 minute or less. Students could create the activities or choose some from the list below.

Lazy Eights:
• Draw in the sand
• Draw on cement with sidewalk chalk
• Draw with water from a squirt gun
• Draw with a sparkler

Cross Crawl:
• Cross crawl using Pom Poms to touch each knee
• Cross crawl while marching to fun music
• Do Cross Crawl while in waist deep water
• Do Cross Crawl while walking backward around their yard

"As the school year comes to a close the student’s seem to loose their focus. Do you have any ideas that would help?"
Lynn, 5th Grade Teacher

Dear Lynn,

Because holding one’s focus is so important for comprehension it is helpful for teachers to keep their student’s engaged in the learning process. As your student’s attention begins to wander insert mini-movement breaks to wake up their brain. Movement will alert the Reticular Activating System (RAS) which is located at the top of the brain stem and allows information to get to the higher reasoning centers.

When you notice that some students are not paying attention ask someone to come and choose a “Brain Boost” card. Each card has a simple exercise or activity that can be done in 1 minute or less. Students could create the activities or choose some from the list below.

These could include:

• Stand beside your desk and stretch
• Walk to the back of the room and touch the wall
• Do four Jumping-Jacks
• Do the Cross Crawl®
• Do the Elephant®
• Do the energizer®
• Walk around their desk like a robot

These short movement breaks will allow the students to quickly get back on task and will improve their overall learning experience. Have fun and learn more!

"Why do so many children chew on their pencils or clothes?"
Erika, Parent Volunteer

Dear Erika,

Children frequently will chew on items to provide calming input to their bodies, much the same way that adults chew on toothpicks or coffee stirrers. Chewing and other joint and muscle activity provides sensory input from within the body. This is called Proprioception. This term combines the Latin word “proprio” meaning within the body and the English word “receptive”. It is the awareness of our bodies that we register when muscles and joints are moved. You may have heard of the term “Runner’s High” which is the calming effect that long distance runner’s experience after running several miles. This occurs because as they run they are compressing their hip, knee and ankle joints, which produces a calming effect in their body. Children can also use movement activities in the classroom in the same way to help them calm down and focus on schoolwork. Examples of calming activities include: jump in place, push on a wall, carry heavy books, push and pull seat of own chair or push hands together. Many children also enjoy activities that provide deep pressure because they provide similar calming inputs to their body. Examples include: bear hugs, heavy massage, being wrapped in blankets, or having heavy quilts on their bed. So the next time you see a child chewing on a pencil, ask them if they would like a hug instead!

"Last month you mentioned that pre-schoolers were holding other students’ Positive Points when they were crying. Why would this help?"
Maureen, Student Tutor

Dear Maureen,

Have you ever noticed someone holding their forehead when they were upset or stressed? We seem to know instinctually that holding these points can have a calming effect on our body. Holding these neurovascular points as a means of stress relief was originally introduced in the Touch for Health program. To try this out for yourself lightly place your fingertips on your forehead just above your eyebrows. Then gently pull your fingertips slightly apart from each other. Close your eyes and think about what situation is causing you to feel stressed. The warmth and energy of your hands on your forehead will direct blood flow away from the survival center in your brain into the frontal lobes. Not only will you feel the release of your tension, you will be able to perceive new ideas and begin to think of solutions to your problems. This simple exercise allows us to move out of the automatic fight-or-flight response into a space where new learning can occur. You can also combine Positive Points with Hook-Ups for an even more powerful relaxation experience.

Many teachers ask their students to hold their Positive Points for a few minutes before any potentially stressful events like tests or presentations. This is an effective way for students to become calm and focused and therefore improve their performance. Also, because our students seem to be faced with an ever-increasing list of stressors such as performance anxiety, learning challenges, family crisis, economic challenges, and school violence using Positive Points as a de-stress tool is critical for their emotional balance. Incorporating Positve Points into our student’s daily activities is a wonderful way for them to learn how to reduce the negative impact of stress in their lives.

"Are the Brain Gym® Activities appropriate for younger students?"
Kristen, Kindergarten Teacher

Dear Kristen,

We often joke that Brain Gym® is appropriate for anyone with a brain, and we find this to be true. Pre-school and Kindergarten students will benefit from all of the Brain Gym®movements with only a few modifications. When doing the Cross Crawl some children will be unable to cross their hands over the midline to touch the opposite knee, and will instead touch their right hand to their right knee and their left hand to their left knee. We call this the Puppet Crawl, because it looks like a puppet where the right arm raises and seems to lift the right leg. This motion occurs developmentally prior to the cross crawl, and in time each student will master the ability to cross the midline and do the Cross Crawl correctly.

When doing Hooks Ups young students can just cross their arms and give their self a “hug”, if crossing the left wrist over the right wrist proves to be too difficult. Younger students often prefer to sit on the floor and several Brain Gym® exercises can be done seated with the students’ legs out in front of them. Gravity Glider, Balance Buttons, Hook Ups, Neck Rolls, Arm Activation and Foot Flex can easily be done seated. When doing Thinking Caps to focus attention on hearing, make your words playful saying, “1,2,3 now Listen to me’.

It has been my experience that young students learn Brain Gym® exercises very easily and will quickly remind their teachers to include Brain Gym® exercises in the daily routine. One of my favorite classroom memories was seeing a preschool girl rush over to hold the Positive Points of a crying classmate. This example clearly illustrates the benefit of younger students learning Brain Gym. They will learn which exercises make learning easier for them and it empowers them to use these movements to enhance their educational experience throughout their academic career.

"Brain Gym® seems to promote having water available at school. Why is water so important in the classroom?"
Nancy, 3rd Grade Teacher

Dear Nancy,

There are several reasons why water is so important for our students. Here are just a few:

Dehydration is a common problem that is kinked to poor learning. Two thirds of the body is made up of water. Because the brain is made up of a higher percentage of water than any other organ, dehydration takes a toll quickly. If we feel thirsty it is because there’s a drop of water content in the blood. The brain has already experienced this as a loss of attentiveness.

All academic skills are improved by drinking water. Water is an excellent conductor of electrical energy. All of the electrical and chemical actions in the brain are dependent on the conductivity of electrical currents facilitated by water. Drinking water promotes the storage and retrieval of information. With adequate water the brain can focus and process information faster for high level reasoning. Water is vital before test taking. Encourage your students to think of water as one of their most important ‘tools’ for school.


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