Monday, July 15, 2013

Backing Up to Move Forward into Lazy 8s

I worked recently with Carolee, a bright seven-year-old child, who chose to balance to improve her reading ability. As a pre-check for our work together she read to me from a simple storybook I had on hand; her reading was stilted and choppy, and she all but ignored the punctuation. She said she didn't like that reading felt so "hard," and wished it were easier. 

As part of her “learning menu,” she selected the Lazy 8s movement. This activity consists of repeatedly tracing a lateral 8, or infinity sign, with one hand, the other hand, and then both hands, while following with the eyes.  

This deceptively simple activity offers profound benefits. The Lazy 8s is one of Brain Gym's "Midline Movements," which Paul and Gail Dennison say were designed to "develop and support coordination of the two sides of the body, including the sensory modalities of sight, hearing, and touch."1 

In their book Brain Gym® Teacher's Edition, the Dennisons say the Lazy 8s activity is "known to help eliminate reversals and transpositions in reading and writing."2 I have certainly experienced this with my own young clients: in some cases, after just a few days of doing the Lazy 8s activity, reversals (for example, reading "was" for "saw," or writing "b" for "d") have all but disappeared. What benefit would Carolee experience?

I made a sample Lazy 8 on my whiteboard at about Carolee’s eye level, and handed her the marker. With her right hand (she’s right-handed) she was able to trace over my 8 quite well, flowing over it again and again. After she said that felt complete, I had her switch the marker to her left hand. These Lazy 8s were shaky, but essentially had the correct pattern.

Carolee's original attempt
at Lazy 8s
Then I asked her to hold the marker with both hands. This time, she started out fine, but after about three or four circuits of the Lazy 8, she could no longer maintain the pattern: she began tracing over the top of the 8, around to the left, down under the 8, and then up to the right, essentially in an oval, surrounding the lateral 8 shape. I just watched, not saying anything, thinking she would notice that she’d changed the pattern and resume the correct Lazy 8 flow. After three circuits this way without Carolee self-correcting, I suggested she pause.  

I sensed that Carolee simply didn’t have the concept of a Lazy 8 pattern sufficiently “in her body” yet, and that as she became stressed from effort, she lost the ability to complete the pattern. What would work to support her?

I have learned that children who are having a challenge of this type often benefit from doing what Paul Dennison describes as “backing up to move forward.” So I offered Carolee the option to experience an aspect of the Lazy 8s that I believe may developmentally precede drawing them: walking the pattern on the floor. Carolee said that sounded like fun and readily agreed. 

I took a long strand of heavy yarn and laid it out on the floor in a large Lazy 8 pattern, and had Carolee follow me as I walked this 8. After one full circuit, I stepped aside and she continued on her own, flowing around this Lazy 8 perhaps nine or ten more times, until it seemed to her that she was “done.” 

A Lazy 8s pathway
made with yarn

Carolee did well at this walking-the-8-line process, but some children have challenges with it. I’ve had young clients start out following me through the 8, but once on their own, and despite having an actual line to follow, they begin circling just one side of the 8, walking round and round a single loop and ignoring the other; or, like Carolee with her drawn pattern, they walk around the entirety of the 8, in a big oval.

Either action suggests to me that such children are struggling to perceive that the Lazy 8 has two distinct sides (never mind the more advanced concept that the two sides have mirror-image orientation). Perceiving these qualities is vital for easily drawing Lazy 8s (and, most likely, perceiving such things as the difference between a "b" and a "d," as well).

If the child experiences a challenge in walking the 8 pattern, and does not easily notice and self-correct, I suggest that we pause a moment; we may chat, play around, or refresh our PACE. When we begin again I gently coach the child in noticing that he's approaching the cross-over point, and in “flowing over” to the other side. The child may finally catch on and absorb the new pattern; or, it may be a slower process.

For a child learning this pattern slowly, this walking-the-line Lazy 8 may be all the new information his mind-body system can absorb for one day; he may benefit from doing just this activity for several days (or longer) before moving on (or we may "back up" to other activities entirely). But Carolee walked this Lazy 8 quite fluidly, and was actually drawn to take it to the next level.

I picked up the yarn and laid down two large plastic hoops. We talked about how to envision the Lazy 8 pathway flowing around them. Again, I walked the 8 pattern and had Carolee follow me; after one full 8, I stepped aside and she continued on her own, walking the pattern eight or nine times, until she felt “finished.”
Hoops in place for
walking Lazy 8s

Then Carolee wanted to do the next step in this pattern progression. I picked up the two hoops and put down two small orange “highway cones” where the centers of the hoops had been, and we talked again about envisioning the Lazy 8 pattern with the cones in the center of each loop. (Rather than cones, I could have used two of anything: books, teddy bears, etc.) As before, I began walking the pattern and she followed me; I stepped aside, and she continued on her own.

When this was complete, Carolee elected to take her learning to the fourth step. I picked up the cones, and told Carolee we were going to imagine the Lazy 8 on the empty floor. Again, I began the pattern and she followed me; I stepped aside, and she continued. She was very successful at this, and very happy that she could “see” the Lazy 8.

Carolee's Lazy 8s now
At this point Carolee felt it was time to return to the whiteboard, and I drew her a new Lazy 8 to begin with. She very smoothly traced the Lazy 8s, with her right hand, and with her left. Then she used both hands – and accurately traced the Lazy 8 again and again, with increasing fluidity and speed. She was delighted!

With this new learning in place, we found that Carolee was also “balanced” for her reading ability goal. When she read to me again as a post-check, her words came out much more smoothly; she paused appropriately for punctuation, and she read with greater expression. She said she felt happier reading. And now one of her favorite home pastimes is drawing Lazy 8s!

I invite you to experience these Lazy 8s floor variations. Please share with me what happens!

Side notes:  
• Yarn works well for the Lazy 8s pattern on my office carpet, as it clings to the pile and stays where I put it, even when walked on. Other things I've tried (ribbon, lightweight rope) tend to get kicked out of place. 

•Teachers tell me that chalk works very well for tracing out the Lazy 8s pattern on the (typically dark and firm) industrial carpet in their classroom: it doesn't stain, and can easily be refreshed. I recommend you use only the old-fashioned white or yellow chalk, rather than colored chalk, which may stain the carpet or come off on children's skin or clothing. 

• Some schools where I have consulted have actually painted a large Lazy 8 on the playground for the children to play on. Special education teachers or assistants may take children there for special activities; however, I believe the greatest benefit is that all children can come to know the Lazy 8 as they play on and around it, as they “get it in their body,” so that sense of lateral integration is “there” when they go to do more developmentally advanced activities.

• For more information about the Lazy 8s activity, please read the Dennisons' full description on pages 32-33 of Brain Gym® Teacher's Edition.

• You can also see the article I wrote about Lazy 8s for the Edu-K Update, at this link:

You can find this same article as “Appendix E” in my book, Educate Your Brain.

• In addition, if you’d like to make Lazy 8s boards (to be used for tracing Lazy 8s by hand), you can find templates and instructions at this link, on my book website for Educate Your Brain:

• People continually ask me where they can get such cool, colorful hoops. Sorry to say, I bought them years ago at a Dollar Store, and have never seen them in stock again  :-)

1. Dennison & Dennison. Brain Gym® Teacher's Edition. Ventura, CA: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., 2010. P. 29.
2. Dennison & Dennison. Brain Gym® Teacher's Edition. Ventura, CA: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., 2010. p. 33.

Copyright 2013 by Kathy Brown. All rights reserved. 

Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International
Ventura, California


  1. Absolutely fascinating! I am so interested to see how my little 7 year old does as she has trouble with reversals too and difficulty with reading.

    1. Please let me know how she's doing, now that you've had some time with the Lazy 8s activity!