Thursday, July 21, 2016

Priming the Brain with Movement: The Power of PACE in a Special Ed Classroom

In this posting I'm revisiting a story I shared a number of years ago, as an answer to the question, "Just what can a few Brain Gym movements possibly do?" The "PACE" portion of this story also appeared in my book, Educate Your Brain, in Chapter 6, "PACE: Bringing It All Together." 

The simplicity of PACE can be a bit deceptive. PACE, like all of Brain Gym®, is not costly, time-consuming, or elaborate; it is easy to learn and requires no special equipment. In just a few moments, the basics can be implemented right where you work, study, or play every day. For these very reasons, some people say it looks too simple to be doing anything. "Elegantly simple" is the phrase that Carla Hannaford, neurobiologist and author of Smart Moves, uses to characterize it.

Doing the four movements of PACE helps us find our own unique timing and flow - described by the Dennisons[1] as "the relaxed, unstressed, self-initiated pace that allows for optimal learning."[2] As we settle in to our own best pace for living, we give ourselves permission to slow down and become present. Then we can give our best to whatever we do.

When we make PACE a daily practice, we remind ourselves again and again about how to be in our best rhythm for learning and moving. People who use PACE regularly will tell you how well it works, no matter their age or ability level. Here's the story of an impressive shift experienced by a group of children with learning challenges:

I was invited recently to do some demonstration work in the special-education classroom of an elementary school. The teacher, Mrs. Cole, had heard about Brain Gym and was interested to see it at work.

When I arrived, she was engaged with a group of third- and fourth-grade students who have a variety of learning challenges. Their labels included such things as low IQ, severely learning disabled, minimally mentally retarded, and fetal alcohol syndrome. As much as this teacher cared, and as hard as she worked to draw out their best, these children learned very slowly. Two boys in particular, Brandon and Cody, found certain aspects of learning very challenging. Brandon, diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, had never left spaces between the words he wrote in a sentence without direct coaching. And Cody, who was labeled minimally mentally retarded, had struggled with letter size and formation for years. These boys had improved only moderately over the two years they'd spent getting special help from this very skilled and caring teacher. 

I introduced the PACE process to the group and, with the fun and giggles that truly engage young children, had them do all the steps with me. The children were very cooperative and enthusiastic - and very awkward in their movements. Many had significant difficulty in accomplishing the Cross Crawl, as is often the case with learning-challenged children. The entire process of explaining, demonstrating, and doing the movements took about 20 minutes.

Mrs. Cole handed out paper so each child could write me a thank-you note, which became that day's writing lesson. The room became pin-drop quiet as twelve heads bent over desktops and much writing appeared on paper, with remarkably good spelling and few requests for help. Mrs. Cole surveyed the students’ work with an amazed look on her face. She sat next to Cody and asked him, “Do you notice anything different about your writing?” He replied, “Yes - it’s good! The letters are all the right size!”

Then looking at Brandon’s paper, Mrs. Cole was stunned to see that, for the first time ever, all of his letters were actually written on the line, and he had put spaces between his words. Not only that, but he was writing and writing, sentence after coherent sentence - this, from a boy who’d never written more than a line to two without help. 

Tracing Lazy 8s
I still had a bit of time left, so I taught the children Lazy Eights and then Double Doodle. Many had significant difficulty with these, as well. Mrs. Cole passed out white paper so they could Double Doodle with crayons. Brandon started with Double Doodle and then (believe it or not) began drawing superimposed Lazy Eights simultaneously with each hand going in the opposite direction. I have no idea how he contrived to accomplish this so smoothly, as he has very significant midline issues. Capable people have a hard time doing this!

The Double Doodle
Brandon kept at this, with total focus, for a full five minutes. Beside him, Cody did side-by-side Double Doodle circles over and over and over with deep concentration. Mrs. Cole couldn't believe how focused they stayed on this task. She said, “Do kids tend to really apply themselves to things like this that are good for them?”

The group left when class ended, but Brandon stayed behind. He wanted to read to us. This is the boy who’d made little academic growth over the last two years.

Brandon picked up a book and read fluently. He attempted words he'd never tried before, sounded out words with only a bit of help, and paused or stopped appropriately at all the punctuation. He began his reading as he’d always done, holding a card under each line of print to help him focus on just one line of print at a time. After about two paragraphs he set the card aside and used just his finger under each word -- and then he used nothing at all, reading just fine.

All of this after “just” PACE, Lazy Eights and Double Doodle! I actually thought Mrs. Cole was going to cry watching him read - finally. The entire time I was there, her face was a study as she watched all these children do so many things so well.

By the time I left, Mrs. Cole had copied my PACE instructions off the board, made a simple poster chart of them, and hung it on the wall. She said, “We're doing this every day from now on!” 

She was as good as her word. The next day, she had water bottles for all her students and led them in PACE. Before long, the children began automatically getting drinks of water when they arrived and working out a system so everyone could have his or her turn leading the group in the movements. Major changes began appearing in the achievement of almost every child in the group. This teacher was amazed to see how much difference just a little integrating movement had made for each of these very special learners.

If you'd like to find out more about the Brain Gym® program and how it can support change in many different ways, I have some suggestions. 

• You could read about it. Allow me to recommend the book I authored, specifically to introduce people to Brain Gym: Educate Your Brain. Click here to learn more, or to buy your own copy. (Note: The first chapters of this book are an in-depth explanation of the elements that go into this PACE warm-up. 

• You could experience the Brain Gym balance process! Schedule a private session with a consultant near you. The Brain Gym website offers information about consultants around the world. If you live in the Phoenix area or plan to visit, I'll be happy to schedule a session with you in my own office. 

• You could participate in a Brain Gym® 101 course, and learn how to facilitate this amazing process, to support yourself in making changes you'd like to see in your own life, and in supporting others as well. Consultants around the world offer the BG101 course. You're welcome to take my upcoming BG101 course in Phoenix: November 11-12-13, 2016. I'll soon have courses posted for 2017, also. Click here for my web page on the BG101 course. To stay updated on course offerings, you can subscribe at this link

A new way of moving through life, for yourself or for those you care for, could just be a few moments away! 

Wishing you all the best -


Kathy Brown, M.Ed.
Educational Kinesiologist
Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant
Author of Educate Your Brain

[1] Co-founders of the Brain Gym® program Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D. and Gail E. Dennison
[2] Dennison, Paul E. and Gail E. Dennison. The Brain Gym® Teacher's Edition, 27. 

Original story Copyright© 2000 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved
©Copyright 2016 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
All photographs Copyright© Laird Brown Photography. All rights reserved. 
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation 
Ventura, CA  •
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