Wednesday, March 27, 2024

"Noticing" In Action: The "Learner" Is In Charge!

As someone who taught elementary school for 23 years, I can reflect on all the lessons I planned, all the decisions I made, about how and what to teach. I was in charge of my classroom. I had my kids’ best interest in mind, but I was the main decision-maker.

Imagine my surprise when, as I was taking classes in the Brain Gym® work, I realized that my approach was lacking a key element: allowing the learners in my care to notice what they needed, and make decisions for themselves. This was huge.

I’ll share this excerpt from my book, Educate Your Brain, that illustrates this point.

Noticing and the Learning Process

Many people are familiar with the concept that certain exercises are “good” for the body. It’s a common occurrence to go to a physical trainer and have him or her observe our physical condition and prescribe activities that will help build muscle.

With the learning process, however, the dynamic changes. While it’s true that certain movements help develop specific skills (practicing the Lazy 8s pattern is very helpful in developing correct letter formation, for example), when a learner feels stuck, the most important movement to do is the one he is drawn to.

Following a Brain Gym workshop, Carson, a special-needs teacher, couldn’t wait to include the Brain Gym movements in his work with children. He opened each student session with the PACE warm-up and found that his students were suddenly more ready to learn; it seemed to him that they began benefiting even more deeply from his other techniques—the ones he’d been doing all along with them.

But his biggest surprise came when he began allowing students to choose their own path to achievement. He and the child would identify the skill to work on that day, and then Carson would offer the child a list of perhaps ten therapy activities—always including Brain Gym—and allow the child to choose. Carson could not believe how quickly his young students began improving in core skills, as they selected one activity after another, essentially directing their own learning.

Carson wrote, “One day I was working with Jonathan, age ten, who wanted to improve his handwriting. He said that writing was exhausting, and it took him a long time to complete his assignments. The sample he wrote for me had small, cramped letters, reflecting perfectly the way his elbow was compressed to his side and his hand gripped on his pencil. Tension radiated from his shoulder down to his fingertips.

“I showed Jonathan a poster with all twenty-six Brain Gym movements on it and invited him to choose the one that would be ‘best for him right now.’ Out of all those movements, he chose Arm Activation, an isometric activity that releases tension from the shoulders.

“After Arm Activation, Jonathan’s writing sample was very different; his letters were larger, and his handwriting overall was more fluid. His arm was relaxed, and his hand had a lighter grip on the pencil. He said, ‘That was easier! Can I do this every day?’"

Later, Carson told me, “When I looked closely at myself, I realized that, on some level, I had always been focused on figuring out what was ‘wrong’ with kids and ‘fixing’ them. My biggest ‘aha’ moment was realizing that every child arrives at my door ready to show me what he can most benefit from—that day. When I support the child in noticing and choosing, and follow his lead, amazing things happen.”

I wish you all the pleasure of deep inner noticing about what would benefit you in this moment, now, and seeing what happens when you offer this opportunity to others in your care. 

And -- curious about Arm Activation? You can read about it in my book, Educate Your Brain, or Brain Gym® Teacher's Edition by Paul and Gail Dennison.

Warm regards,

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

1. Brown, Kathy. Educate Your Brain. Phoenix: Balance Point Publishing. 2003. 79-80.
Photograph Copyright© Kathy Riley Brown.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

"What Would It Take?" A Question to Expand and Focus Intention

I was working with 8-year-old Celia, who really wished that reading was easier. I asked her for a sample of her reading and she chose a book she had brought with her. She stumbled her way through a few lines: awkward, miscalling words, ignoring punctuation.

Out of all the Brain Gym® options I offered her, she selected a variation of the Lazy 8s activity—walking that pattern on the floor. If you are new to the Lazy 8s activity, you may want to check out this previous blog post before you read any further. 

For now, I’ll simply offer this refresher: Tracing Lazy 8s—an “infinity” pattern—is a way to cultivate the use of both sides of the brain at the same time. 

Doing this activity, the learner starts on one side of the visual and kinesthetic field, and flows across the midline to the other side, and back again, over and over. Someone with learning challenges will often begin this activity quite awkwardlyjerky movements, hesitations, reversals. 

When this skill is easy, automatic, and natural, all kinds of cognitive and coordination activities become much more fluid, even effortless. For example (and greatly simplified), once the two brain hemispheres are teaming more easily, the eyes team more easily as well, allowing them to converge on the same point (letter or word) and track correctly together (left to right) so that reading is easier. 

Over Celia’s previous visits she’d traced this pattern many times on the various Lazy 8s boards I had in my office, initially with some hesitation and a few misfires, but then mostly with success. She still was not automatic and fluid with it. 

Sometimes, what helps is to involve the learner's entire body in the process! By walking this pattern on the floor, they can approach it on a deeper kinesthetic level, by literally moving through the Lazy 8. Perhaps that's why Celia instinctively chose it. 

I began by laying out the 8 pattern on the floor using heavy yarn that would stay in place on the carpet of my office (larger than the one in this illustration). 

We stood together at the center point of the 8—the midline. I asked her if she knew what she needed to do, and she said Yes. Celia was an active child, constantly in motion. She was delighted to be moving! 

Not quite sure about the pattern

She quickly stepped into the middle of the 8 and began walking around the left-side loop. But—rather than crossing over to the other loop of the 8, Celia circled around that left side again! 

As she was returning back to the midline she slowed down, and then stopped entirely, with a puzzled look on her face. I did not tell her what to do. I asked her what she would like to do. She said, “Can I start again?” I said, “Yes, indeed.” She began again, with the same result. 

I got the sense that Celia had started the Lazy 8s pattern without focus, with no preparation, just launching herself into the activity. There she stood, approaching the midpoint of the 8, with no idea how to get from where she was, on one side of the 8, over to the other side.

Here I’ll pause and explain: Even though a learner may be able to see the entirety of the Lazy 8, when the brain is not sufficiently patterned to use both hemispheres together, there seems to be an interruption in perception of the whole pattern. They may get “stuck” on one side or the other, simply making circle after circle. How to resolve this? 

A key question

Again, I didn’t tell Celia what to do. I asked just this one question: “What would it take, to get from this loop, where you are, over to the other loop?”

She stood there, just looking and looking at the pattern in front of her. Then her face changed: I could almost see some part of her brain “switching on.” It took a moment, but she finally stepped forward and crossed the midline, over to the right-side loop. She followed it around and back toward the midline, and slowed again, and paused, and stopped, a confused look back on her face. 

I simply repeated my question: “What would it take, to get from this loop, where you are, over to the other loop?” After just a short pause, she stepped deliberately over the midline and back onto the left side of the 8. 

She continued walking the Lazy 8s pattern, at first slowing down each time she encountered the midline, but soon was on a roll: she wasn’t slowing at all, just flowing easily from one side of the 8 to the other. 

I said, “Let me know when you feel done.” She eventually stepped out of the 8, and with a big grin, said, “That was fun!” I asked, “Was it fun in the beginning?” She thought a moment, and then said, “No, but it got fun when it got easier.” She had a look of great satisfaction on her face. We celebrated with a happy “high-five.” 

Why this approach?

I am a firm believer in allowing children time to figure things out for themselves with a minimum of coaching. This requires patience. No micro-managing. Children are clever, and if they’re already working on something where they’re actively exploring and learning, I don’t want to get in their way. 

I didn’t tell Celia what to do. I didn’t point, or direct. I didn’t say, “Just step across!” or “Look, just follow the line.” If she’d followed a direction like that, she might have stepped across or followed the line—but she would have lost the chance to figure it out on her own, and truly make it her own.

(I always coach parents just to observenot direct or prompt their child—during a session. This can be challenging for them, as many parents are prone to jumping in to "solve" every problem their child has!)

Calling deeply on your own resources

So, what did I do? I asked a question that prompted Celia to expand her focus. She stood, and just looked. Perhaps she looked at this situation differently than she had ever looked at anything before. I believe that, in this moment, Celia was calling deeply on her own resources, below the layer of automatic impulsivity, to more conscious focus. The result was her own answer.

The thrill of mastery, through accomplishing something new entirely on one’s own, is a treasure. If I had micro-managed Celia into crossing that midline she would have lost the joy of discovery and accomplishment. I would have robbed her of that. 

Yes, sometimes a child needs a little support. I’ve found that, when they want help they’ll look up at me with a questioning expression on their face. Still, I ask what kind of help they want. Regarding a math problem, for example, I might say “Do you want the answer, or information on how to get it?” 

And if a child is truly struggling, I’ll know that this activity is not the right one—they need something simpler, a smaller component, a building-block for that activity—essentially “backing up to move forward,” as Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., founder of the Brain Gym work, would say. 

Back to Celia

After Celia fluidly walked that Lazy 8s pattern several more times, we went back to the book she had brought with her. She turned to the next page, which she read much more fluidly, miscalling only one word, and pausing or stopping appropriately with the punctuation. She was really pleased with herself. “That was easier!” she said. 

As her mother and I sat chatting, Celia continued to play on the Lazy 8s pattern. She picked up one of my Teddy bears and “walked” it around the pattern, saying, “….aaaaand across the middle to the other side!” Her mother and I just smiled.

In other circumstances

This same approach can be used in myriad other ways. “What would it take to…”

• make your “o” really round?

• see which puzzle piece goes in this space?

• write this word so it sits down on the line?

• kick the soccer ball into the middle of the goal?

• stack those blocks so they’re steady?

I have seen kids (and adults!) make amazing shifts when they call more deeply on their resources and adjust or focus their perception in a new way, inspired by being asked this simple question, and given time to process and figure it out on their own. 

Using this myself

Confession: I wish I remembered to use this same question more often in my own life! When I do, surprising things happen. What would it take to… 

• organize these tax documents?

• complete this list of tasks?

• get that new blog post written and up? 

And so on. Anyone, of any age, can learn to call on already existing resources and organize them in a new way, through a shift in perception. 

It’s just a question away—for you, and the kids in your care.

With warm regards,

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

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