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 awkwardly—jerky 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 observe—not 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,
©Copyright 2024 Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Graphic images copyright© Kathy Brown
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation • www.braingym.org