How does movement influence how children learn?
Is our traditional approach to leaning stifling our children and even worse, the cause of behavioral issues? What can be done to correct the damaged that is a result of an education system that promotes children to be stationary while studies show that movement is essential to learning? Recent finding have linked movement to both cognitive skill and emotional health and well being. Children who have higher self-esteem are much more likely to learn better and also develop better social skills. I would like to introduce a recent movement concept called ‘brainDance’ that trace eight fundamental movement patterns to personal and educational success. The BrainDance integrated into a holistically based movement program enables both teachers and students to see the connection movement and dance plays in promoting a positive learning environment for all.
Every child needs to move through this ‘braindance’ in order to develop the skills necessary for the proper functioning of the brain. A baby in the first year of life, who takes part in these movements, develops vital brain and body connections. It is amazing, but by 12 months the human brain has learned 50% of what it needs to know (Perry, 2006). ‘Tummy time” is essential for children to develop motor skills that help to create synapse connection in the brain. Children who are restrained for long periods of times in car seats, baby walkers, and by other means may fail to develop important brain body connections. This lacking can represent itself in behavioral issues, emotional problems and other learning difficulties (Gilbert, 2006).
The good news is that many of these issues can be improved or corrected by cycling through the movement of the ‘braindance”. By going through these movements, a child’s entire disposition can be changed. The braindance can be beneficial to both student and teacher because it develops better behavior, attention, memory, eye-tracking, proprioception, motor skills and sensory integration (Gilbert 2006). Furthermore, the braindance can help alert teachers to students who need more individual help with developmental patterns or require specific movement therapy. I am very interested in how the BrainDance and movement in general connect with a child’s ability to be attentive and learn in the classroom. In fact, in my work with students with different developmental and social delays, I have seen improvements in particular areas with the continued use of the braindance. I am happy to report the improvement in focus and concentration I see in my class of seven to ten year olds after doing the BrainDance. The children really love it and I am able to accomplish so much more in class because I have fewer disruptions and behavior issues to deal with. Since the BrainDance is based on simple fundamental movement patterns, it is not only easy to learn, but also therapeutic and refreshing.
In order for the braindance to be effective, all eight movement patterns must be included and the sequence of steps should be done in order. Remember that these movements were accomplished in the sequence in babies first year of life. Leaving out any of the any of these fundamental will not produce the therapeutic benefits desired. I find that the most effective way to understand the braindance sequence of movements is to take at look at each pattern of the braindance and its’ physical and emotional importance.
The braindance begins with breathing. A baby upon entering the world immediately takes his first breath. Deep breathing is important because it calms the body and mind (Lamont, 2005-2006). For children with anxiety, anger issues, and other conditions this can be an important key to reaching desired behavior. The brain requires a large amount of oxygen; it consumes one-fifth of the body’s oxygen (Gilbert, 2006). All movement begins with breath so the importance of deep breathing cannot be overstated. Classroom teaches can use this with children either sitting in their seats or standing.
The next part of the braindance involves the use of touch. All body surfaces are to be squeezed, tapped, patted, and brushed. The tactile portion of the BrainDance it important for promoting positive behavior in students. A variety of different touching methods are used in order for students to experience both sharp and gentle tactile movements. This variety leads to bonding, sensory integration, proprioception, and appropriate behavior (Simons, 2003).
Participants move on from the tactile movements to core-distal movements. This movement pattern plays with actions that reach away from the center of the body (the core), and then return to the bodies core. This series of movement is experienced by an infant in the first year of life. It stretches out to attempt to connect with the outside world ant then returns to the safety of the pelvis and trunk. By recreating this movement students experience both interpersonal and intrapersonal connections (Lamont, 2005-2006). In other words, it a livens the student to be cautious of himself and the world around him.
The relationship between the head and tail, (the next pattern in the braindance) is important in basic movement. The combined movement of the two helps to awaken the central nervous system, thus preparing the brain for a multitude of tasks. Back, neck and shoulder muscles are strengthened. These muscles play an important role in seated activities such as book reading, viewing a screen or board, and writing (Gilbert, 2000).
Isolation of movements of the upper and lower body involves the use of grounding; one half of the body remains frozen in space, while the other half is in motion. Movement of only the upper part of the body is important to a child as he explores the world around him. When moving only the lower part of the body, allows for the ability to travel towards a desired person or object or away from undesirable ones. Furthermore, grounding helps to create emotional stability. We learn both goal setting and boundaries (Lamont, 2005-2006).
The concept of grounding is further explored when one side of the body is stabilized in order to allow for movement of the opposite side. The dominance of the opposite site of the body is felt and both the right and left sides of the brain hemispheres are strengthened. Additionally these body-side movements help to increase the child’s ability to develop horizontal eye tracking. This is necessary for both reading and writing (Gilbert, 2006).
Cross Lateral motion creates a spiraling effect for the body. It connects body parts from opposite quadrants, thus creating these complex three dimensional movements. By crossing through the midline of the body, both sides of the brain are connected through the corpus collosum. Cross lateral movements help to create higher thinking skills. This pattern in the brain dance can help student think of possible solutions to disputes and work and useful and practical solutions to problems. They also develop vertical eye skills used for reading (Gilbert, 2006).
The braindance concludes with the Vestibular System. The Vestibular system involves balance for the body. By repeatedly spinning, swinging, and tilting the body, this system is challenged and engaged. These actions help to shake up fluid in the eat that is involved with balance. By engaging in actions that stimulate the Vestibular System, eye tracking, hearing, proprioception, balance and coordination are strengthened (Simons, 2003).
Now that I have given some insight to what the braindance entails, let me now switch gears and focus on how creative movement and dance can benefit students in classroom settings. I have found through both research and observation that creative opportunities are greatly lacking from our schools. With standardized testing and the increase of homework assignments (many that are used solely for test preparation) there is little if any time self expression and creativity. Research is showing the necessity of movement as a means to learning (Lobo &Winsler, 2006). The findings further show how movement and dance can help students with behavioral issues, increase learning opportunities in the classroom, and help bridge the gap between particular movement difficulties and various learning difficulties (Gilbert, 2006).
Students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), suffer from the ability to focus and concentrate. These students often appear to be hyper active and have problems with sitting for periods of time. One might ask, what could possibly be the benefit of adding more movement for a child that is already moving more than is considered the norm? A simple answer to this question is that the benefits are astronomical. A child with ADD needs learning opportunities that complement his particular style of learning.
Howard Gardner proposes that there are different types of intelligence. Many students are kinesthetic learner; meaning that they are best able to understand by using the body. This theory that movement can change behavior was tested on a group of children in a Head Start program. In an 8 week period of implementing a creative movement program into the given curriculum, the majority of children had a remarkable increase in positive behavior (Labo & Winsler, 2006). This leaves the question to why such a program would be so helpful to children labeled as ADD.
One possible explanation for this is that these children are truly kinesthetic learners. Sitting for long period is not the way the best way they learn. Also, they were able to use their bodies to create in their own unique way. Creative dance focuses on individual expression rather than correct or incorrect answers. Having this freedom gives these children a sense of empowerment (Labo & Winsler, 2006). In other words, it puts learning in their hands. They are not simply mimicking the others of their teachers, but instead are finding the answers within.
Another possible explanation to this is from a biological perspective. Particular movements of the body play roles in emotions and behaviors. In fact, the simple act of watching dance can stir up various feelings and emotions. Our minds react in certain ways when we see particular movements. Furthermore, by moving out bodies in particular ways are minds can be simultaneously affected. For example, cross lateral movements of the body, connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain allowing for a higher level of thinking to occur (Gilbert 2006). Also, deep breathing, the first of movements in the brain dance has been known to calm both the body and the mind.
Movement and dance can be also be useful in the classroom setting. Teachers can perform a brief movement exercises prior to testing to help awaken the mind and help student gain the focus they need to perform their best work. They also noted an improvement in behavior after the students had completed the BrainDance. A music teacher in Minnesota reports that by taking five minutes at the start of each class to perform the BrainDance that she is able to accomplish much more than she ever had in the remaining twenty-five minutes remaining in the class. Students enjoy performing the movements of the BrainDance. Students report that the braindance makes them feel awake, ready to learn, alive, and calm (Simons, 2003).
One interesting feature of creative dance and movement is that it can be used to detect and help correct specific learning problems students may be experiencing. Reading is one area that can be connected to basic developmental body movement. A child that has trouble with cross lateral movements is likely to experience difficulties in reading because unable to track words on a page with his eyes properly. Also, this can clearly represent gaps in neurological development that failed to occur during the first year of life. Fortunately, teachers can help students with such difficulties, by repeating movements that require such coordination such as crawling and skipping (Lamont, 2005-2006).
Movement activities including the braindance can be useful tools for students and teachers to use in the school setting. Dance and movement can be a useful away for students to get exercise; and it can also serve as both a learning tool, and a means assessment. By using the braindance teachers can gain a better sense of the strong connection between bodily movements and brain functioning. Students can furthermore internalize dance exercise to help gain self awareness and confidence. I think in this age of technology that we need to strive to create a better balance in the lives of our student. To live up to their potential, they need to do more than simply remember facts and excel in standardized test. They need to be able to create, explore, and express. Creative dance that involve brain compatible exercise can allow a student to apply and develop skills in a supportive atmosphere. It is as good for the body as it is for the mind. I am hopeful as I continue my work as a dance educator, I am able to witness more in the way of movement and dance education. As the famous dancer said, “Movement is life, the more we move, the happier we are.” Creative Dance and movement serve as a the perfect testimony to support such a notion.