Category Archives: Information

What Is Brain Gym?

Brain Gym is not exactly a new concept. Like many of the concepts in education, it’s been around for a while and has experienced waves in popularity. Some might argue that its on the decline. But since I had never heard of it, let alone tried it, I needed to do some digging. If you haven’t heard of it – it’s new to you!

Dr. D and The 26

Brain Gym was created in the 1960’s by Paul and Gail Dennison. The concept was simple enough: 26 specific exercises are used as a routine. Depending on how much you dig, you’ll find that early marketing of Brain Gym maintains exactly what the brain implies. These are 26 exercises designed to stimulate the brain. Exercises like the Cross Crawl or Brain Buttons were initially said to increase neural activity or stimulate the corpus callosum. As a result, it was literally a Brain Gym – you were exercising your brain.

Recently, these claims have been diluted. Brain Gym is now marketed as Educational Kinesiology. The only reference to the brain seems to be more and more restricted to simply say that you are performing the routine in order to improve learning.

Gym Memberships

Like a lot of concepts or bandwagons in education, there are workshops offered. Brain Gym seems to be fairly regulated in the workshops that it offered. Braingym.org has a complete course listing for those wishing to get involved. Each workshop is part of a progression. Beginners start out at level 1 and can find an expert in their area who will offer a two day course ranging from $375.00 to $450.00.

Level 5 courses aren’t simply relying on the 26 movements anymore. Teachers who will be in Kuala Lumpur in December can take a level 5 course that seem to be based on art and visual skills.

If you’re feeling thrifty, you may decide you want to find one of those instruction books from the 1960’s or even a youtube video. Armed with those tools, you could venture out on your own and give it a whirl.

Decked Out in Lululemon

The brain gym routine of the original 26 is not meant to be an aerobically challenging activity. The point is not to exhaust your students, but to warm them up. The appeal of brain gym could include any number of factors:

  • Consistent routine
  • Responds to your kinesthetic learners
  • Organized activity rather than chaotic free time
  • Fast and efficient

Ideally the students would reach a point where the brain gym is an expected routine that provides the intended benefit to your students.

Further posts will explore what those benefits may be, whether this is all a hoax, and what benefits you can come away with.

Consider this your warm-up – now the real work out begins!

Theories Behind Brain Gym

 

Dennison, creator and founder of Brain Gym International developed the program based on three basic theories:

1.  Orton’s Theory of Cerebral Dominance:

Research developed by Samuel Orton during his studies in the 1930s explored the possibility that reading disabilities were connected to hemispheric indecision in the brain (Hyatt, 2007).  Hemispheric indecision refers to equal amount of skill in both right and left hemispheres and is often connected to one’s handedness (Mayringer & Wimmer, 2002).

2.  Doman Delacato Theory of Development

Doman Delacato theory of development uses neurological repatterning to rewire the brain in instances where an individual may have missed a fundamental stage of development. The assumption is that by mastering movements that imitate early developmental stages (eg. crawling), one is able to repattern the neurons to leave the child “neurologically intact and ready to acquire academic skills (Hyatt, 2007).

3.  Perceptual Motor Training

Perceptual Motor Training suggests that learning problems are the result of the inability to incorporate visual, motor, and auditory skills, and uses physical activities which require coordination of these sensory skills in order to improve cognitive functions (Hyatt, 2007).

The Claims Behind the 26

You’ve already seen a video in a previous post that walked you through some of Brain Gym’s 26 movements. Read below to see the purpose and intention behind each movement.

What claims does Brain Gym International make?

  • Enhance whole brain learning
  • Movements benefit every learner to reach their learning  potential

26 movements:

1. Cross Crawl- activates both brain hemispheres simultaneously; “stimulating both the expressive and receptive hemispheres of the brain, facilitating integrated learning.” (p.4)

2. Lazy 8’s-“assist in the elimination of reversals and transpositions in reading and writing.” (p.5)

3.  Double Doodle-“visual systems become more flexible and skilful” (p.6)

4. Alphabet 8’s-“to help students with dyslexia and dysgraphia” (p. 7)

5.  The Elephant- “helps the brain for listening with both ears” (p.8)

6. Neck Rolls- “encourages integrated performance” (p.9)

7. The Rocker- helps with “study skills, left to right visual skills and hand-eye coordination” (p. 11)

8. Belly Breathing- “remain focused during mental activity  or physical exertion” (p. 12)

9. Cross Crawl Situps- “a sense of organization” (p. 13)

10.The Energizer-“listening comprehension, speech, language skills” (p.14)

11. Think of an X- “teaches the whole brain to work cooperatively” (p. 15)

12.  The Owl- “improved focus, attention, memory” (p. 17)

13. Arm Action- “gross and fine motor activities” (p. 18)

14. Footflex- “back/front brain integration, expressive speech and language skills” (p. 19)

15. Calf Pump- same benefits as Footflex plus “ability to complete assignments and follow-thru” (p. 20)

16. The Gravity Glider- “reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, abstract thinking” (p. 21)

17. The Grounder- “memory, comprehension, self-concept, self-expression” (p. 22)

18. Water-“all academics” (p. 24)

19. Brain Buttons- “body coordination, consonant blending, reading support” (p. 25)

20. Earth Buttons- “basic metabolism, visual accommodation” (p. 26)

21. Balance Buttons- “decision making” (p. 27)

22. Space Buttons- “organizational skills, increased interest and motivation” (p. 28)

23. Energy yawn- “whole brain relaxation” (p. 29)

24.  The Thinking Cap- listening and speaking (p. 30)

25. Cook’s Hook-ups- “clear listening and speaking” (p. 31)

26. Positive Points- performance (p. 32)

Combining specific Brain Gym moves allows individuals to learn better in a variety of academic subjects.  These combinations focus on:  Reading, Thinking, Writing, Self-Awareness, Home-Study Skills, and Personal Ecology Skills.

The Benefits and the Research

  Let’s see…

According to Spaulding, et. al (2010), Brain Gym claims that Dennison, founder of Brain Gym, states it has a “sound basis in neuroscience”(2006, p.1).  Brain Gym International prefers evidence of the program’s success be derived from countless anecdotes and personal testimonies claiming amazing results by BG users. 

UshaGoswami (2006) explains that Dennison tries to convince the lack of research is the result of a “gulf between neuroscience and education”.  His seminars simply “bridge the gulf” while neuroscience catches up withdevelopment of criteria for identifying who could benefit from this program.

Kathleen Vail’s in the American School Board Journal (March, 2006) discusses the research connecting physical activity and fitness to academic success.  She states, “There is absolutely an association with grades and fitness levels…math in particular” (p. 31).  Furthermore, she makes reference to Brain Gym International as “exercises that focus, relax, and stimulate the brain” (p. 32. ) Within the article, author Carla Hannford compares Brain Gym movements with those of Tai Chi, that “twisting and crossing arms or legs…encourage the brain’s right and left hemispheres to work together” (p. 32).  She claims a significant change in students’ behaviour as calmer and focused.

None of the above examples are research based on the effectiveness of Brain Gym.  Actually this author was an unsuccessful at finding empirical evidence supporting Brain Gym’s claims.  At best, anecdotal examples referred to using Brain Gym strategies more for classroom management.

Hyatt, K. J. (2007, April 1). Brain gym:  Buildng stronger brains or wishful thnking? Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

Spaulding, L. S., Mostert, M. P., & Beam, A. P. (2010, March 1). Is brain gym an effective educational intervention? Exceptionality, 18(1), 18-30.

Usha, G. (2006, April 1). Neuroscience and education:  From research to practice? Nature Reviews Neurocience, 7, 406-413. Retrieved September 27, 2011, from http://www.nature.com/reviews/neuro.

Vail, K. (2006, March). Mind and body.American School Board Journal, pp. 30-33.

Interviews with a Brain Gym Buddy – Part 1

Interview 1:  Retired Teacher (10 years)

1)      When and how did you learn of Brain gym?

In 1991 at a teacher’s workshop in Calgary.  It was a half day of exercises that could be used for a whole group of people.  There were 26 movements we learned and then something called Balancing, but I didn’t use that.                   

2)      What enticed you to learn more about Brain Gym? 

Everyone was talking about it.  It was on the news.  Other teachers were using it and the kids loved it.  I remember there were three dimensions:  left to right, front to back, and top to bottom.  It got the whole body involved.

3)      Where did you access the training?

In Lethbridge, at a school, on a Saturday training.  It wasn’t specifically for teachers; I actually think it was for YMCA fitness.  My friend told me about it and I remember other teachers talking about it.  It was a really fun day and I know that I used it with my class right away, first thing Monday morning.                        

4)      How did you implement Brain Gym with your class? 

I did it with the whole class as a start to our day.  The kids loved it. Oh, and then I took 5 or 6 classes into the gym last thing Fridays and we did it all together.  I remember the kids rushing to get themselves ready to go home just so they could go to the gym and participate!

5)      What were some of the benefits you noticed?

The kids could focus and think better.  It was easy and we could do at any time, in any room.

6)      Do you feel Brain Gym met its claims of enhancing learning potential?

Well, I meet with a lot of resistance from some parents.  They told me I was practicing voodoo.  (laugh)  I stopped talking about “the claims” and we just enjoyed the process.  I hope people are better about it now.  I know who is still using it….R.F. in Medicine Hat.  Here is her number; I want you to call her and ask her the same questions.  At least she is still teaching and can give you more current information.

Interview with a Brain Gym Buddy – Part 2

Interview 2:  (presently teaching)

1)      When and how did you learn of Brain Gym?

I first was introduced to BG 20 years ago and I’ve been using in my classroom every day since.

2)      What enticed you to learn more about it?

I went to a workshop, I think it was only a half day, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I felt better; I was relaxed and stress free.  The person running the workshop had a pamphlet with information on how to become a trainer, so I looked into that.

3)      Where did you access training?

First I went to Lethbridge for a two day seminar and then I went to Calgary for a full week during the summer.  It was so interesting!  We learned all the background to each movement and why the combinations worked for helping people relax, or focus, or think better.  It really works!

4)      How did you implement BG?

I start my classroom day with a five minute routine called PACE, and then throughout the day depending on the mood of the students or the type of activity we are about to do.  There are 26 different movements and each helps a particular physical or mental state.  I’ll send you a copy of my handout I give to kids.

5)      What were some of the benefits you noticed?

Oh, there are so many…every child benefits in their own way. I can tell you of one student I worked with who experienced a severe brain injury.  After several months of practicing BG the child made tremendous gains in recovery.  The parents were so supportive and also went for training.  Also, if I have a child with ADHD I used the Centering exercises throughout the day.  These kids don’t need any medication anymore.

6)      Do you feel BG met its claims of enhancing learning potential?

Without any doubt!  Oh!  I forgot about the water; water is essential to Brain Gym.  It is the first component to PACE so all the students have water with them all day.

When you get the manual I want you to try the Quick Balance just so you can feel for yourself what these exercises can do.  I think you might be interested in looking up information about Comprehensive Energy Psychology.  It is relatively new and I think it is a branch off of BG.

Interview with a Brain Gym Buddy – Part 3 with Summary

Interview 3:  (retired one year)

1)      When and how did you learn of Brain Gym? 

Twenty seven years ago in Lethbridge; it was a half day workshop and I really connected with the instructor.  She encouraged me to become a trainer of the first level.  I remember being so excited and then I had to buy their book (over $100 27 years ago!)  Suddenly I was involved in a Pyramid business.  But, I didn’t care; I just knew this would benefit kids.

2)      What enticed you to learn more about it?

I knew it would work.  It just made sense, balancing the mind and the body to work together; basically the balance between the physical and mental states as one.  You could compare it to the Occupational and physical therapies our CARE people bring to the school.  Look in their manuals- some of the exact movements are there!

3)      Where did you get training?

Lethbridge was the first training and then I went to Calgary.  After that I went to somewhere in Toronto for a week; it was really expensive.

4)      How did you implement BG?

Well, I used it with my whole class first thing in the morning, or as a transition between activities.  I also identified a few of my kids that really needed interventions.  I made special time in their day to help them learn through the routines for their needs.

5)      What were some of the benefits you noticed?

Well, the behaviours in my room just weren’t there.  The kids loved doing it.  They loved coming to reading class because we started with our routine for reading.

6)      Do you feel BG met its claims of enhancing learning?

Absolutely, but can I prove it?  No.  I just know my own experience.  I think the company is not going to waste time with sceptics- it works.

Summary of interviews:

These individuals were obviously positive and convinced that Brain Gym benefited their teaching practice and helped the students.  They believed in this program as a support for all students and for their staffs.  Could they explain actual philosophy behind the process?  No, they encouraged me to find a training opportunity and were willing to give another name for a person to interview.  They found the movement routines easy to learn and facilitate in their classrooms butoverall focused more on classroom management or body breaks rather than for the purpose of enhancing learning.

Each individual commented, outside of the interview questions, that Brain Gym International was a business designed to entice new trainers to come on board.  The recruitment process could be compared to that of a multi-level marketing system.  The higher the level of training, the more money you made.  The more people you introduced to the system, the more money you made.  Even though they discussed that the business side of Brain Gym bothered them, they felt the program still benefited students.  This interviewer attempted to contact a representative from Brain Gym International to gain a better understanding of the business side of the company, but response was an encouragement to find and participate in a local training session then ask these questions after the experience.

Another commonality obtained from these interviews reflected lack of promotion of Brain Gym claims within their school environments. Each individual referred to the process as “breaks” from their curricular program, morning routine, or as a transition strategy.