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Using their whole brain

Elementary school students in Marshall exercise not only their body, but their mind as well

February 23, 2011
By Jenny Kirk

MARSHALL - Kindergarten teachers from Park Side Elementary School know that learning requires the use of both sides of the brain, which is why they have incorporated a new program - called Brain Gym - into their classroom schedules.

During their Professional Learning Community (PLC) time, a number of teachers studied the concept and realized that they could help children succeed in their academics and boost their energy as well.

"There are some simple activities that create whole brain learning," said Lynn Paden, Park Side kindergarten teacher. "We're helping kids learn how to learn. We know it takes both sides of the brain and one of the ways to use both sides is to cross the mid-line."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Led by teacher Lynn Paden, kindergarten students from Park Side Elementary demonstrate how to do a hook-up as they follow along to the “Catch a Brain Wave” CD Tuesday as part of a movement-orientated Brain Gym program. Brain Gym is designed to stimulate brain power, thus assisting students in learning.

Four of the eight kindergarten teachers at Park Side - Paden, Sue Strautz, Kathy Orthaus and Erica Hess - use Brain Gym.

"This is the second year that Park Side has done this activity, but it's the first year for me," Paden said. "I knew I wanted to do it. I did my master's on brain development. They are unlocking and uncovering so many things about the brain. This opens so many doors."

Right away in the morning on Mondays and Fridays, the four classes join together in the gymnasium to do the brain activities.

"We probably spend 15 minutes from start to finish," Paden said. "We end up with a big group in the gym. Anytime you can get kids involved physically as well as mentally, it's a good opportunity to develop the whole child."

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the individual classrooms do some Brain Gym activities.

"Each of our teachers has a chart with the 26 activities," Paden said. "We use the activities with learning and in our curriculum. Five- and six-year-olds have a lot of energy and like to talk a lot, so this can help bring the kids back in focus."

A lot of the time, students listen to the "Catch a Brain Wave" CD while exercising their brain and body. Paden usually picks two or three other activities in-between the CD.

"It's a good way to get them up and going," Paden said. "It pushes all their brain buttons. We try to get the energy up. The kids really beg for it."

There are four main categories in Brain Gym activities. Paden said that mid-line movements help master sensory motor skills, like hand-eye coordination. Energy exercise movements help strengthen and support alignment.

"You'd be surprised how many kids haven't had a chance to develop certain muscles," Paden said. "Kids need the opportunity to work on those."

In addition to deepening attitudes, which attempts to restore a sense of calm, there are also stretching and lengthening activities.

"We do some yoga-type things," Paden said. "It helps moderate locomotor skills, like making choices."

In Paden's classroom Tuesday afternoon, kindergarten students moved their bodies to the Brain Wave CD.

"I like it," Samara Sumerfelt said. "I like it when I get to stretch my arms up way above my head."

A number of the kids liked doing the more difficult movements.

"I like it when I do the left elbow to the right knee," Jackson Lendt said. "I like to wiggle around."

"I like to do the touch my elbow to my knee," Karissa Talamantes said. "I like to sing along, too."

Talamantes' twin, Marissa, also picked the elbow to knee activity as her favorite.

"I like it because it hurts," Marissa Talamantes said.

Brain Gym can be used in the classroom to target specific needs, such as improved handwriting or increasing focus.

"One day I was having a little bit of a stressful day and one of the kids told me I needed to do a hook-up," Paden said. "We do hook-ups to calm ourselves. Another student was so proud to finally be able to do a hiccup."

Elmi Abdirahman really liked doing the big yawn.

"It's fun," Abdirahman said. "It makes me feel better."

MoniQ Tavares also felt better after doing Brain Gym.

"I enjoy exercising," Tavares said.

"I like that you get to kick and stretch," Alexsa Bednarek said.

While the students definitely seemed to give the seal of approval, Paden's colleague, Jake Hanson, who teaches at West Side Elementary, reinforced the theory behind the program.

"Some of the scientists don't want to buy into this," Paden said. "But it's research-driven. Jake kept a tally about the ability to focus and stay on-track. He did his master's on it. We all believe in the value of it."

After finishing Brain Gym as a whole group in the gymnasium, students recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Marshall Public School mission statement before heading back to their individual classrooms, fresh and ready to learn.



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