Brain exercises and physical coordination are benefits of physical education


Brain exercises and physical coordination are benefits of physical education because mind and body are connected. Certain physical coordination and occupational therapy activities support learning, especially reading fluency and comprehension.

This is why physical education is so important in schools and why physical coordination activities in classrooms can be used to organize the brain for reading. Scheduling time to get kids coordinated is absolutely essential to their learning to read and should NOT be left to chance.


SKIPPING

Generally speaking, children who can skip read better than those who can't. Except for a small percentage of the population, if a child can't skip, he can't read.

Why?

Skipping requires the right and left hemispheres of the brain to work together, the right brain controlling the left foot and the left brain controlling the right foot. Learning to skip builds connections between the two hemispheres across the corpus collosum which divides them. These connections, when established and strengthened by skipping, can then be used for reading. So skipping is really a brain exercise! Who knew?

Well, neuro scientists and researchers, actually, have known this for some time. But the message has not yet made it to everyone who works with children. Reading requires the same cooperation between the two brain hemispheres. To start reading a line of text on the left, the right brain is in control. At the midline, it must hand off to the left brain to continue reading to the end of the line.

Skipping is a critical skill for developing connections in the brain which may be used for reading.



Children who can skip generally read better than those who can't.




CROSSING THE MIDLINE

Reading from left to right also is hard for children who have difficulty at the midline of their bodies. It is also particularly difficult for

boys.

Occupational therapy activities treat such problems with specific brain exercises, and we as classroom teachers can help, too, using educational gadgets and toys which have children crossing the midline.

  • Laser tag - This activity was recommended to me by our school's occupational therapist. Working with a small group of children, give each one a laser pointer and ask them to follow your light as closely as they can with theirs. Move your light along the wall, up and down, for them to follow.

    Children love taking turns being the leader, and I have found it helpful if the leader uses a laser of a different color. (Mine is green.)

    Care must be taken, of course, when using laser pointers in this brain exercise! I don't have to tell you that!

  • Bubbles - Also recommended by our occupational therapist, this activity involves blowing bubbles and asking children to stand still and pop the bubbles with the pointer finger of their dominant hand (the one they use for writing.) This means they will have to reach across the midline to pop bubbles, which is the "point!"
  • Pick-up-sticks - A traditional game my children love to play, recommended by our occupational therapist as good for treating cross dominance.
  • Jacks - Another traditional game good for crossing the midline.
  • Clapping Games - These are similar to "Patty Cake" and with younger children, I just make them up to fit the rhythm of a fun song. (See right column for suggestions.)

    When done with a partner, the pattern should be something like "Down, clap, cross (clap hands with partner), clap, down" etc.

    Older students have a lot of fun making up their own and teaching their "moves" to the rest of us!

  • Energizers and Dances - Many of the movements in dances and energizers are done at or across the midline. These involve music and a steady beat, both good for learning, and hopefully you've already shared some of your favorites on the Music Education in Schools page. (I hope you have!)

    The Hand Jive is done at the midline, and it is one my students always enjoy. Varying the speed is a good brain exercise so we switch it up between slow, medium, and fast.

  • Crossing Hands - This is another activity suggested to us by our school's OT (Thanks, S.W.!!).

    Cut right and left hands out of construction paper and laminate them. Place them on a wall in such a way that kids can cross their hands and "walk" down the wall by alternating left and right hands.


Crossing the midline is an important activity for reading.



For more information and activities from an occupational therapist, visit OT Mom Learning Activities.


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Go to Physical Coordination and Reading from Brain Exercises and Coordination

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Other Physical Skills That May Help Reading

Jumping Rope - My experience has been that once children begin to jump rope individually with an established beat and a "double hop," their reading fluency often begins to improve in two weeks time. They appear to have more confidence also and both effort and participation increase.

Balancing - Balancing on a balance beam activates the vestibular system, one of the entryways to the brain. There is evidence which suggests that learning is improved when this system is activated.

Dribbling - Dribbling each hand individually, maintaining control of the ball while standing still, also may improve reading. Who knew? Well, once again - brain researchers did! And now - so do YOU!


Dominance

Of the struggling readers with whom I worked in Title I, over half were cross dominant. This means that their dominant eye was opposite from their dominant hand. This might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. It's a very BIG deal.

Children who are cross dominant often have difficulty reading.

Physical coordination work - balancing, skipping, jumping rope, and dribbling - and activities crossing the midline are all very helpful strategies in treating these difficulties, but how do you identify them?

Hand dominance is relatively easy to establish - the hand they write with is their dominant hand. But what about the eye?

The easiest and best way I have discovered to check eye dominance, especially with first and second graders, is to use a kaleidoscope. I first introduce the word, write it on a card, and add it to one of our word walls. Then I let them each look into it, carefully noting which eye they use.

After they have each had a couple of turns, I generally have a good idea of which is their dominant eye.

There are other ways to test for eye dominance, but this is the one that works the best for me.

Spinning May Improve Memory!



It's true! It is actually possible to centrificate cells into the outer regions of the brain where memory is stored. This may be done by spinning in the direction of the dominant hand. Read more at Memory Improvement Exercises