Movement refines and speeds up not only proprioceptive processing, but also auditory processing, visual processing and the integration of all three to produce balanced, calmer individuals who are more proficient in reading, spelling, math and writing.
Setting up movement stations in your own classroom or an empty room (that can be shared with other classes) is an ideal way to allow children to take a break, move, stimulate all necessary sensory systems while at the same time allowing the brain to practice and process what they are learning in the classroom. You may choose to have stations that only focus on movement, or intersperse them with quick academic stations, such as math and reading practice. This will allow students to access and use the entire brain while engaging in math or reading exercises.
There are a few commercial and non-profit programs, such as the Minnesota Learning Resource Center, and Ready Bodies Learning Minds, that encourage the use movement stations as a way to enhance brain and motor development. The testimonials found on their websites, from occupational therapists, speech pathologists, physical therapists, parents, and others, attest to huge gains seen in children after 6-9 months. One of these testimonies was from a speech pathologist who worked at a neighboring school of mine. In fact, she was instrumental in inspiring and guiding me to incorporate movement into my math program. After going to a 3-day workshop, she set up and incorporated the use of the movement room into her therapy sessions. She said that that year she did not actually put much focus on the articulation goals, but emphasized the movement, and she had never seen as much progress before. For the first time, all her students met all of their speech goals, including the controlled /r/ sound, which can be quite difficult for children to master.
A couple of years ago I became very serious in embedding the movement stations into my math program. I assessed all my students in both their developmental math level as well as their motor skills, both at the beginning and at the end of the year. I found that there seemed to be a correlation between the gains in motor skills and increase in developmental level in mathematics. Some of the students were being monitored by the school’s student study team and were able to be discontinued by the end of the year. Some students made dramatic increases, many others moderate, and to be honest, a couple made very little to no progress at all. I believe that the movements not only addressed their physiological needs, such as an impaired vestibular system and many un-integrated reflexes, but it also allowed the students to be more open to the mathematics.
An empty classroom can be easily converted into a movement room, which not only focuses on movements that encourage sensory integration and motor development, but that incorporates practice of math skills as well. If an entire room cannot be spared, stations can still be set up within a classroom, outside or perhaps a shared area such as a loft, hallway or cafeteria. Most of the materials probably already reside within your school walls, many in the PE room.
Below is an example list of stations and directions of use. Some only target movement and others only target math skills, but most integrate the two (note: in this example, I do not include stations for reading). Set up as many stations as your space allows, whether just 4 or 15 stations. The key is that the stations vary in purpose. Try to have at least one which targets the vestibular system, tactile & proprioception, visual system, and bilateral integration. Modify the activities to meet the needs of your particular students and be sure to update them periodically to keep them sufficiently challenged, which will in turn stimulate brain growth and strengthen connections.
Equipment used in the described stations are: 12 foot balance beam (single board can be used too), polyspots, small wooden stepping stool, two large gym mats, creeptrack (made with clear plastic shower curtain and transparent pockets), rebounder, pocket charts, sentence strips, white board, boxes, clothespins, solid small ¾” wooden cubes, sticky Velcro, and electrical tape. With the exception of a few items, such as the mats and balance beams, most of the materials are commonly found in a classroom or easily purchased at a local store.
The stations are organized as a circuit and students rotate through them as many times as time permits. The goal is not to be fast, but to do the activities with precision and for students to focus on their bodies. When they are stuck behind one another, they must do a movement like cross crawls (marching and touching their knee with their opposite hand) while skip counting as they are waiting, so their brain is continually working.
When treated like a circuit, where students move from one to the other until complete, movement stations tend to work best with a small group of students (up to about 6). However, entire classes may also participate, but rather than rotate through all the stations, it has proven to be more manageable if the stations are grouped into two or three and a set amount of students (like 5) move through those two stations over and over in a two minute period. After the two minutes, the groups rotate. A total of 10 stations, for example might be broken into five groups. At two minutes per group, that would be approximately 10 minutes for one full rotation.
If you choose to establish stations within your classroom, then you could have it run during centers time with one small group on the circuit, or simply when you see a student who needs a mental break, send him to one station and have him re-join the group when ready. Even setting up one corner of your classroom as a “relax and reorganize” corner where there may be a menu of movements, trampoline, rhythm box, rocking or spinning chair, etc., available for a child who needs a chance to reorganize and regroup before continuing with a whole-group activity.
“When large-motor movement precede small-motor movements, the small-motor control will then be freer and less constricted” (Dennison, 2006, p.66 ). This means, that children with fine-motor challenges need to work with their large gross motor muscles first. When engaged in a movement, if the student shows signs of stress or becomes over-excited, then it is necessary to reduce the type and/or amount of stimulation.
Any movement program is most effective when it is done on a daily basis for at least 3 months (Goddard Blythe, 2007). If exercises are stopped, for whatever reason, and the child starts to regress, it will be important to return to them. This means that the connections are not yet permanent. Movement helps the mylen sheeth grow around the nerve cell to protect it and allow it to fire rapidly, therefore sometimes a high fever will jeopardize a newly connected nerve cell that has not been mylenated enough.
Especially if language is an issue, it is critical that we get children to verbalize as much as they can while doing movements (Pheloung & King, 1993). At first this may need to be modeled by the teacher, just as any new skill. This not only heightens awareness of the position of the body, but helps improve language as well. Children who struggle with directionality are lacking positional understanding of their own body. If they have not explored enough in their 3-dimensional space around them, they will also struggle with visual spatial skills, which is an important component in mathematics.
An example of using language:
· Teacher - “What hand are you using? Which part of your body is starting to roll? Tell me everything you are doing as you are doing it.”
· Student - My right foot is forward and I am pointing to it with the first finger of my left hand” (Pheloung, 1997).
Examples of general body awareness activities which also support language development (from Pheloung & Liljeqvist, 2004, and Pheloung, 1997, and Pheloung & King, 1993) are:
· Letting the child walk anywhere around the room until you call “stop!” and tell him what to do “melt like ice cream…walk…Wobble like jello…walk…stop rigid like a telephone pole.”
· Crawl and roll blindfolded. Have the child describe his movements, what he feels, etc.
Dennison, P. (2006). Brain Gym and Me. Ventura, CA: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc.
Goddard Blythe, S. (2007). The well Balanced Child: Movement and learning. Gloucesterschire, UK: Hawthorn Press.
Pheloung, B. (1997). Help your class to learn. New South Wales: Griffin Press
Pheloung, B., & J. King. (1993). Overcoming Learning Difficulties: How you can help a child who finds it hard to learn. NY: Doubleday.
Pheloung, B. & J. Liljeqvist. (2004). Ten gems of the brain. New South Wales: Move to Learn.