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Monday, September 22, 2014

pop-we Reviews Dr. Carla Hannaford's Smart Moves Why Learning is Not All In Your Head

When it comes to readiness for reading, writing, and arithmetic, we need to remember recess, recreation and the arts. We must not forget to add plenty of rough and tumble play to prepare young minds for learning. Dr. Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., shares the science behind why physical movement, music, art, and play are so important for healthy development in her 2nd edition of "Smart Moves Why Learning is Not All In Your Head".

Hannaford relates how physical movement is important for our body’s sense of self in space or proprioception. I never thought about how knowing where we are in space is important to reading as we need to know such things as whether or head is level. Movement that strengthens our core as well as movements that help us balance is all important to our developing our sense of self in the environment. She emphasizes that so much learning is sensory and that schools often emphasize too much verbal education compared to hands on learning in the environment.

The development of the proprioception and the vestibular system are intimately connected according to Hannaford. It was actually my quest to learn more about vestibular stimulation that ultimately lead me to Smart Moves. I first read the word vestibular stimulation in a catalog describing a toy. It said that vestibular stimulation was important for reading readiness.

I posted a thread on a professional social networking website on the subject of vestibular stimulation and someone suggested this book. Finally, I was able to read in depth what vestibular stimulation is and why it is so important. When we consider that balance, locomotion, the ability to discriminate speech and language, and our vision being coordinated with our movement all rely on a well-functioning vestibular system, we can see how imperative it is for education according to Hannaford. She cites ways that the system can be damaged even before birth.

A common problem of inner-ear infections during the formative years is believed to damage the vestibular system. Poor vestibular development is related to learning and behavioral problems such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) it is also related to other learning problems such as dyslexia. As someone who has at least a dozen credit hours at the University in Special Education, I was interested in her explanation of ADD in terms that seemed new to me. She talks about how movement helps the children with consciousness and is very compassionate about how expecting these children to sit still prior to repair work being done to their systems is so unrealistic and ineffective.

Activities that stimulate the inner ear and require balance are among the activities that stimulate the vestibular system. Cross Lateral movements that cross the body’s midline such as slowly touching your right elbow to your left knee and alternating with your left elbow and your right knee are very important to brain development. Activities that improve balance or cross lateral movements can help repair damage done to the vestibular system.

I was very interested an anecdotal account in the book about a dyslexic student who did the cross-lateral elbow and knee exercise. All other methods had thus far failed until he did this exercise and improved his reading ability.

The book has diagrams and pictures of movements that stimulate the brain. When I searched for Smart Moves at a well-known online book distributor, it suggested Brain Gym®. After reading how Hannaford used this book and shared it internationally, I bought my own copy of his book with diagrams of movements with minimal descriptions. Smart Moves and Paul Dennison’s Brain Gym® do complement each other. Having taken a coursework in the many theories about teaching methods and education, I was interested to read the areas that Hannaford emphasizes as important in and out of the classroom. However, she does not just speak of fantasy children and the ideal education and untested hypotheses, but rather practices she has seen work in classrooms including her own.

She gives empirical data and scientific information to show why certain educational practices are better. I enjoyed her firsthand experience of gains gained after using her methods that defied what I thought possible given the age of the child and the amount of severe deficits of the child. It was her curiosity about the success that she witnessed using physical movement, art, and music that was the impetus for her to complete her doctorate in Biology. She has been a professor of Biology for twenty years.

Although Smart Moves is not Hannaford’s most recent work, I find it to be very relevant today. It is very rich in content. In addition to very detailed information on physical development and brain development, there are sections on the importance of art, music, play physical touch and emotions for learning. It also explains how knowing whether you are left or right eye dominant or left or right ear dominant can be important for learning strategies. It is an important resource for parents and teachers. It is also a valuable resource regarding autism and learning disabilities. The school environment that Hannaford proposes is a safe and low stress environment where teachers respect the opinions of children even when they disagree with their own. There is emphasis on hands on learning. The senses are fully engaged. There is time to play. As Hannaford points out, play is important to music, science, math, and writing. Opportunities for physical movement are abundant as this is so important for the intellect.

-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2014 population-we, LLC 
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