This is an eye-opening discussion of the varieties of people’s learning styles and the inadequacies of the traditional three-R’s style of education. Ideas like this have gained a lot of currency since this book was published, which I think is a great thing. Smart Moves puts a scientific basis behind common-sense notions like letting kids run around a bit before class, but really digs deeply into the physiology of the brain. I get the feeling that some of the author’s recommendations are more theoretical than evidence-based, but there’s still a lot of good information and a lot of new ideas to try out. Many of the exercises and techniques are applicable to everyone, not just children.
One of my favourite techniques, though, is one for parents: The Time Game. If your child asks for something, say you’ll do it — in three minutes. Then set a timer and allow the child to watch and wait for the time to count down. This is a great way to develop a time sense (which many children sorely lack) and patience.
Ms Hannaford also recommends a suite of exercises called Brain Gym: simple exercises designed to stimulate the brain and facilitate various learning modes. I’ve described them here so I can remember them and try them out on myself and my children.
Place one hand over the navel. With the other, gently rub the indentations between the first and second ribs directly under the collarbone, on either side of the sternum. This is said to make the brain more alert and ready to process information.
Walk on the spot with high knees, touching the left knee to the right elbow and vice versa. This is said to stimulate the brain.
Can be done sitting, standing or lying down. Cross the ankles. Hold arms out, palms facing outwards, thumbs down. Cross arms over and clasp hands. Push elbows out and roll hands down and in so they rest on the chest with the elbows down. Also, rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth. This is said to stimulate whole-brain function and is a good calm down and focus exercise.
Hold the mouth as if you’re yawning and massage the muscles around the TMJ (where the jawbone meets the skull). Can be done a dozen times a day as it activates facial nerves, thus helping you to wake up and focus and assisting in communication.
Unroll the outer cartilage of the ears from top to bottom several times. This boosts hearing and assists memory.
Lazy 8s for Writing
The Lazy 8 is an infinity symbol, drawn starting from the middle, then up to the left to do the left-hand anticlockwise loop, then the right-hand clockwise loop. It can be done large, on a surface with the whole hand to stimulate large muscle groups, or smaller (the size of an A4 sheet of paper) with a finger on a tabletop or pen on paper. Do it slowly, at least at first. This relaxes the muscles, facilitates visual tracking and generally improves flow in writing.
Lazy 8s for Eyes
Similar to Lazy 8s for Writing, but done with the thumb in mid-air, vertically. It’s a bit confusing because the text in the book clearly says you should start in the centre and move the thumb straight up, while the diagram clearly shows that you move the thumb up and to the left at 45 degrees. Maybe I will try both. This improves hand-eye coordination. (It also apparently improves eye-hand coordination, but surely this is the same thing!)
An alternative version works on exercising the eyes. In this one, you turn the infinity symbol 90 degrees so it is end-on to your body. Start with your thumb a bit out from your body, move it up and away, then down and away and back, then up towards your eyes and down and back to complete the lazy 8. This makes a great break when working at a computer.
Place the left ear on the left shoulder, like a child pretending to be an elephant, and do Lazy 8s for Eyes 3-5 times slowly and deliberately while following the fingertips with the eyes. Then swap and do the same with the right. This activates all areas of the mind/body system in a balanced way. The author suggests that you can also stimulate the hearing mechanisms if you add elephant noises. For some reason I find this quite amusing.
Later on, the book discusses the use of medication (such as Ritalin) in education. This can be summed up nicely by this quote by Special Education teacher Tucker Janes:
The use of drugs far exceeds our understanding of those drugs, and our motivation in this treatment is disgracefully oriented more towards control than education.
The book paints a bleak picture of the mainstream education system, especially in the USA, which does seem to be an utter nightmare according to everything I’ve read — I applaud the teachers who have to struggle through it. I don’t suppose it’s that bad really, but that may be partly because of books like this. It was first published almost 20 years ago — I hope that in another 20 years the education systems will look more like the ideas in Smart Moves.