Are you right-brained or left-brained? It is commonly thought the two sides of the brain are responsible for different functions. The left hemisphere is concerned with analytical subjects, like mathematics and reasoning. The right hemisphere is more creative and controls language and holistic thinking.
Contrary to popular belief, neural systems responsible for certain activities and skills, such as language or motor processing, are made up of areas across both brain hemispheres. Communication and cooperation between the two hemispheres are continuous and necessary. Boosting this communication can ease cognitive processing.
Here at Pathfinders, our students are familiar with many of these integration activities that get the messages flowing between the two sides of the brain. We’re going to discuss these in more detail, but first, let’s discuss why this bilateral brain communication is so important.
The bridge of tissue that links the right and left hemispheres is called the corpus callosum. Recent research suggests a thicker corpus callosum might have contributed to Albert Einstein’s genius. Communication between brain hemispheres allows for bilateral coordination, which is vital to the development of the brain. Crawling, then walking, then eventually riding a bike requires the two sides of the body to work in tandem. Crawling is one of the most important developmental stages as it not only promotes bilateral motor control but also binocular and near/far vision skills and other neural connections.
So what can we do to get more brain integration once we’ve learned to walk? At Pathfinders, we use a variety of activities, three of which we will discuss here. Before we begin, let’s define two terms that are key to these exercises: midline and midfield.
The vertical midline is an imaginary line that bisects your body into left and right halves. The ability to cross the midline, like the right hand tapping the left knee, for example, is key for successful work in the midfield.
The midfield is where we first learn to explore movement, visual and auditory skills as an infant. It is also the space where most deskwork happens, so the ability to work in the midfield is key to academic success. It allows us to read a page from left to right, write a sentence across the entire width of the paper and even coordinate our two eyes to perceive depth and have three-dimensional vision. Now let’s introduce the integration activities.
Three Integration Activities
Part of the Brain Gym® program, the Cross Crawl is a whole-body warm-up activity perfect to use before or as a break from deskwork.
Begin standing, then raise one knee and tap it with the hand of the opposite side of your body, crossing the midline. Touch your foot back to the ground, then lift the other knee, touching it with your hand of the opposite side. Alternate your arms and legs rhythmically at a comfortable pace.
You can alternately do this seated, touch your elbows to your knees instead of hands or even touch your hand to the opposite foot, crossing the midline behind your body. This activity promotes spatial awareness, exercises binocular vision and causes the student to repeatedly cross their midline, which can enhance academic skills like spelling, writing, reading comprehension and focusing attention. This is also a great activity to boost energy during a break from the desk.
Also from Brain Gym®, the Double Doodle is a drawing activity that takes place directly in the midfield.
Best introduced on a whiteboard where the large shoulder muscles can be engaged in the movements, the student draws mirror-image shapes in the midfield with both hands simultaneously. They experiment with moving in and out, up and down and even across the midline. This activity promotes a sense of orientation and aids in the formation of letters and numbers. It also develops peripheral and spatial awareness, visual discrimination and promotes the transition from gross-motor to fine-motor skills. The Double Doodle is an excellent warm-up activity for our writing programs and can help alleviate shoulder or neck tension.
The last activity we’ll discuss today is perhaps the most impactful: the Power Walk. Otherwise known as the Infinity Walk, this activity looks simple but is a powerful tool for bilateral integration.
To Power Walk, a student walks in the shape of a figure 8, while fixating their eyes on a focal point between the two circles and off to one side of the 8. As the student walks, the shape of the 8 guides them to switch the dominant foot, ear, and eye back and forth from left to right. This plays with the kinesthetic, visual and auditory midline and reinforces communication between the two brain hemispheres. The student monitors their body, noticing any differences between the two sides of the 8, and continues to walk in a relaxed manner. This is one of our favorite warm-up activities and is often the first activity new students are taught at Pathfinders.
We hope this post has shed some light on brain integration and given you a few tools to boost your brain when it needs a break. The brain is such a complex organ that allows us to do everything that fills up our days.
Sometimes it needs our help to work more efficiently. A few simple but powerful activities can get your brain through that last math problem, essay paragraph or chapter in that textbook. Brains are great, and breaks are great for the brain!
- Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison, 2010