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Waking up to Whole Brain Learning

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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Sue and I did a three-day brain gym training ("Brain Gym 101"). We are interested in whole brain learning, as our field has long espoused teaching "The Whole Child". As far back as 2004, when Educational Leadership devoted a whole issue to this special subject, I have tried to teach children as whole individuals. In the Early Childhood field we teach that a child learns through play, and that play involves all aspects of the brain and body. Play is the serious work of childhood. I maintain that play can also be the serious work of adulthood, if by play you mean being alive and creative.In a previous blog post I recounted an encounter with a graduate of our progressive preschool program who was  now in a (good) public kindergarten. He marveled at the difference between his experience in our program and his present one, where he was told he couldn't play because he "had to learn". More recently a former student visited our playground and told me he had only "fifteen" minutes morning and afternoon to play outside. Our children are in for a rude shock when they enter the "real" world of education.


It doesn't have to be that way, of course, but, as teachers have lamented for years, only non-educators need apply when policy is made. These policies are forced on schools and schools must respond with less movement, more worksheets, more focused lessons on content areas (Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies).


Above is a picture of a plate crudely crafted on our carpet with that magnificent magic tool of early childhood, masking tape. The children were interested in food preparation and (surprise!) eating, so we decided to sneak some content into the mix by introducing the new dietary guidelines. You can see that words are printed in each quarter-plate for the food categories (Content areas: Language Arts; Math). The first day I asked the children individually what food they wanted to "be" (no sweets, boo hoo) and then invited them to stand in the appropriate quarter. The children debated among themselves where each of them should stand, which made this collaborative (Content area: Social Studies). The next day I had laminated pictures of food for them to place in the quarters. We discussed cooked and raw foods (Content area: Science). In each whole group activity the children were moving, talking, listening, and reading. Oh, and learning, too.


I believe that for Sue and myself the Brain Gym training reminded us of the importance of movement for teaching the whole child. Sometimes teachers fall asleep. That is, we go into automatic pilot and do what we usually do, such as talking..talking...talking. That's when we need to wake up in our own bodies and teach from "The Whole Teacher".  It would be excellent if we could send policy-makers to Brain Gym training, or any other workshop on developmentally appropriate teaching and learning, so that they could "wake up" to their own learning potential. They might concede that whole-brain learning is right for children, too.

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Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 

Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Wednesday, 02 May 2012

    Bravo for adding a physical element to your classroom. Too many classrooms use a lecture-based teaching method, even for the youngest of children. As a kindergarten teacher that includes movement in almost every activity we do in class, I have found that kids grasp concepts more easily and behavior issues are almost non-existent.
    Love the term, "Whole Teacher."

  • Gail Multop @gailmult
    Gail Multop @gailmult Saturday, 17 November 2012

    Thank you, Janice! I guess we both know how children actually learn!

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