Cassville Primary students give their brains a workout

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Kinder Academy instructor Michelle Ramaeker helps her student Kenzleigh Speer develop right-left hand and eye coordination on the monkey bars. The exercise is one of several that help develop childrens’ brain pathways and build coordination through specific movements, which, to them, are just child’s play. Contributed photo

‘Brain gym’ concept helps students develop important motor skills

Young brains, and bodies, are getting stretched in new ways at Cassville Primary School’s Brain Gym, where exercise and learning are one in the same.

The program is a component of the school’s new Kinder Academy program, which started this fall.

Ke’Alani Bruton prepares to jump onto a mat, which may look like just play, but the exercise is also helping her develop gross motor skills and coordination. The exercise is one of several at the brain gym at Cassville Primary School, a component of Kinder Academy program. Contributed photo

Preschool and academy students enjoy specific exercises for about 40 minutes each day, which Cassville Primary School Principal Catherine Weaver says helps them develop motor skills, brain pathways and cross-body coordination — all of which can help them be successful in school.

The gym was created this summer by Cassville teachers

and maintenance staff, and includes targeted exercises like monkey bars, a balance beam, a jumping tower and a mini-trampoline.

“It’s a room where we have several different physical activities, so the children can build gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination and core muscle strength, because all of those skills are needed before they can develop fine motor skills like eye-tracking and handwriting,” Weaver said. “It’s fascinating when you look at the research on how these skills develop. They think it’s just fun when they’re playing on the trampoline or monkey bars, but the exercises are actually developing those skills. Monkey bars, for instance, require that right-left-right-left hand coordination.”

The Brain Gym is not a new concept, Weaver said, but it’s an effective one based on neuroscience and childhood development.

“It’s the concept of using the right and left hemisphere of the brain,” Weaver said. “You’ll see the kids doing a YouTube video touching their toes right-then-left, or jumping jacks, and those types of activities engage the whole brain. The right side of the brain controls the left side of body, and visa versa.”

Such exercises can help young students greatly increase the likelihood of success with academics in later grades.

“Kids sometimes have difficulty crossing the midline, which would affect their ability to read all the way across [a page], and that’s why activities like monkey bars exercises are important, because they are doing those right-left-right activities,” Weaver said. “It’s the same with the balance beam — it engages the entire brain.”

With so many children focused on sedentary and monotonous activities, such at looking at a screen for long periods of time while playing games on tablets and other electronic devices, they may not be developing crucial basic motor skills they need to do well in school, Weaver said. 

“When kids go out and play catch, they develop eye-tracking skills, whereas those who sit and watch TV or play video games don’t develop those skills as well, so this is a way to develop the whole brain,” she said. “I just think the Brain Gym is a great additional component to have in the program.”

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