Back to Front Brain Exercises Essential for Comprehension, Attention and Behavior
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As I meet with more and more parents on a daily basis about their child’s struggles in school to attend and focus, they are often surprised to find my recommendation is more movement. “The problem is to have my child sit still, not move more,” they often say. The truth is, when children are young, their brain development depends on certain types of movement for learning from birth all the way up to the age of 12, and even beyond. Those first few years are critical, and if your child or student demonstrates poor muscle strength or has not developed their gross motor skills, you may start to see gaps in their learning development, behavior, attention, hand-eye coordination, reading and comprehension.
Now, before you send your child out to run around the backyard or play at the park, you will want to consider one thing. Not all movement is equal. While all of these fun outdoor activities are great for kids and they are helpful when it comes to encouraging our children to be more active, many of these activities don’t always target the brain in the way we want it to. Certain movement activities are more beneficial than others and they help organize the brain by targeting specific areas we want to “change” for higher learning. Kids need special sensory-motor and visual activities to prepare them for reading, writing, and sitting still in their chair.
Before I lose you, think of it like baking a cake or baking bread. There are many ways to bake a cake or a loaf of bread. Sometimes if you forget one or two ingredients, it’s not always a big deal. However, if you forget an ingredient like yeast for your bread, you know it will never rise and won’t bake properly. In order for the brain to be properly prepped and ready for learning, we need that miracle “yeast” or special type of movement to help it “rise” and thrive in the classroom.
Attention, Focus and Comprehension
So what types of movement will help my child with attention and focus? You may have already tried the exercises in our previous article, “Why Crossing the Midline Helped this Child Listen to his Teacher,” to help the right and left brain work together for retention. In this article, because we want to directly target the parts of the brain used for attention, focus and comprehension, these activities will include back to front exercises helpful for those areas.
Before we get started, just remember attention and focus is the ability to coordinate the back and front areas of the brain. Children who are weak in these areas tend to show signs of attention disorders and may also have trouble comprehending what they read or comprehending instructions that are given to them. When we close the gaps in these areas, it allows children to begin retrieving information (for example, facts from their reading assignment) and expressing the information they receive (for example, writing down what they learned from their reading assignment). The exercises will help free your child from their “fight or flight” mode, which will be discussing in greater detail in future articles.
Back to Front Exercises
Here are some of the activities to try at home or with your students. They may seem pretty easy to you, but you will find for some children, they can be quite difficult. These activities can be done indoors as well as outdoors all year long. For best results, repeat exercises 10 times at least three to five times a week.
For this activity, you will need to use a wall in your bedroom, living room or therapy center. If you are able to use an agility ladder, like you see here, it will help your child or student know where they need to step or you can use the tile on your floor. Have your child put their hands flat on the wall and get into a lunge position, as if they were going to do normal exercise lunges. Use the right leg first and then switch to their left using controlled movements. Don’t let them complete the exercise too fast. Help them tap their foot in the rings as they switch legs. Repeat exercise 20 times (10 for each leg).
We like to use a small trampoline for this exercise, which is especially good for our sensory seekers, but if you don’t have one in your home, you can complete this exercise without one. Help your child stand on the trampoline first with their feet together, hands at their side. They can now begin jumping. While jumping on the trampoline, have your child switch their legs and arms back and forth (front and back) as they scissor in the air. It will almost appear as if they are skiing. If your child struggles with balance, coordination or muscle strengthen, you may notice them wobble and you will have to sturdy them or be there to catch them if they tip over. Repeat exercise 20 times (10 for each leg and arm).
Weighted Bar with Feet
For this activity, you will want to use some type of weighted bar; like you see here (it doesn’t have to be too heavy.) Some children really like bars that are heavier because they need the sensory input and “heavy work” to help calm their systems. Let them choose the amount of weight most comfortable for them. Have your child stand with their feet together, bar in their hands at a resting position. When they are ready, have them lift the bar behind their head and then bring it forward in front of their head. As they master this activity, add the feet with it. You may need to put a piece of tape on the floor to make a straight line. Help your child walk with one foot in front of the other (heel to toe) while lifting the bar behind their head and in front of their head. If your child cannot do these exercises together, try them separately first. If they struggle with balance and coordination, you may have to steady them as they walk. Repeat exercise 10 times.
Group Overhead Ball Activity
The more people you have for this activity, the better it is for kids, but you can do it with just two people. Line up all the children in a straight line. Hand the child in front of the line a medium-sized ball, like you see here. Have the child in front of the line, pass the ball over their head to the child behind them and continue that exercise all the way down to the last child in line. When the ball gets to the back of the line, make sure the last child still puts the ball behind their head and then brings it forward again to pass it to the child in front of them. The ball should then be passed all the way to the front of the line. You can even do this activity in a circle if you want so the game continues without stopping.
Bean Bag Strut
For this activity, you will need two bean bags, one for each hand, like you see here. We use sensory bean bags because they have the extra added bonus of providing our students with the tactile sensory stimulation they need. You may need to clear some space in your home or center for this activity. Have your child start at one end of the room and swing one arm in front of them and the other arm behind them as they walk forward (while holding the bean bags). Make sure they are using opposite legs with opposite arms as they walk. They should swing their arms and legs back and forth while walking forward all the way across the room. When they get to the end of the room, instead of turning them around, help them repeat the same exercise only backward. Don’t let them swing their arms too fast and ensure they get a full range of motion. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
These are just a few exercises you can do at home with your child to help the front and back sides of the brain. As you help your child, remember consistency is key for the best results.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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