What does balance have to do with learning, and how do these two seemingly detached ideas go together?

 

At first glance, balance might not appear to be directly related to success in classroom learning, but there could be a deeper connection.  

 

To understand why, let’s take a look at the processes behind the constant task of staying in balance. Though most of it happens without our awareness, balance actually involves interactions between three main systems of the brain; the vestibular system, the vision system and proprioceptive system. 

 

The vestibular system is the sensory system that contributes to our sense of balance and spatial awareness.  There are two main organs that constitute the vestibular system.  The first, the otolith, detects the position of your head by the movement of fluid and the second; the semicircular canals detect rotational movement of the head.  Both of these send impulses to let the brain know what head position and rotation is needed for that particular task.   Our vision system also sends signals to our brain that help us understand and know where our head and body are in relationship to our surroundings.  The proprioceptive system is the system that gives us understanding of the relative position of different parts of our body. 

 

All of these systems send signals to the brain.  Through the cerebellum and cortex these signals are processed and sent to the brain stem, where motor neurons are sent through the body telling us which muscles need to tense and which need to relax and where our arms and legs must go in order to maintain balance.

 

Let’s consider how balance is used in the process of copying something off the board or note taking in school.  First, the child has to have a sense of balance to be able to sit comfortably in a chair.   Next, the vision system is doing its job as the child looks up, focuses in and tracks left to right to see what was written on the board.  My son was continually fidgeting and shifting in his chair and what I didn’t realize is that he was fighting to maintain his balance.  In addition, as a dyslexic his eyes were often times overshooting or missing the target and he had difficulty tracking left to right while his proprioceptive system (knowing where his hands and legs were) had to work double time.  Because balance is difficult for most kids with dyslexia or ADHD, just to copy a sentence becomes a huge and daunting task as their body and brain work endlessly to pull all these systems together.

 

BrainyAct™ from Kinuu activates all of the underlying areas to make it easier in the classroom.  It’s just like doing sit ups or running to help you play football, soccer or dance.  BrainyAct™ assesses and trains functions such as balance, vision, body spatial awareness, fine motor and memory.   Our aim is to help kids improve the global body and brain functions that directly correlate to better outcomes in the classroom.    

 

In summary, balance requires spatial awareness, the ability to concentrate, and the ability to successfully organize and coordinate muscle groups. These skills are strikingly similar to those required for academic success.  In a 2014 paper on the relationship between academic performance and perceptual-motor skills, Pienaar, Barhorst, and Twisk discussed the importance of spatial awareness, number perception and room awareness, concentration and organizational abilities to success in academic subjects like math, science, reading and writing[1].  

 

The bottom line is that for kids with Dyslexia and/or ADHD it is exciting to see that exercises that develop balance and gross motor skills could also contribute to skills that could generalize to other areas of learning in the classroom. Go to www.kinuu.com for more information.  

[1] Pienaar, A. E., Barhorst, R., & Twisk, J. R. (2014). Relationships between academic performance, SES school type and perceptual‐motor skills in first grade South African learners: NW-CHILD study. Child: Care, Health And Development, 40(3), 370-378. doi:10.1111/cch.12059

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