It was years ago that I read the passage, but it is one of the first that comes back to me as I consider the importance of recognizing that the work of the mind and the work of the body are inextricably linked.
I was reading William Crain’s book, Theories of Development when the term seemed to jump right off of the page. “The disembodied mind”. It seemed so visceral. Suddenly, I imagined a brain, isolated from the body like a spare part in a mad scientist’s workshop. The term’s use was aimed at the danger of overusing technology to teach our youngest learners, but struck truly on the broader approach to teaching and learning. Crain wrote this:
“The computer monitor presents only symbols — words, pictures, numbers and graphs. The child is exposed to a great deal of information, but the child receives it on a purely secondhand, mental level. What does it mean to learn biology strictly from words, pictures, and other symbols, without first having rich, personal experience with plant and animal life? Or to learn principles of physics — principles such as velocity, force, and balance — without lots of experience throwing, hammering, seesawing, and climbing? The child learns symbols, but without the personal, bodily, sensory experiences that make the symbols meaningful. The danger is that the child who is learning a great deal for the first time at the computer terminal is learning at too cerebral a level. The child is becoming a disembodied mind.”
I thought about this term again recently, as I read the latest section of our read-along, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives (*affiliate link), by Rae Pica.
It was similar to the quote from Alfred North Whitehead in Chapter 10. “I lay it down as an educational axiom that in teaching you will come to grief as soon as you forget that your pupils have bodies.”
As Rae Pica points out, that quote was given more than eight decades ago. Fast forward to today and we’re surrounded by research that tells us that we think better, learn better, live better when we move our bodies.
And while it may feel like an uphill battle, some schools are catching on. In Texas, one elementary school recently snagged headlines as they reported that they had tripled their recess time – and were getting fantastic results. “Brain breaks” — both informal wiggles and dances and more formal programs like Go Noodle — are gaining in popularity in classrooms.
But as Rae points out, it isn’t just that we recognize that kids need both to move and to learn, but that we realize that they learn *while* moving. As brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen is quoted as saying in Chapter 11, “The brain is constantly responding to environmental input. Compared to a baseline of sitting in a chair, walking, moving and active learning bumps up blood flow and key chemicals for focus and long-term memory (norepinephrine) as well as for effort and mood (dopamine).”
Our standard model of sitting the body down in an effort to isolate and teach the brain simply ignores the whole-body wiring of the mind.
I particularly enjoyed Rae’s story of the clever presenter who worded the title and description of her movement-based class to target teachers whose students just couldn’t sit still. Her branding brilliance resulted in a room jam-packed with early childhood educators because she knew that that description naturally applies to the early childhood crowd at large. These young children aren’t wired to simply sit still. Their brains send constant impulses to their bodies to move, explore, and learn. When we recognize that as she did, and use that awareness to combine movement and learning together, we equip ourselves to teach not just a disembodied mind, but the whole child.
How do you get hands-on, brains-on experiences for the kids you love and teach? Have you seen remarkable examples of getting kids moving OR of unrealistically expecting them to be still too much? Share your observations in the comments. And as always, share your questions for the author, Rae Pica. She’ll be answering YOUR questions in the last post in the series!
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