I have been writing about the impact of music on the brain. We have for a long time known music can change how we feel, think and act. But there are many other sensory experiences that can positively impact our brains.
Intervention: sensory experiences and positive impact in the brain
I am reminded of a story that Dr. Bruce Perry tells about a woman who consistently rocked and sung to a seriously traumatized child. She instinctively knew that rocking would sooth the child. She bathed the child in affirmation and safe touch. Her therapy for this child was to meet the child’s immediate needs through consistent motion to help that child self-regulate. Without any degrees or training, she knew what the child needed in that moment, and was, in fact, a great therapist.
Of course, parents have had to become experts in figuring out calming strategies for their children.
I consistently hear moms speak of the many ways they have dealt with their hyper-vigilant child; they have creatively both calmed their child and enhanced their relationship. Some of the most creative strategies are discovered when the child is using the lower part of her brain, reacting reflexively, having very little sense of time or purpose. At such key moments, parents instinctively learn and are thus able to give the child exactly what is needed to find emotional balance. It is truly amazing to watch!
So, imagine having such an environment in our schools. We have segmented learning from the traditional emotional and relational environment, as if they do not have a connection.
For example, if children are in an aroused or alarmed brain state and we are attempting to teach them how to solve a math problem, their ability to do so would typically be minimal. Why? Because they are unable to access the logical part of their brain which is required for more sophisticated reasoning and problem-solving. However, we have found that students can and will (of their own choosing) use varied sensory interventions to help them better concentrate, study and/or take tests. These interventions impact the brain in ways that help students overcome some of the moments of confusion, lack of attention or incapability of processing information.
Suitable interventions vary with each student’s uniqueness and unique needs
What is significant, is how each student responds differently to a variety of brain-based interventions. It is important to train them how to choose the most suitable one for their unique needs.
We help them learn and become trained in how they (specifically) are impacted by different interventions. We use wrist pulse-rate monitors while experimenting with strategies to help decrease their heart rate and actually lift their brain state from alarm to calm and cognition.
Since learning is the goal of every school, it makes sense to me that we as educators ought to be doing everything we can to help our students be in a brain state that will maximize their capability to learn. Teaching them how to self-regulate using the tools that we can easily provide is a relatively simple way to help them achieve their learning goals.
I recognize that this could be a significant shift in how we think about education.
Yet, I have a vision that every student in their elementary years will be trained in how to self-regulate their brains. I’d like them to recognize or foresee when they are not in a good brain state and be able to determine the appropriate intervention to help them cope with their issues and environment. This advantage will allow them to function to their best capacity while learning what they need to in order to be successful in life.
This simple intervention technique will better our schools, students and teachers. It may not solve all problems, but it could certainly reduce many. Moreover, it will give our students the ownership of their own brains and behavior whether in school or their community.
Brain-based interventions are not just a means to better learning, but a life skill that will be essential to almost every aspect of life. More to come on this topic in future posts.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network