Can Brain Gym help children learn more effectively?
You must be nuts!
If you believe this then you are wrong. In fact, you couldn’t be more wrong even if your name is W. Wrong Wrongsworth of Wronginton.
The neuroscience gold rush has had many victims and you will find the casualties of brain training everywhere. Jaw-droppingly, billions have been spent on the idea that training the brain can improve your memory, concentration or intelligence.
A classic piece of bonkers neuro-nonsense is the widely discredited Brain Gym, a pseudo-scientific movement programme dripping in snake oil. This has been gobbled up in good faith by thousands of teachers worldwide bewitched by the brain-based sales patter.
In the UK, Brain Gym has been popular in hundreds of British state schools and promoted across Government websites.
Short story: it’s faulty fungus, pure moonshine, gibbering crap and a stinking pile of baloney.
Created by Paul and Gail Dennison in the 1980s, Brain Gym is the shop-front name for what they call Education Kinesiology or Edu-K. Brain Gym which is a movement based programme based on the idea that moving leads to optimal learning and “we empower all ages to reclaim the joy of living.”
The founders claim that when children are inactive or stressed then their learning ability switches off so we need ways to awaken their brains and we can do this through movement.
They claim that Brain Gym exercises can help to wake up the mind and body and bring it into a state of learning readiness.
The Dennisons created a variety of movements to directly target and stimulate the brain to release stress, expend excess energy and help children reach their academic potential.
They believe that certain physical movements can access different parts of the brain and teachers and parents can use these to help children grow their learning.
Their idea is that purposeful movement activities can activate the right and left sides of the brain and using specific types of movement connects the body with the brain which they call ‘crossing the midline’.
Where’s the evidence?
It’s easy to get blinded by science if you are a non-specialist and anything that talks a lot about the body and brain when wrapped up in scientific words can easily bamboozle us or beguile us.
Brain Gym is a seductive idea because it persuades us to see that body movements can coax the two hemispheres of the brain to work in synchronisation. That’s all fine and dandy if you buy into the left-right brain notion but the idea that we are dominantly left- or right-brained has never had a concrete basis in neuroscience. Okay, the brain is split into two hemispheres but there is no evidence that there is a ‘midline’ between them which children must be taught to utilise the Dennisons claim.
Academics have jumped in, cartwheeled and bent over backwards to point out that Brain Gym is just wishful thinking and should be renamed brainless gym.
So, let’s have a look at some well-conducted peer-reviewed studies showing the programme’s effectiveness at improving learning.…umm, sorry but there aren’t any.
The creators of Brain Gym point to some ‘evidence’ on their website but this is so fragile that one look and it’ll crack into a thousand pieces of gibberish and twaddle. This ‘research’ has been widely challenged and discredited.
Of the few published studies one involved four participants, one of whom was the author of the study and the others were published in a journal that required the authors to pay for publication. Another study had severe methodological failings.
Remarkably, Dennison and Dennison (2010) tell us that the effectiveness of the Brain Gym activities “can be personally validated by anyone who takes a few minutes to do [them]… Brain Gym International doesn’t conduct research on its own methodologies”
There is simply no evidence that Brain Gym improves academic skills, listening and thinking skills, or learning disability deficits (Hyatt, 2007)
In a brilliant article, Charlie Brooker warned us to, “Man the lifeboats, the idiots are winning” and describes how Brain Gym has twisted his rage dial to the max. He tears his hair out at teachers who have lost the plot and jumped on the Brain Gym bandwagon and says,
“..while Brain Gym’s coochy-coo exercises may well be fun or relaxing, what they’re definitely good at is increasing the flow of bullshit into children’s heads.
The British Neuroscience Association, the Physiological Society and the charity Sense About Science, wrote to every to every local education authority in the land in 2008 to complain about Brain Gym’s misrepresentation of reality and that it had no scientific basis.
Despite being slammed as a neuromyth by these respected bodies and being expensive to run as a programme, schools today still use Brain Gym.
Author, broadcaster, campaigner, medical doctor and academic Ben Goldacre has been one of the staunchest critics of Brain Gym and says that it has bad science written all over it “with a scientific explanatory framework that is barkingly out to lunch.”
He believes that Brain Gym is no better than the tripe peddled by self-appointed ‘nutrition science’ experts and although the advice is sensible ie taking an exercise break can help you focus, “the science they use to justify this so often seems to be bogus, empty PR, that promotes basic scientific misunderstandings.”
You don’t have to do much digging to find critics of Brain Gym. They are everywhere and these are respected academics and researchers who can confidently point to the scientific claims of Brain Gym being dodgy.
Watson and Kelso (2014) found Brain Gym “does not produce clear and substantial differences in academic engagement” but “even with the inadequacy of empirical support, Brain Gym is still an often promoted intervention” and “those who buy into the program are either children who naively assume their teachers know what they are doing or teachers who are bamboozled by the pseudoscientific jargon or seduced by charismatic and enthusiastic believers.” (Carroll 2009)
The silly pseudo-scientific explanations and claims of Brian Gym have contributed to a damaging and bizarre understanding of how the body works. Brain Gym is based on hunches and not on any scientific data.
You can pat your head, rub your tummy and press some Brain Buttons all you want, Brain Gym is a quick fix that doesn’t fix and contains plenty of scientific sounding gobbledegook that has no basis. It’s all mumbo-jumbo with no miracle cure for learning.
Increasingly, schools are saying that they are committed to practices firmly based on research so it’s irresponsible to let teachers use Brain Gym when there is no proof that it works.