Last week I was in a wonderful “Brain School,” a school that specializes in individualized educational programs for children ages 6-18 who have unique brains. A wide range of children were represented. Some had limited motor movement, other’s had anxiety, traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities, ADHD, executive function issues and the like.

I happened upon a group of about 20 children having a glorious time passing balls back and forth behind their backs in gym class. The teachers were enthusiastic and the children were highly motivated, engaged and simply having, well, dare I say…. a ball.

As I watched, transfixed, I couldn’t help but think of Thaut’s 2014 article on entrainment. Worth a read, here is the link

It struck me, that while the children should surely have the opportunity to pass balls back and forth without any rhythm, almost in a “free-play” format. It would also be beneficial for the children to be taught how to pass the balls with rhythm and tempo.

Rhythm is an organizing feature of the central nervous system and moving to a beat empowers the children to gain better mastery over their cognitive planning, cognitive inhibition, and motor execution.

So, I am sitting here, thinking about how I would introduce the concept, that we are musical and that musicality affects how we think, learn and behave, to this adorable class of elementary school kids.  I think the cognitive conversation might go like this…

Teacher: “Hey kids, remember last week when we were passing the ball to our partners? We were handing the ball to one another as fast as we could. Remember that? Well, today we’re going to do it again with a twist. We’re going to sit on the floor with our partners, back to back. (It looks like this… model sitting on the floor back to back with a student). Then one of you will begin by holding the ball in front of you with two hands. Remember those hands are at about 3 and 9 o’clock, we have practiced that before, right. So let’s give it a go, sit down back to back with your partners, when I say go, you will twist your body in order to pass the ball behind your back to your partner. Alright, ready go!” 

The kids would laugh, fumble, pass and be joyful.  Then the teacher would help them pause and she’d/he’d say…

Teacher: “So we call that “Free Pace” that means there is no specific rhythm or tempo, but it sure is fun right!” Okay… next step.

Teacher: “Great job, now let’s hold the balls again, in front of ourselves, like the ready position you are all used to. Alright, so now we’re going to invite Slow Mo and Quick Rick to our game.  Who remembers Slow Mo and Quick Rick?  

(Kids respond yelling out what they have learned before about moving slow and quick…if you need that info you can find it in Musical Thinking).

Teacher: “So if you are not holding a ball clap out the tempo with me in Slow Mo.” The children clap along with the teacher at 50 beats per minute. “Let’s keep our tempo as we count aloud, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. We’ll pass the ball on each beat. Ready go!”

The kids pass the balls behind their backs in Slow Mo.

Teacher: “Super job guys. You were all moving together as one. That was so cool to watch. Shall we speed it up with a little Quick Rick?” The children clap along with the teacher at 85 beats per minute to establish the beat. “Let’s start now with our partner passing the ball, so we all get a chance being the leader. We have our beat on, let’s groove as we pass the ball with Quick Rick, we’ll count 1,2,3,4. Ready go!”

You can now add a clap or an oral sound like “yee-haw!” on alternating rhythms, etc, a spot more advanced, but it will come naturally the more you use Musical Thinking.

So, it sounds a bit like that. Then the kids can pass at any pace they wish again so they have three tempos, “Free” tempo/pace, Slow Mo and Quick Rick.

When we introduce rhythm and tempo, particularly when we use the auditory cue of counting out the beats, the children experience anticipatory planning, entrained execution and a sense of mastery. Understanding that we can do many activities (pass balls, raise our hands in class, learn our spelling words, say our math factors etc.) in Slow Mo or Quick Rick improves children’s utility of tempo and timing as a learning tool as well.

Can’t wait to get back to the school and try this out. You do as well. Shoot a touch of video and send it along to our FB page. Let’s improve children’s learning via rhythm, tempo, and entrainment. Let us know how it goes. 

We develop research-based tools, activities, and strategies to improve children’s thinking, self-regulation, learning, and behavior by increasing their executive and social-emotional skill sets. Bloom (Kenney & Young, 2015) helps parents collaborate and calm their anxious, angry and over-the-top kids building better thinking, coping and relationship skills. 70 Play Activities (Kenney & Comizio, 2016) provides activities, worksheets, and strategies to teachers, school counselors, and school psychologists to help children learn new #EF and #SEL skills. With great fanfare, September 2017, Thinkerbee brings you, Bloom Your Room, the first social-emotional skill development program delivered as postable art and classroom activities (ages 4-10).  In our next project, we integrate over 100 research articles in neuroscience + kinesiology + PE to create The Kinetic Classroom, the online video platform using movement to improve cognition.

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