Originally published Jan. 31, 2020 in The News-Enterprise.
By Andrew Harp
Students at Helmwood Heights Elementary School in Elizabethtown don’t begin their physical education with jumping jacks, push-ups or sit-ups: They stare at an eraser.
Minds-In-Motion is an exercise and activity program currently being implemented at the school in a few different capacities.
Helmwood Heights physical education teacher Lucas White said the main thing the program works on is the vestibular system, which provides input for motor control of the eyes.
He said the program is a way for students to develop this system, which carries over into the classroom, especially with reading and writing.
According to a newsletter from the Vestibular Disorders Association, the system is important for learning to read and write, keeping pace with schoolwork and developing motor control.
This is White’s first year as the school’s PE teacher and he said he learned about the program through a two-day training last summer at the Minds-In-Motion center in Louisville.
While these aren’t necessarily physically demanding activities, they are meant to help improve focus and attention, he said.
At a typical PE class, students go through two different sets of activities, one of them being Minds-In-Motion, before White conducts the lesson for the day.
The activities address eye movement control and balance and body movement functions including coordination.
The first of the activities the students do is to focus on the eraser of a pencil, moving only their eyes as they move it side to side in front of their face.
An underdeveloped vestibular system could affect the focus and reading of a student if their eyes are bouncing around a page of text. The eraser aims to focus their eye movements.
Other activities include balance boards, balance beams and a beanbag activity where students toss it up with their eyes following it all the way up and down.
White said over the years, outdoor and physical activities have fallen by the wayside, which also has affected the development of the vestibular system.
“These different stations that they do, it’s working on the things that we (adults) just did naturally,” White said.
Stephanie Gay, special education teacher, has been using the Minds-In-Motion for her classes since she started working at the school this year.
Gay does this by first conducting an assessment to test the students’ abilities to hear a set of numbers and repeat them back. The numbers begin as two digits and go up to seven.
During the school year, Gay shows her students pictures of a certain behavior, tells them verbally to do it and then shows them how to do the behavior. These including “hop” and “bend.”
She said once her class is able to complete the one-word request themselves through just her verbal command, they move on to behaviors that are multiple words that combine different movements.
Gay said her students view these activities less as school work and more as a fun game.
“It does all interconnect because it’s working out a part of the brain that the students don’t realize they’re working,” Gay said.
She said she is anxious to reassess her students, once the first component is finished, and see how her students have progressed in their abilities to hear the numbers.
White said PE class occurs once a week for each class. Eventually, the goal is to have all students doing Minds-In-Motion every day for about 10 minutes.
“If we’re able to implement this in school, where kids are able to do it every day, then that would just help even more,” White said.