The mind-body connection. A lot of people might picture a Tibetan monk meditating on a mountain, or someone sitting in a completely uncomfortable position. But did you know- the mind-body connection is central to our everyday lives and, yes, to handwriting!
Do you believe that the brain is the controller of everything? You wouldn’t be alone if you said, “Yes.” There are plenty of examples of the mind’s influence on the body. We start to worry about something (mind) and our shoulders start inching up towards our ears (body). Athletes imagine themselves completing the perfect routine (mind) and then are more able to do it (body). We think about a delicious meal (mind) and our mouth starts watering (body). We get embarrassed about something (mind) and our cheeks flush (body). We feel disappointed about something (mind) and we slump in our chair, head bowed (body).
So now, let’s think about the other direction- body to mind. When I was working on my psychology degree, I remember very vividly a story that my Abnormal Psychology professor told that highlights the power of the BODY in this mind-body equation. He was a young father and one day, his son came home crying with a bloody nose because he and the next-door neighbor boy were roughhouse playing and his son fell and hit his nose, causing the bleed. At first, my professor took the situation in stride, taking care of his son, etc. Unbeknownst to my professor, he was starting to get a stomach virus and his stomach was starting to hurt. He interpreted this pain as an emotional reaction to this occurrence, and, completely out of character, ultimately went over to the next door neighbor’s house and started yelling at the boy’s dad about how he needed to provide better supervision, etc. Later, when he realized he had a stomach virus, and the pain he had felt was related to that and not the anger about his son, he realized that this physical sensation had spurred this angry outburst. His body was the initiator.
We can think of plenty of simpler examples of how the body influences the mind. We get an awesome massage (body) and we feel relaxed and calm (mind). We go for a brisk walk (body) and we feel more focused and organized (mind). We take a few deep breaths when we are stressed (body) and we can be more present (mind). How about this? Michele tells the story of a phase in which her son would spin himself constantly, run around in circles, etc. and very soon thereafter began drawing circles. His body was experiencing and playing with circles, and then he was able to understand and create circles. (If you’re interested in finding out more, there is an interesting theory called Embodied Cognition that connects cognition foundationally to the body- very interesting and worth reading about).
This connection between the body and the mind is one of the foundational concepts of Connect Experience Write (CEW)®. Every letter is taught first through whole body movement, so that children are able to FEEL the letter first, before trying to write it. Each letter is also paired with musical tones that match the movement needed to create the letter (so, a high tone moving to a low tone signifies a line from the top to the bottom). We will cover the power of music in another blog post! We have worked with multiple children who were having difficulty with handwriting, and through this approach of using whole body movement first, followed by creating the letter on a vertical surface (slowly transitioning to smaller and smaller muscle groups), then ultimately using paper and pencil, children were able to be successful in creating letters. What an amazing experience when children look up after creating a letter for the first time—the ear-to-ear grin and sense of power these kids get is amazing! It’s why we do what we do.
Try it out!
Is your child stuck on creating diagonals? Take a step back and do some whole body movements related to diagonals!
BACK-TO-BACK DIAGONAL BALL PASS
Stand back-to-back. Use a ball that is big enough to be held with both hands. Pass the ball to the child over your right shoulder (the child will be picking it up from his/ her left shoulder). Bend down to your left foot and encourage the child to bring the ball down to pass it back to you. You then take the ball and bring it back up to your right shoulder and continue the movement. The child will be making diagonal movements with his/ her body from top-left to bottom-right. You can then switch the direction (start passing at your left shoulder and pick it up at your right foot). You can sing a song while doing this, count a certain number of times, do it fast and slow, etc. This is a fun game and activates many senses (vestibular, proprioceptive, visual), requires a child to cross the midline of his/ her body, and encourages movement in diagonal directions. So fun!
Connect Experience Write (CEW) is an interpersonal handwriting program that uses sensory-motor integration and visual-spatial concepts to facilitate the development of handwriting skills in students.
In CEW, students write letters using visual templates while listening to musicthat simulates the movements needed to form the letters. This combination of visual templates and auditory guides strengthens the visual-spatial foundations related to writing.
How does it work?
Keeping relationships and emotional connection at the forefront, CEW classes begin as a group. Students participate in whole body movements to the beat of music to help them identify the top, middle, bottom, left, and right parts of their bodies – all important foundational concepts to writing. They then move their shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers to a song that helps them isolate the body parts used when writing. Lastly, gross motor movements are performed with a partner (called “Mirror Movements”) that correlate with foundational writing strokes – vertical line, horizontal line, curves, and diagonals. The music is comprised of the same tones as the music that is used for each letter.
About the Creators
CEW was developed in 2012 by occupational therapists, Michele Parkins and Carrie Davis, while working in a school for children with challenges in relating and communicating. Together, they realized that so many students are missing the foundations they need in order to be successful in writing and have experienced many defeats in the area of handwriting before. With their knowledge of music, development of gross and fine motor movement, visual-spatial development and engagement, they decided to create a fun, engaging handwriting program that effectively teaches kids to create letters!
If you would like to learn more about CEW, please contact us!.
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Carrie Davis and Michele Parkins are occupational therapists and co-founders of CEW