By BRIDGET FRYMAN
NEW PARIS —
If you walk the halls of New Paris Elementary, don’t be surprised if you see students skipping, hopping, sliding along walls or crawling on their hands and knees like dogs — they’re learning.
The school, along with Millersburg and Benton elementaries, is piloting a program called Minds in Motion. The MAZE of exercises is designed to help develop and stimulate different areas of the brain that can aid in learning.
Kindergarten teacher Lori Wilson heard about the program from a parent who is also a speech pathologist.
“This interested me because we are cutting out so much time in recess and PE yet we are wanting kids to sit still more and work harder at reading,” Wilson said. “It was an area we have never tapped into.”
Minds in Motion was developed by reading specialist Candace Meyer, who has researched connections between learning difficulties and physiological development. She noticed that struggling students often had poor balance, lack of timing and poor eye-focusing ability, among other things.
Her research began with the same instruments NASA used to track the inner-ear function of astronauts who spent prolonged time in space. Her program, now called the MAZE, combines developmental gymnastics, balance exercise and other complex movements, according to mimlearning.com.
Superintendent Steve Thalheimer was familiar with the program and knew other schools had had success with it. He encouraged Wilson to write a grant to United Way, which would help pay for training and materials, and wanted to include the other elementaries as well. They received all three grants.
“I know students need an opportunity to get out of their seats, to break up the learning environment,” Thalheimer said. “They need to have time for things to sink in.”
Wilson heard Meyer speak last April, and without any materials, began implementing some of the exercises with her students.
“It doesn’t take very long and I thought if it doesn’t work, at least they’ll get some good exercise,” Wilson said.
Her lowest students made tremendous gains and the only thing that had changed was introducing Minds in Motion. That was enough to convince Principal Lisa Litwiller that this program would be good for more than just kindergartners.
“The brain is a muscle, it needs to be worked and developed and that can happen through movement of different parts of the body,” Litwiller said. “If it’s good for the little kids, why wouldn’t it be good for the big kids too?”
Now what was originally intended as a kindergarten program is being used throughout the entire school. Kindergarten through third-grade students do the MAZE daily and the older students use it every other day, Litwiller said.
The MAZE is set up in an empty classroom, through the hallways to the stage in the cafeteria, and down another hallway. It changes from week to week and each teacher does it a little differently. The exercises include skipping, balance boards, walking on balance beams, tossing bean bags, rolling on a mat, crawling and walking up and down stairs backward. New Paris doesn’t have many stairs, so the school enlisted the help of the building trades class at the high school to build portable steps for the MAZE.
Kindergarten teacher Dana England said she was excited to try the program because it made sense to her, and now, she has seen the strides her students have made.
“Overall this group has done well academically and physically,” she said. “I had three who couldn’t skip, now all of them can skip.”
The students enjoy the break and the time to focus and are noticing changes in their learning.
McKenna Garber, a sixth-grader, said her favorite part of the MAZE is the balance beams.
“Last year in math, I used to write the wrong numbers down for problems,” she said. “I’ve never done that since we started Minds in Motion.”
Krista Wagler, also a sixth-grader, agreed.
“Last year I couldn’t focus,” she said. “Now I have more memory and can focus better.”
Litwiller said that all schools are focusing on intervention and Minds in Motion is another tool that can be used for everyone, and tweaked when a student is struggling.
The intention was to pilot the program in kindergarten and then use it in other grade levels, but the program took off faster than Thalheimer had anticipated.
“It’s a snowball effect,” he said. “You see how it’s engaging kids and it has spread out from there. It’s happening on its own without us doing it.”