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'Brain Gym' comes to Jordanhill

Movement is "a biggie", Carla Hannaford told an audience at Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University last week. The American neurophysiologist had been well trailed. Her latest book, Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head, was on display, and a dozen bottles of mineral bottles and plastic cups intriguingly awaited her arrival.

Not your typical professor but a small, tanned woman with a wide smile and streaked blonde hair. She wore a simple purple cheesecloth dress and white boots and introduced Charles, her partner, a doctor she met on a plane two years ago.

The pair of them are "working in 22 countries worldwide and a lot in the United States, in school". Her interest in the effect of movement on learning had been stimulated in the late 1980s when as a teacher at the University of Hawaii she had been invited to visit a group of junior high school pupils with academic problems.

Employing the technique of "Brain Gym", a series of physical exercises, produced remarkable results. Within a few months the pupils were reading and writing more easily. They grew more attentive and positive and their grades improved.

She was then asked to be a counsellor at a school for children with special needs. "I spent half my time at university, half my time at day school and half my time raising my daughter." It was a great learning experience, though evidently not in her grasp of basic mathematics.

It sparked off a quest to discover what happens in the brain when we are learning. Dr Hannaford became convinced that physical movement was a key process. As a result she condemns the influence of television and computer games which reduce activity but raise stress levels. Light patterns emitted by television keep children at too high an adrenalin level.

Television and computers should be confined to the over-eights, Dr Hannaford says, although she accepts that is impractical.

Well, at least they should bring a jug of water to school since in order to lubricate the brain everyone ought to drink one and a half litres a day, and two to three if they are under stress. But that, too, presents problems: "They are going to the bathroom more often."

After such insights into neurophysiology, and audience involvement in stretching and bending exercises led Dr Hannaford, some fizzy water seemed a good idea. But the dozen bottles were already empty.

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