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Working out in 'Brain Gym'

Morris Area Elementary School students work with their "Fitness Buddies" from Morris Area High School on "Brain Gym" activities at the high school gym recently.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Morris Area's "Fitness Buddies" program is being expanded to include the "Brain Gym" concept, which is intended to enhance learning through physical activity and education.

Morris Area teachers Darcy Winkelman and Mary Asche started "Fitness Buddies" three years ago, pairing elementary students with Asche's and Mary Holmberg's Morris Area High School students in physical education classes. The students work together to reach fitness goals and learn games and other activities.

Through the Statewide Health Improvement Plan, Morris Area added "Brain Gym" this year. "Brain Gym" features 26 activities which are designed to "get the brain ready to learn," Winkelman said.

"People think (physical education) is all fun and games," Winkelman said. "We hope it's fun, but there are things in PE than enhance what's done in the classroom."

A few minutes devoted to "Brain Gym" activities helps students prepare to sit quietly, listen and focus on learning, Asche said.

The activities are broken into four areas: midline, Energy, Lengthening and Deepening Attitudes.

Midline movements help students process information for reading, writing, listening and speaking.

"Energy exercises help to create order and center the learner," Asche stated.

Lengthening activities aid focus and understanding, and Deepening Attitudes activities help students relax and stabilize for sharing, playing, cooperating and improving sensory memory.

After introducing the "Brain Gym" activities in PE classes, the teachers hope to expand the brain-based physical activities into classrooms on a daily basis.

Asche's sophomore health classes created a short DVD of the "Brain Gym" activities with the help of Roger Boleman and Mike Cihak of the University of Minnesota, Morris' Media Services department. The DVDs will be available to classroom teachers to use during the day.

"It's a nice partnership with UMM, the schools and the community," Winkelman said.