The functions of the body and brain cannot be separated (Kokot, 2010). “When we are born, all parts of the brain have been established, however are not yet working well together. In order for all parts to function, they must be linked together” (Blomberg & Dempsey, 2011 p. 17). Our entire brain structure is connected to and grown by the movement mechanisms within our bodies (Dennison, 2006).
Paul MacLean describes the brain as being in layers like an onion. The most inner part of the brain is the brain stem, commonly known as the “fish brain.” The function of this part of the brain is to receive signals from our senses and to relay them to the motor organs. All of our automatic functions are controlled by the brain stem.
The basal Ganglia, part of the brainstem, is “responsible for the organization of involuntary and semi-voluntary activity, upon which consciously willed movements are superimposed” (Goddard, 2005, p. 44). It “connects and orchestrates impulses between the cerebellum and frontal lobe, thus helping to control body movement” (Hannaford, 1995, p. 60).
The brain stem also has a net of nerve cells called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The job of the RAS is to receive impulses from all our senses, except for the sense of smell, and then to transmit them to the cortex, which improves attention and alertness. If the cortex is insufficiently stimulated by the RAS, then the child will be passive and will be unable to pay attention.
Another job of the brain stem is to regulate muscle tone after receiving sufficient stimulation from the vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile senses (Blomberg & Dempsey, 2011).
The cerebellum, which contains ½ of the brain’s neurons, receives signals from receptors for the kinesthetic and tactile senses that transmit information regarding touch and pressure (Blomberg & Dempsey, 2011). It is involved in various aspects of planning and monitoring movements and regulates muscle tone, including saccadic eye movements. Its job is to make our movements coordinated and smooth. Apart from motor control, it also is involved in attention, long-term memory, spatial perception, impulse control, abstract thinking and other cognitive functions (Lengel & Kuczala, 2010), therefore, movement has a direct affect on the latter, including eye movements, reading comprehension, speed of information processing, working memory, learning and speech development.
Impulses to the brain via the different senses and the cerebellum activate the RAS and are then finally sent to and processed by the higher areas of the brain in the cortex. In order for the cortex to process, absorb, and comprehend material, the brain stem must be able to perform its own tasks, such as move the eyes from left to right across a page, adjust visual focus between the desk and board, sound out letters to form words.
The The pre-frontal cortex is located on the frontal lobes of the brain. Elkhonen Goldberg refers to it as the “executive brain” which “gives us our interpersonal abilities and plain old common sense; for example, the ability to ‘read’ situations, discern the meanings of facial expressions, and anticipate the consequences of various actions,” (Dennison, 2006, p. 57).
The Pre-frontal cortex is the decision making part of our brain and is involved in making plans, judgments, motivation, and impulse control. It “enables our conceptual and abstract thinking and our ability to reason and change our conscious concepts and ideas” (Blomberg & Dempsey p. 107), and is the part of the brain that is last to develop. It is also the part that is the most susceptible to damage in adolescents who engage in smoking marijuana. Like other parts of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex develops via our movement and sensory skills. It is also closely connected to the cerebellum and to the limbic system, which controls our emotions.
From my book: Movement Makes Math Meaningfuil: Away from the Desk Math Lessons Aligned with the Common core.
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.