Learning to play
First grade students have a lot of energy. A lot of energy.
What they probably don't know, though, is that their excess energy is helping them learn.
"They have a lot of energy, and they need a way to release that energy in a productive way," said Riverview Elementary School first grade teacher Julie Auge.
And that's why, when her class doesn't have phy ed or music, Auge often takes them to the school's Brain Room.
The RVES Brain Room is a new concept around Farmington schools. Principal Kim Grengs brought the idea to the area from her old school district in Perham. There, the Brain Room was called a "Boost Up Room," but the principles behind it are still the same.
What is it?
The Brain Room is a separate classroom where students can do physical activity. There's a set of monkey bars for them to swing across. There's a low, hill-like wedge for them to roll down. There's a balance beam and there are a couple of crawling mats.
It's not in a large area like a gymnasium, but rather, tucked into a regular-sized classroom. Auge likes to play upbeat music while her students are in the room, giving them a few minutes at each of the seven stations set up there. She plays music while the kids play, and when the students hear the music stop, they stop the activity they're doing. When Auge tells them to, they advance to the next activity and the music starts again.
The activities help the kids fine-tune skills without realizing it. The activities are designed to improve their balance, vision, phonemic and fine motor skills. For instance, when they use the "creep track," they are directed to place their hands on markers that have words in them. The skill teaches the eyes to go back and forth, Grengs said.
"It's purposeful. It helps them to stimulate the brain," she said. "Even when they're doing the monkey bars, they're going left to right. When they go back to the classroom and are actually going to read, they know they're going to read left to right. It's training your eyes to go left to right, which is training your brain."
The Brain Room is used mostly by students in kindergarten through second grade, but that doesn't mean the older students are sitting in their classrooms all day. The Brain Room is actually part of a bigger program endorsed by the Minnesota Learning Resource Center, called SMART.
SMART - Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training - is based on the theory that movement affects learning. Activities are designed to stimulate the brain stem, which establishes neurological connections and automatic functions that prepare the brain for skill development and learning.
As part of the SMART program, older students participate in what is called Bal-A-Vis-X, an acronym for Balance/Auditory/Vision Exercises.
The older students participate in the Bal-A-Vis-X activities, most of which are held either in their own classrooms, or within the house areas that connect their classrooms. The activities are more set in rhythm-based tasks. The exercises are done with sand-filled bags and racquetballs, sometimes on balance boards.
Five members of the RVES staff attended training for the Bal-A-Vis-X program, which included both the Brain Room activities and the activities for older students. In addition, Grengs said, staff from all of Farmington's elementary schools participated in the training last year. Each school has a similar program in place.
Grengs is pleased with how well the program has worked out in her school. The staff is monitoring student progress though things like the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test results and other measures, but it's too soon to tell what kind of influence the program has had. Based on the positive results she's heard of from Perham and other school districts that have used it, Grengs expects to see much the same here.
"In Perham, they were big proponents of the ... Boost Up Room," she said. "They had such great results from kids who would go that I thought when I came to Riverview this would be a great opportunity."
But to Auge's first graders, well, the Brain Room is just a fun place to go while they're at school.
"They do have a good time while they're in here," Auge said. "They're always excited to come."
More local teachers will be able to benefit from the SMART workshops this summer, as North Trail Elementary School will host the SMART workshops June 15-18.