Eye Openers are Mind Openers

Innovative Eye Exercises That Focus Attention In The Classroom

This week we are proud to present some innovative and creative work being done at NYC Public School 112 in Harlem. Dr. Martha Eddy, a 20 year Ph.d. of education and movement and a consultant to the NYC Board of Ed, has developed a kind of “eye yoga” which takes a child’s natural urge to move and act out in the classroom and converts that energy into focused attention so the child is ready to learn. In a DVD called “Eye Openers are Mind Openers”, brought to us by Dr. Eddy, Barry Chiate and Jeanne Suggs, Dr. Eddy demonstrates a group of exercises which we can do with our children to help them achieve enhanced focus and attention at home and in the classroom. As one of those creative types who is always multi-tasking and has her focus in a thousand directions at any given moment, I immediately understood the value of this work!

In the words of Executive producer Barry Chiate, “Eye Openers addresses the problems of hyperactivity and offers an alternative to sedating hundreds of thousands of kids on Ritalin. Eye Openers offers hope to deal with one of the greatest challenges in education today – classroom management and the repeated attempts to get focused and settled – which can take up to 50% of a teacher’s valuable time in the classroom.”

One of the central techniques taught in the DVD is called “Palming”: By rubbing the hands together and cupping the palms over the eyes, the retinas have time to “reset”, which allows the brain to get focused for a new activity. When children use the palm technique, they quiet right down. This makes sense when you think that light is such an important trigger for the body’s natural cycles, called circadian rhythms (see “32 Ways To Liven Up Your Day/Part 4” for more about circadian rhythms).

A second group of techniques involves eye focusing exercises which switch between “smooth” and “jumpy”. These exercises allow children to make faster and smoother transitions. For example, they can then readily change focus between their desk (near) and the blackboard (far). This shifting of focus also readies a child’s attention for the next activity.

A third group of activities draws inspiration from the blinders we sometimes see Manhattan horses sporting to help them keep focused on the busy streets of NYC. Children are taught to place their hands by the sides of their eyes to see how this affects their peripheral vision and allows them to focus on what is directly in front of them. Once learned, this awareness helps children get on point more rapidly when it is time do do so. Another fun activity in this area calls for a paper “telescope” using a rolled up piece of paper to look through and focus vision.

Another area of Dr. Eddy’s work benefits children with poor gross motor skills who often bump into their peers unintentionally (ahem…my child :). By presenting controlled risks in a classroom environment, children have opportunities to handle some challenging circumstances in the classroom and better learn to better self regulate. Risks and challenge can be monitored for safety using rules, props, and gentle comments to individual children who are deviating from the task. My favorite technique involves using “yoga dots” (available at Creative Kids Yoga) and asking kids to move among the dots without bumping into each other by pretending they are on a crowded NYC subway platform.

The overall message of Dr. Eddy’s work is that focus is like a muscle that needs to be exercised for ready use. I highly recommend the Eye Openers DVD to any parent or teacher who wants to help their child achieve focus without resorting to Ritalin and other mood altering prescription drugs. You can find more information at their web-site, Eyes Open Minds.

I always try to encourage my son’s individuality while giving him the tools he needs to succeed in and out of the classroom. I say a lot about this in the Parents With Angst song “Teacher Teacher”: “Teacher teacher, What’s a matter?, Twenty years from now, The evolutionary theory, Is gonna flip out, And all today’s children, Will be smarter than, You and I, ‘Cause you try to, Box them in, Oh so nice and sweet, The future Mensa charters, Are gonna make, Fun of you and me”. If you like these lyrics you can watch a live video recording of the song below. Until next time, try not to bump into anybody on the subway platform :) xoxo Amelia