Juggling & The Flow Arts: The Academic Benefits
What do you mean when you say flow arts?
Flow Arts is a fitness meditation practice that puts bodies in balance and motion. Flow Arts blends meditation, play, exercise and dance into a fun and healthful activity that moves the body, stills the mind and uplifts the spirit. It is movement with an external focus aimed at putting you “in the zone” or, as we like to say, in the Flow.
Flow Arts is like Yoga, Tai Chi, Dance and Juggling all rolled into Fun!
Juggling and the flow arts provide a series of sequential problems that require the student to calm down, pay attention, listen analytically, observe critically, focus on one activity at a time, plan a learning strategy, go step by step, stay on task, screen out distractions, manage their muscles to act appropriately and with the desired results using successive approximations, persevere through a series of minor failures (drops), analyze final results of the process, and incorporate the newly learned activities into a larger pattern of complex learned activities that can be demonstrated and taught to others. It is a limitless, cumulative, branching model which teaches creative problem solving through direct experience and enhances creativity by offering intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcement with every gain in skill!
Students who understand the step by step learning system used in juggling and the flow arts do well in all their other subjects because they are not intimidated. They improve their attitude toward learning new subjects and acquiring new skills. They do not hesitate to accept challenges, just as they accepted the challenge of learning to juggle. This attitude of confidence and acceptance of risk-taking gives students who are involved in a juggling or flow arts program a decided edge over those who are not. When students can get up and perform successfully for adults or other students, self esteem soars. The key to enhanced self-esteem is the realization of one’s self-worth, and nothing brings this home to kids better than praise and applause from peers and adults.
Research has shown that there is a direct relationship between the hand-eye coordination learned through juggling and the ability to read, write and reason. Academic connections are strongly indicated between juggling & flow arts on the one hand and reading, math, handwriting and other subject areas on the other. The most persuasive evidence for an academic connection so far comes from the work of Dr. Carole E. Smith, Physical Education Specialist Lackland City Elementary School, 101 Dumont, San Antonio, TX 78251 Dr. Smith’s work shows that learning to juggle can improve both handwriting and reading skills. Her research merely reinforces the work of Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget, both of whom hypothesized that gross motor movements and tactile sensation increased cognitive learning. If every student learns to juggle in primary grades, and they are constantly reinforced to improve their juggling skills, academic performance should improve accordingly.Research also shows that if students get up and move around energetically on a regular basis they return to academic tasks refreshed and will learn better as a result. Using juggling and object manipulation as the central theme, a program of classroom fitness and coordination breaks can be set up and run by the students themselves. Because each student works at their own pace, with their own equipment and in an environment which reinforces effort and accomplishment, the activity is completely safe and non-disruptive. Juggling and flow arts are like a “sorbet” for the mind, a “right brain break in a left brain day.” It is low-impact aerobics that rhythmically and energetically exercises the big muscles close to the head and heart, pumping blood to the brain.
A large percentage of kids come to school as “couch potatoes” and we don’t want to create “desk potatoes” out of them. By creating a life-line between the classroom and the activity center (gym or playground) the teacher can see the student as a whole person, not simply as an academic entity. Skills can be learned that will be practiced eagerly every day at school and every evening and weekend at home and which can be carried on for a life time. This set of activities does not involve team sports or competitive games, but individual skill development and cooperative learning activities which are developed by students themselves in a self-paced manner.
If students can become involved in the teaching and evaluation process, they learn a great deal more than if they are simply taught a skill or subject by a teacher. A juggling or flow arts program is designed to be initiated by a teacher but administered by students. It is not necessary that the teacher even know how to juggle, although that will happen in almost every case regardless of the teacher’s previous experience with physical activity. This peer teaching program can include a goal setting and promotion system whereby students evaluate one another for advancement in a fun and casual way. There is no negative stigma attached to failure in these evaluation activities. Conversely, there is a great deal of positive reinforcement inherent in working together, persevering and eventually accomplishing the goal. Discipline and regular practice are natural outcomes of the process, just as they are when a group of friends challenges one another to learn to skateboard, toss a frisbee, play hacky-sack or shoot baskets. Learning juggling and other types of flow arts uses a step by step self-regulated problem solving format with automatic reinforcement at every level of accomplishment. There are no losers in this process, only winners!!Because you can only learn to juggling and flow arts step by step,they are a great model for learning in general.
Juggling and flow arts skills are cumulative and students can see and appreciate their improvement and the improvement of others right from the first lesson. It is the sort of activity that reinforces the participant immediately for practice, and the payback is directly proportional to the amount and quality of practice. In this regard juggling and flow art practice is just like practicing reading, spelling or math, and the similarity of the cumulative step by step processes can be repeatedly pointed out to students.
Learning flow arts and the brain changes
Scientists have found that by learning juggling and other forms of flow arts you can produce significant, powerful changes within your brain. Scientists have studied the brains of many individuals who frequently practice juggling. The scientists compared the brains of habitual jugglers to individuals that don’t practice juggling. What the scientists discovered were significant changes in the size of the brains of the individuals that frequently juggled. All of the brains of individuals who practiced juggling were bigger than average. The art of throwing objects in the air such as balls, rings and clubs, as well as manipulating objects such as diabolo, devil stick, poi & staff all offer the same benefits for willing pupils!
Compared to those who didn’t juggle, or weren’t able to juggle, individuals that juggled had significantly boosted the amount of grey matter in their brains’. The change in amount of grey matter was heavily noted in two key areas of the brain: the mid-temporal area and the left posterior intraparietal sulcus. Both of these brain areas are involved in the processing of visual and motor information.How scientists determined the grey matter increase:In order to study the brains of those who juggled, scientists used voxel-based morphometry: a technique that directly measures concentrations of brain tissue. This allowed them to determine to compare the grey matter of jugglers’ and non-jugglers’ brains.
Brain changes from juggling: healthy, but not permanent
Though juggling is an activity that promotes positive change and growth of the brain, it unfortunately is not known to have a permanent affect on boosting brain power. Scientists have discovered that stopping a juggling routine slowly reverts the boosted grey matter and brain functioning to the same size as it was previous to starting a juggling routine.With that said, implementing juggling into your daily routine may prove to be a unique activity to experiment. Who knows, you may even consciously notice (or feel) brain changes as a result of juggling! It seems as though the brain areas that grow and are activated by juggling, will at least [temporarily] give you a cognitive boost. Why the brain changes completely back to normal after a juggling routine is stopped, scientists do not exactly know. Some scientists propose that the brain changes were due to: increased cell production and communication between cells.
Some more food for thought
What is very interesting is the fact that Dr. Vanessa Sluming, has studied the brains of musicians and found that at some point, they are able to retain more brain cells than those who aren’t musically inclined. She thought that the research involved with brain power and juggling was very interesting because it showed brain boosting improvements in not only children, but elderly adults!Dr. Vanessa Sluming further went on to say: “It shows that what we do in everyday life might have an impact not just on how our brains function but on the structure at a macroscopic level.” I found this interesting and absolutely believe that this is true. The actions you take today shape your consciousness and brain for the future. Whether you create permanent changes in brain functioning, I don’t know. However, I think that the best time to start changing your brain is as soon as possible! Especially for children, their brains seem to have an ability to adapt and mold to however they react to their reality.
Final thoughts on Juggling and The Flow Arts
If you already enjoy the act of juggling, keeping it at a daily routine or doing it every other day may prove to yield brain boosting benefits. Realize that juggling is a “use it or lose it” type of activity. The more you use juggling, the more you activate growth in the brain. When you stop juggling for a while, your brain activity will shift back to normal – the way it was before you began juggling. Juggling and it’s effects on our brain is definitely a very interesting concept for scientists to study. The art of throwing objects in the air such as balls, rings, and clubs, as well as manipulating objects such as diabolo, devil stick, poi & staff all offer the same benefits! ~