Did you ever wonder why the face of an old friend can seem so familiar even if you haven’t seen them for years and no matter how hard you try you can’t remember their names? Did you ever think about what is going on in your brain that causes this to happen?

Did you that there are exercise programmes designed to help you brain to learn and remember more easily?

Really? I hear you say. Throwing a bean bag in the air can help me learn?

There is a bit more to it than just that. But yes, doing certain exercises every day can help your brain’s ability to learn.

How? Well here’s the science bit.

The cerebellum, the brain’s skill centre, speeds up the process of learning new skills like reading, writing, tying shoe laces or riding a bike or driving a car. The process by which movements become smooth and activated by practice start here.

If you have you ever watched a small child then you probably realise that all movements are learned; even ordinary things like walking or reaching for something without knocking it over are gradually leaned with a lot of repetition and practice.

Once we acquire those skilful movements the area of the brain called the cerebellum that produces these movements needs to be recalibrated. As the body changes as it grows and ages. We need to make those recalibrations constantly or our movements would again become clumsy like those of a child. This is in fact what is seen in patients with damage to this area of the brain — stroke victims for example lose the ability to speak sometimes to read.

It is this area of the brain that we are concerned with at Brain Gym Dublin.

The cerebellum works closely with the cerebrum which is the thinking part of the brain. When the cerebellum and the thinking centre are working properly things like learning to read, tying shoe laces or riding a bike are easier to learn. They make movements and learning seamless and easier.

In people with learning difficulties the two areas of the brain don’t always work as well as they should. Skills that are automatic take longer to learn. It can become frustrating and exhausting to learn what other people find simple to learn. Concentration and memory is much harder when these two areas of the brain are not working as efficiently as they should.

Exercises taught at Brain Gym Dublin are designed to exercise the cerebellum which can help learning new skills easier.

Try some of these exercises for yourself. Do them before you start your reading programme or use them as a break during homework. If you are finding something frustrating or hard to learn use these bean bag exercises.

And remember to have fun!

bbc.co.uk

First Exercise

a) Grip a bean bag with your fingers.

b) Throw the bean bag upwards without moving your feet and catch it using both hands.

c) Catch the bean bag with your right hand without moving your feet.

d) Throw the bean bag upwards and catch it with your left hand.

e) Throw the bean bag upwards with one hand but catch it with the other hand.

Second Exercise

a) Grip the bean bag with your fingers.

b) Flip the bean bag up and over one half turn with your right hand, like turning a pancake over.

c) Catch it in both hands with your palms up.

d) Do this again, but this time catch the bean bag with just your right hand, with palm up.

e) Flip the bean bag over but this time catches it in the palm of your left hand.

f) Flip the bean bag over and this time catch it on the back of your hand, or back of both palms down.

Third Exercise

a) Toss the bean bag back and forth across your body from hand to hand.

b) Follow it with your eyes.

c) Toss the bag from hand to hand, developing a rhythmical swing and gradually increasing the distance between your hands.

Fourth Exercise

a) Throw the bean bag above your head.

b) Jump and catch it at the highest possible point, before it starts back down.

Fifth Exercise

a) Throw the bean bag above your head.

b) Clap your hands once.

c) Catch the bean bag.

d) Toss it above your head and clap your hands two times before you catch it.

e) Toss the bean bag again, and see how many more times you can clap before catching it.

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Fiona Phelan runs Brain Gym Dublin and frequently works with children with learning difficulties.