Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Life in Balance {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

There’s nothing quite like the determination of a parent trying to help their child, especially a parent who is helping their child overcome physical or educational hurdles. I often find myself on the computer late at night reading medical journal articles or googling random symptoms. It was no big surprise when I begged to review a book about "a unique breakthrough in educational therapy."

Learning Breakthrough Program ReviewFor years I’ve seen exercise programs that promise to make positive differences in a child’s schoolwork. Until I read A Life in Balance by Frank Belgau, I didn’t fully understand the connection between mental abilities and physical development. Frank Belgau has spent his life exploring brain-body connections and eventually founded Learning Breakthrough Program, a company that specializes in brain fitness activity.

When I picked up A Life in Balance, I expected to build my knowledge base, but I didn’t really expect to be entertained or inspired. I was drawn into the story and inspired by Frank Belgau's dedication to helping students that struggled with their schoolwork. His work was guided by several maxims handed down by his father: "problems are made to be solved; challenges are made to be overcome; if something doesn’t work, throw it out, and if something does work, explore it" (page 43). He never gave up hope for the children he worked with, not even the ones other teachers had labeled as severely learning disabled. His ideas weren't in line with traditional teaching methods, but he proved that they worked.

As Frank Belgau outlines his methods and experiments, I was struck by how all of his theories made so much sense. I started to think about how many of these concepts could apply to Lauren.  He explains how physical intelligence (balance, spatial awareness, etc) greatly impacts higher brain functions like reading, memory, and evaluation. Lauren struggled for many years with physical development, even though she started working with a physical therapist when she was only a few months old. Lauren continues to see physical and occupational therapist, but I naively thought that her work in those areas was largely separate from the schoolwork I do with her at home. This book encouraged me to pay more attention to the impact her physical development has on her academic achievements.

The last few pages of the book outline the Space Walk, an easy way to evaluate a child's vestibular strengths and weaknesses. I could tell from the very first walking activity that Lauren needs lots of practice in these areas. In fact, we spent most of this afternoon's physical therapy session discussing the way she walks. I hadn't noticed anything until I read the book's description of a good walk and stopped to pay attention.

After reading A Life in Balance, I am convinced that some of Lauren's current school struggles could be helped by more focus on physical activities and development. I have a renewed commitment to making sure she does her OT and PT exercises at home. I am also very interested in learning more about the specific exercises included in The Learning Breakthrough Program. The book lays out strong evidence that supports using physical activities to improve overall cognitive skills, but I'm not sure that I'm willing to pay for the complete program. Perhaps that is my greatest disappointment with this book -- I can't do very much with my new insights without the corresponding equipment and program DVD.

A Life in Balance was written for adults, especially ones that are invested in a child's life and willing to look at academic problems from a different perspective. The book costs $16.94.

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