Whole Person Development and Integration in Early Childhood Education: Why Brain Gym, and Why PACE?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll settle into a comfortable pace to dive into a deeper understanding of PACE, the doorway into whole-brain integration and part of our daily curriculum.
Although we often refer to the process of PACE via the song we sing daily, there’s a bit of nuance between the process of PACE itself and the delivery method of a song. PACE refers to the physiological process encompassed through four distinct brain-integrating activities that invite our bodies into a rhythmic flow, or pace, at which we process and engage with the world through our senses, literally connecting our brain activity to our physical movements. Each intentional movement prepares us for the next, so we practice them in sequence via a song.
What is PACE in Early Childhood Education
PACE is an acronym, presented in reverse, for Energetic, Clear, Active, and Positive. So that you may follow along with the song, we begin with sipping water, followed by Brain Buttons, Cross-Crawl, and Hook Ups. We’ll be going through each of these steps sequentially and in more detail.
Brain Gym is a systematic approach to intentionally strengthen the multi-sensory and movement-based neural pathways that support optimal brain-body connection and integration. The movements mirror the physiological process by which humans develop from infancy and support children to strengthen the internal map by which children orient themselves, connect with the world, and self-teach.
How Do We Incorporate PACE in Early Childhood Education?
At Treehouse Learning, we incorporate PACE daily in multiple ways. We sing the PACE song for the continuous, multi-sensory experience of connecting names to movements. We start with PACE as an entire school at Big Circle, where we welcome the day together as a community through movement and singing. Infants and toddlers naturally modify their movements as their physical development progresses, though they still benefit from adult-led modeling to see, hear, and experience others doing PACE.
Additionally, the practice of PACE not only prepares the entire brain to be powered up, but it also serves as an indicator light on a dashboard. Our understanding of the developmental and physiological importance of each intentional Brain Gym movement allows us to notice and pay closer attention to when children aren’t yet able to cross their midlines, for example. However, the process of PACE itself allows each individual to move into their own state of flow, so the emphasis is on building awareness during the process and noticing the information communicated to us via our bodies and the ease of our movements.
For children in their first five years of life, all learning begins in the body via our physical development. As adults, knowledge transfers from our heads to our hearts via our hands through the same principle- we learn experientially, and we embody understanding and knowledge through doing and experiencing. Our engagement with PACE, therefore, is simultaneously an invitation to learning for the children we’re around, as well as our own invitation into integration as adults when we participate and model PACE ourselves.
We also incorporate the individual components of PACE throughout our day, or more specifically, we “mark” them as part of the PACE process by putting a name to the activity and noticing the brain-based movement processes that we see occurring. For example, young toddlers practice transition times before snacks and meals by incorporating PACE components, like beginning with a sip of water, and adults provide the enriching language experience of connecting each child’s name to the words around the action of drinking water. As adults model and children practice PACE, the individual components of PACE are like the go-to spells that Harry Potter can cast fairly automatically. Though there’s no magic involved, Brain Gym and PACE encompass both innate body-mind wisdom that infants are born with and skills that can be learned and practiced.
As a true experience of using PACE in the wild, one of my children will often encourage me, “Mama, it looks like you’re in the Red Zone- you should try Hook Ups because it ‘makes you feel so calm so fast!’” (She’s right). In times when I notice myself in a stressful situation, I’ll often use Brain Button to help see a situation clearly or differently, widen and shift my perspective, and feel grounded. Wherever possible, I’ll go outside where my line of sight is free of walls (and therefore, my thinking tends to be far more expansive). In another true story, I once interrupted what would have been a major adult tantrum of anger directed at a family member by literally pausing a rant mid-sentence to yell, “Hold on- first I’m going to DRINK this big glass of WATER and CALM DOWN!”
Is Brain Gym Movement-Based Learning or Social-Emotional Learning?
PACE, and Brain Gym may appear on the surface to be multi-sensory movement-based activities rather than social-emotional learning tools. However, the physiology and intentionality of the movements are to integrate our brains, or in other words, help nudge us back into the Green Zone, or the place where we can show up as our best selves and do our thinking from our Upstairs Yes Brain. This is the necessary brain state for us to engage any of our other Social-Emotional Toolkits and the state through which subsequent academic learning can occur.
Integration refers to the state of joyful ease through which optimal learning and whole-person thinking and experiencing can occur, which on a literal level, means essentially that our bodies, brains, and hearts are all in alignment and working together. Brain Gym and SEL tools (such as Zones of Regulation or any other embodied mindfulness activities) are distinct and yet interconnected. Brain Gym and PACE are very much whole-person experiences, where movement, learning, emotional attunement, and self-awareness are all integrated.
Brain Gym is an invitation to an integrated way of learning and living for all humans. Humans are born as whole people, driven to seek a balanced state of wholistic well-being where we thrive as physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings. Treehouse Learning supports whole-person development and learning via intentional, responsive, and respectful experiences. This value guides our daily interactions, curriculum, and our inward/outward focus across the entire organization. What this looks like within our community is purposeful offerings of intentional, joyful, movement-based learning experiences delivered through play, nature, music, arts, and culture. All of this happens within the context of relationships. This, we believe, is the foundation of quality early childhood education experiences.