Every morning at Treehouse Learning, we gather at Big Circle and begin our day with an intentional song of welcome centered around our values of a community anchored in inclusion, belonging, and the invitation to be part of something larger than ourselves. We then move into PACE, our daily ritual for settling into our unique timing, tempo, or pace for the day. Through the PACE sequence, our body and mind experience safety, and all of the parts of our brain, body, and heart are awakened, energized, and eager to engage with the world from a place of physical groundedness and joy. From this place, we are able to think from an “optimized brain” and even shift our thoughts to anticipate positive experiences.
Our first step of PACE is hydration, drinking a hearty sip of water alongside cheers and celebrations of water. In our bottom-to-top acronym, water Energizes our body. We literally energize the electrical systems in the nervous system with the influx of water. Symbolically, by celebrating water, we reinforce our connection to the larger world outside of ourselves; water is life, and we’re part of a bigger living ecosystem where our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are all connected to water.
After PACE, we begin our second move, called Brain Buttons, corresponding to the C, for Clear, in the PACE acronym. This intentional movement grounds our body, stimulates our midline (also the pathway for our Vagus Nerve, or the incredible neuron-super-highway that we just energized with our water), and integrates our vision, hearing, and both hemispheres of the brain. On a social-emotional level, Brain Buttons help us center into our grounded self where we can access our tools of perspective-taking, empathy, and future-oriented thinking, or in other words, responsive, rather than reactive, thinking.
Brain Buttons begin with an awareness of the vertical midline of the body. You can imagine this if you picture your body as a two-dimensional cutout on fancy paper that could be symmetrically folded in half (See also: Flat Stanley book series). To do Brain Buttons, one hand is placed, and remains, on our bellies to ground us. We like to imagine that our hand is glued to our belly with an impressive selection of imaginary sticky substances. The other hand makes a U-shape, like a magnet, and both those magnetic poles stick right to either side of the collar bone, rubbing in small circles and stimulating the pressure points with cupped hands. In the first round of the song, we practice shifting our vision from far away (ideally out of a window) and as near as we can see (the tip of our nose). On the next round, we fix eyes along an imaginary horizon and slowly shift as far as possible from side to side.
How Brain Buttons Support Whole-Brain Integration
Despite the fact that our home planet, the Earth, is hurtling through an infinitely expansive and unfathomable universe, our own movements on the surface of the earth are only relative to the stable reference point of the Earth as a stationary object in space. Brain Buttons buttons, a grounding exercise, similarly provide a stable physical reference for moving the eyes side-to-side to the left and right and shifting the vision between far and near. This move supports shifts between focused and ambient attention and helps give feedback about our orientation in space. It also helps establish the midfield of the body by crossing the visual and auditory midlines and helps develop effective hand-eye coordination. The movement intentionally engages the functions of the brain necessary for reading, specifically the directionality of eye movement across a page.
Mind-Body Connection: We are All Whole People
We often think of social-emotional learning as having more to do with our thoughts and feelings than our physical bodies. However, holistic mental health and well-being begin in the body. While our younger children would not yet be expected to have the language or motor skills as their older counterparts, younger children are intrinsically motivated to play in the movements that integrate the brain, organically, when given ample opportunities to experience full-body exploratory play and the freedom to move.
Our attunement and grounding within our physical bodies are the physical foundations necessary for emotional literacy around the skillful understanding of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors. All behavior change begins through physical, mental, and emotional embodiment, and it is for this reason that the choice of whole-person integration begins with the body.
Self-Care and Checking In With Our Bodies
Brain Buttons, whether individually or part of PACE, are a wonderful tool to bring groundedness and clarity. This helps us literally and symbolically check in with our bodies and supports our mental and emotional well-being, especially at times when life feels extra full. December is typically one of the busiest months of the year in terms of cultural holidays, parties, and festivities, and endless opportunities to perform, experience, or express through baking, decorating, gift making and exchanging, etc. Ironically, the rhythm and pace of the season, culturally, don’t coincide with the body’s natural circadian rhythm and the flow of the season, at least not in the Northern Hemisphere!
In nature, the cold winter months are always a time for rest and restoration. Farmers often refer to the winter months in terms of being a sabbath for the land. Indigenous cultures share traditions of gathering together for community and stories, which is also a means of transmitting culture and history via oral storytelling traditions. When the days are short, cold, and dark, most of us, if truly given the option, would benefit from several months of coziness, extra sleep, and time with loved ones sharing stories that recharge all our batteries. Brain integration strategies, like Brain Buttons and PACE, are a really important way to self-care when there is a mismatch between the demands of life during a season and the needs of our bodies, minds, and spirits.
At Treehouse Learning, we begin our day in community at Big Circle with Brain Gym movements and songs for many reasons. We do this to build belonging and create community. We do this to support intentional learning experiences for our children. We do this to honor holistic well-being and support healthy minds, hearts, and bodies. And especially during seasons when life feels really full, we choose to integrate our brains in order to move into our capacity for joyful experiencing by finding the rhythm of our pace.