Dr. Gretchen Stewart, a parent, teacher, researcher and the founder of an upcoming school, Smart Moves Academy, which focuses on the thinking brain and the moving body to maximize learning, shares her knowledge and experience with parents. As a parent of two children with learning differences, her understanding of providing for individual learning needs is highlighted.
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Steve: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the parents as learning coaches edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Parents and caregivers play many different roles, at times, even somewhat conflicting roles as they support children’s development. The pandemic has shown a light on the importance of parents supporting learners. In this podcast, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner that can support your coaching efforts.
Steve: 00:33 The thinking brain and body movement. Joining us today is Dr. Gretchen Stewart, a parent, teacher, researcher, and the founder of an upcoming school called Smart Moves Academy, a school that will focus on the thinking brain and the moving body to maximize learning. Gretchen, thanks for joining us.
Gretchen: 00:56 Thanks for having me here today, Steve.
Steve: 00:59 Can you start us off with what led you to the focus on founding a school like Smart Moves Academy?
Gretchen: 01:06 Absolutely. I’ve thought a lot about this as I’ve gone on this journey and it kind of distills all down to just one word and that word is love. I have always had a love for children before I was a parent, probably owing to why I went into teaching elementary school as my career. I went on to become a teacher of teachers. So I have a love for educators, a love for education. I think education can do amazing things for person in their life and our society. And then as I learned to be a parent and I had a son who struggled in school, I think it’s just my love for him really caused me to just not give up on looking for ways to help him. And through that journey, I latched onto something great and decided to open this school.
Steve: 02:04 So Gretchen, I know that there’s real purpose to the word “moves” being in the name of your school. So I’m wondering if you’d share with parents some of the connections between movement and learning.
Gretchen: 02:19 Yeah, absolutely. When my son was little about four, I would teach all day and I would come home and I would be like, why is he struggling to do things that come easily to other people? And I was talking about this with friends and someone said to me, hey, you should look into brain research. And I was like what? And I started looking into a program called Brain Highways actually, which is for parents. And I started learning about the brain and I was just amazed at how movement, which is our first language, Steve is movement. Before we can talk, we can move and we see that in infants, newborn babies. And so I started to learn and put pieces together and I started to kind of experiment with my son at home with these different approaches to movement. And I started understanding that our central nervous system, which is our brain and our spine together, that those things work together and that when we move, we are creating pathways and responses in our brain. And then I learned that all of that is related to academic achievement and good mental health and by the way, great physical health. So that’s kind of been my journey in learning about how movement is connected to the brain.
Steve: 03:51 And fair to say that some of us need more movement than others?
Gretchen: 03:55 Yeah, absolutely. I say we all need more than we probably do. Yeah. But yes, absolutely.
Steve: 04:02 I’ve always found in my work with parents, a struggle in that I know how I learn best and a tendency to try and assist my youngster
by creating the environment for how I would learn best. So, if I’m that seated at the at the desk kind of learner, and I have a child who’s a lay on the floor kind of learner, it’s difficult to make that make that connection.
Gretchen: 04:38 Absolutely, Steve. The great thing about that example is that there are things in life, I think as parents, we all have this vision of our children when they’re adults and they’re successful in life. And we think about that and yeah, you do have to be able to focus on something for a long time no matter what you’re doing, you do have to be able to be seated and quiet and there are times when we need to be able to do those things, but the awesome thing about being a parent and having a child who’s not there yet, is that by kind of leaning in to that movement or that different style that we’re not used to, we can actually do things that make those things that we use in adult life in this society more possible and easier and more natural for maybe a student or a child who’s not showing us that right now.
Steve: 05:35 I think one of the outcomes of the quarantine and people working at home is gonna be a discovery and an appreciation of people having more control over their their work environment to create a a way that works best for them. They were able to do that at home, so as you go back to the office, they can make modifications and adjustments. I know just one that I heard is there’s gonna be an increase in people bringing their pets to work because they found out they could work better at home with their pet, with them.
Gretchen: 06:13 More productive.
Steve: 06:14 I’ve had ones where the where the parent keeps taking the child back to the bedroom so that they can sit in a quiet space to work and by the time the parent gets back to the kitchen counter, the child’s back at the counter with a question and not making the connection that the child is actually more comfortable standing at the kitchen counter it because of the family relationship. So people around, even though for others, it would be noisy and distracting is actually more comfortable for that particular learner.
Gretchen: 06:47 Absolutely.
Steve: 06:49 As a parent of two children with learning differences, what are some things that parents should know about max learning
opportunities for their children?
Gretchen: 07:01 Well, I would say that we, as parents, we look holistically, we’re always thinking holistically. We’re thinking about the best for my child, academically mental health wise, physically. The great thing about movement as a catalyst for the best of all of those things is that A, you’re hitting three things at once, which I love because efficiency, but B, movement is great because it can really be a family experience and you can really take the things that you might already be doing and just ramping them up. I mean, generally, if you’re parent of a school-aged child or kid, could be a older kid, you’re probably doing things with your kids. So doing more of those things that are made up of being outdoors, doing things as a family that are, are physical.
Gretchen: 08:00 I live in Florida. We go to the beach a lot. We paddle board, we bought a kayak. We haven’t used it yet, but that’s gonna be great. And I wanna tell you why, because movements that cross the center of your body, so your right arm going over to your left shoulder, et cetera, they involve the two hemisphere of our brain. We call this crossing the midline. Those activities that cross the midline have been evidence to have the most impact on brain development and brain optimization. So in kayaking, getting my sons, one with autism, one with down syndrome who both struggled in school, to use that paddle and to cross over both sides of their body with that paddle, while it just looks like an everyday activity, I’m really excited because I know what’s happening there. And the same thing with a lot of other sports and a lot of games, and a lot of just dancing, gymnastics. I have my kids involved in all kinds of movements, swimming, gymnastics, dancing, the more of that that you can encourage and do with your kids, the better.
Steve: 09:11 Thank you. Gretchen, would you share the best way that parents could contact you, perhaps learn more about your school and and provide some specific questions that they might have that has a good chance that you could provide answers for?
Gretchen: 09:27 Yeah, absolutely. Well, number one, please email me. I love to talk with parents and, and share our experience and tell you
what I’ve learned about movement in the brain. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org – all one word. And then we do have a Facebook page and it’s Smart Moves Academy, Tampa and we post a lot of information, a lot of education about how movement impacts the brain for learning and mental health and wellbeing and physical wellbeing. And so we post just little shorts that are very educative and have examples of activities and we have a lot of videos there as well.
Steve: 10:11 Sounds like a great resource for for parents. We’ll be sure to put links to both of those into the lead-in to the podcast. Thank you, Gretchen. Appreciate it.
Gretchen: 10:21 Thanks, Steve.
Steve: 10:23 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.