Insightful people are today calling for some form of education and instruction directed not merely to the cultivation of one-sided knowledge – Rudolf Steiner

Scientists now agree that the mind-body connection and the ties between movement and cognition run deep. Whether it’s crossing the midline to deepen the strength of our corpus callosum or exercise’s effect on brain nerve cell growth, what we do with our bodies has a direct effect on our ability to process information.

Waldorf teachers understand the importance of  building the mind-body connection.

Take ice-skating for example. During the winter months, Philly Waldorf grades students take to the ice once a week. When our students are ice skating, they are engaging their bodies to improve their minds.

For a more in-depth look at what ice skating does for the brain, we turn to American developmental psychologist and professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard, Howard Gardner, who identified nine types of intelligence in his book Frames of Mind. One of those identified was called Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence or the ability to control one’s body movements and to handle objects skillfully.

Developing Body/Kinesthetic Intelligence is not about becoming an athlete, but is about developing key skills in eye and body coordination, manual dexterity, and physical agility and balance. Gardner specifically cited the importance of these skills for professionals like, “anthropologists, athletes, biologists, dancers, geologists, instrumentalists, nurses, physical education teachers, physical therapists and physicians.

While this is all well and good for supporting movement generally — say recess, gym class and eurythmy — you may still be wondering, “Why Ice Skating?” Ice skating very specifically focuses on two sensory systems that influence mental processing in key ways — the Prioceptive sense and the Vestibular system. Scientists have specifically studied ice skating and the effect the development of these sensory systems have on skater’s minds. It turns out skating is a brain workout. In one study specifically on figure skaters found a direct correlation between time on the ice and the “vestibular cerebellum size.” Another study of speed skaters also found cerebellum brain changes.

When our students are ice skating, they are engaging their bodies to improve their minds.

These prioceptive and vestibular systems work closely together within the brain to process movement, balance, body awareness and spatial orientation. But these skills aren’t just related to lapping someone out on the rink. These systems influence the neural structures that control eye tracking, hand eye coordination and small and larger motor movements.

The optimal development of these brain regions, according to the book, Teaching with the Brain in Mind’s chapter on Movement and Learning, “is critical to our attentional system, because it regulates incoming sensory data. This interaction helps us keep our balance, turn thoughts into actions, and coordinate movements.”

Another author in a sensory integration field, A. Jean Ayres who wrote, Sensory Integration and the Child, states that the vestibular system assists in the development of “postural, motor, language and social skills.” She also calls it the “unifying system” that provides a framework for all other aspects of our experience.

girls-2

In this way, ice skating field trips become academic field trips for our students –

– helping them develop better brain power for the reading, writing and other studies that rely heavily on small motor, attention and visual skills boosted by a high functioning vestibular system. Not to mention ice skating is a great social activity and it builds confidence. It also builds discipline and courage; ask anyone who has ever fumbled and fallen on the ice. Did we also mention, it’s FUN? Because that’s the part that matters to our students. They don’t know they’re building their vestibular system for better attention skills and academics, they are having a great field trip experience and building wonderful memories with friends. And we don’t need science to tell us the benefits of wonderful winter memories.

With thanks to Nick Kelsh for the photography.