Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: Learning Breakthrough Program

I believe one of the keys  to being a good teacher, is to never stop being a student yourself.  The facts I’m sharing (2 + 2 = 4 or  the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776) don’t change, but I can learn new, more effective ways to share the material that will make it easier for my son to grasp and retain it.  Even the food I prepare and the physical activities he does can make learning easier.  That’s why I was intrigued to read about Dr. Frank Belgau, developer of the Learning Breakthrough Program.  His journey to create alternative treatment for issues like ADHD and Dyslexia has been chronicled by his son in the book A Life in Balance.  To be clear: this book is about the development of the program, not how to implement the regimen itself.  The target audience is any adult with a stake at helping kids reach their full potential: parents, teachers, doctors,  therapists, coaches, etc..

Dr. Belgau began his journey as one of those kids he’s now able to help.  He describes himself in terms like:  mental fuzz,  a bucket with a leak, pushing an immovable object up an endless hill,  tangled feet, disobedient limbs.   During the summer between his fourth and fifth grades, he made a deliberate effort to “get control of [his] feet” and to his delight discovered that when he got his body under control, it also stopped the letters from swimming around the page as he tried to read.  

Reading A Life in the Balance is like sitting with Dr. Belgau as he reminisces on the teachers, colleagues, and students that he’s encountered—each one bringing a new piece to add to the puzzle and clear up the picture.  There’s the science teacher, who’d worked with Thomas Edison, who taught him to study his own failures and learn from them.  There was a blind student with cerebral palsy, who demonstrated determination, patience, creativity and artistic talent when given the chance – originally, in the 1860’s the practice for dealing with learning challenged kids was to have them put their heads on a table and place newspapers over their heads!   There was the optometrist researched the differences in brain development between readers of English (left to right) and Hebrew (right to left).

As I said, the book is like listening to Dr. Belgau reminisce and at times I think he gets a little off track and wordy, but I believe he’s trying to include every possible bit of evidence for researchers and therapists who may be considering integrating the program themselves.  There is only anecdotal evidence presented here with the occasional mention of a peer reviewed paper that have been published elsewhere.  The first 112  of the 196 pages in the book deal with the background of the program.  Next comes several chapters on the equipment of the program: bean bags, balls, a balance board, and striped stick.  It’s not presented with enough detail to implement the program on your own and Dr. Belgau warns the program must be done by the letter. There are other chapters that explain activities that can be tried without investing in equipment—like a Space Walk: walking, hopping and skipping.   While the child goes through the movements, the parent can evaluate details like are the arms swinging in a smooth, crosswise pattern? 

I was familiar with some ideas presented in the book, like how to strengthen the bridge between the two hemispheres by encouraging movement that crosses the body’s midline.  For years my Schnickelfritz has been challenging himself to stack cups with Speed Stacks.  Notice how his right hand is reaching across his body to the cups on the left side?

Speed Stacks-- crossing the midline

While waiting to receive the book for this review, I came across balance board at my discount grocery store.  This is not the board Dr. Belgau uses in his program, but it was the right price at the right time so I picked it up.  My son is sort of a wiggle worm anyway, that is he learns best when there’s movement involved.  Now when he has trouble focusing, I have him stand on the board for a few minutes. 


A Life in Balance retails for $16.94.  If you are interested in the treatment program, or just fascinated by the link between body and mind it’s worth a read.

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