Monday, January 27, 2014

Mirror Neurons and Habit Training

Before sharing thoughts on physical habit training, I thought share some news I alluded to last month. I've started a math blog focused on helping parents and teachers to see the beauty and joy of math. Math lovers and haters alike are invited to read about captain ideas that inspire me. Many of the downloads or ideas shared are great props for doing RDI. Yesterday, Pamela and I made picture frames through paper sloyd. I curve stitched mine. If you want to learn more, head over to my new blog!

Today's contribution to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival how mirror neurons (MN) play a role in physical habit training. Mirror neurons in the brain fire not only when we perform an action but also when we watch someone perform it. The activity in the brain is the same whether we do something or we see it modeled for us. Some believe mirror neurons are important to imitation, empathy, social, and language development, which are all affected in autism.

RDI consultant Simona Onnis outlined the role mirror neurons have in learning as follows:
  • Child visually observes (sensory).
  • Child observes a motor action (motor planning).
  • Child applies meaning to the action (activation of MN), by understanding the intention of the one who acts and by anticipating the possible goal of action.
  • The child retains the experience in his memory (retention).
Yesterday, Pamela and I made picture frames using paper sloyd. This model is the third one elaborating upon a 6" by 6" square. Pamela learned how to construct the square using a ruler and pencil. We made a paper envelope for our first model. I took a small step, briefly explained it, pause, and waited expectantly. Drew a point at the top, described, and waited for her to do the same. Drew a point in the middle, described, and waited. Drew a point at the bottom, described, and waited. We followed the same process for drawing a line, rotating the paper, drawing more points and lines, etc.

Last week, we made a wall pocket out of the square and, yesterday, the picture frame. Because each model begins with the same square, Pamela learns to tap into her episodic memory. Next week, we will make a pinwheel beginning with the 6" square. The article about mirror neurons explains how to make sure we give our children the opportunity for their mirror neurons to fire in sharing an experience. Paper sloyd done right fits the bill. First, we are making little keepsakes with our hands. Each model involves following a pattern which is elaborated upon from one model to the next. Varying the pattern makes the process dynamic. I work slowly, involve nonverbal communication, and speak descriptively rather than rely on commands. I pause and wait for Pamela to engage. At certain points, I say or do something to increase anticipation or invite curiosity.

I take these same steps with children in the spectrum at our school. Eman recently shifted from half to full days, so he didn't know that students have chores after lunch. Before heading out to recess, they do a chore and sit down to wait for recess. After he finished eating lunch, I said to him, "Guess what?"

"What?" he said.

"Do you know what kids do before recess?"

"No, what?"

I pointed to Tman, a friend that Eman admires. Tman was wiping the book shelves with a duster. Eman said, "What's that?"

"A duster! The kids have chores after recess."

He saw a duster on the table and asked, "Can I help?"

"Sure!" So, I called Tman over and told him that Eman would like to help. I just sat and watched while mirror neurons and partnering with a peer took care of teaching Eman what he needed to learn. When they were finished, Eman was wandering around, so I said to him, "Poor Jman!"

"What's wrong?"

"Jman's chore partner isn't here today. He has to wipe four tables all by himself." I pointed to Jman who was busy with a Clorox wipe.

"Really? Can I help?"

"Yes! I know he'd appreciate that!" So, I called Jman over and Jman came up with roles. "Hey, Mrs. Tammy, I could pick up things while Eman wipes under them." I told him that was a great idea. The two of them wiped the last table together.

Again, I spotted Eman wondering, so I let his mirror neurons figure out something else. "Do you know what the kids do while they wait for recess?"

"No, what do they do?"

I encouraged him to look around and he said, "Some are sitting quietly." Then, I pointed to one of the teachers and explained, "Mrs. Jenn is watching to see who is ready for recess. The way you tell her is by sitting quietly. She calls the quietest kids first." His eyes widened and he sat down, lips sealed. He didn't say a single word and, to his delight, she called him first to recess.

In this case, learning to do chores was to prop to a more important lesson: watching what others do and copying their good choices. Eman loves helping people: he's eager to help me push in the chairs, take care of the pond, sweep the outdoor patio, and walk to pick up lunch. Watching people do good deeds helps him develop a habit of service and builds positive memories of making the world a better place.
Alertness – Many a good man and woman thinks regretfully of the opportunities in life they have let slip through a certain physical inertness. They missed the chance of doing some little service, or some piece of courtesy, because they did not see in time. It is well to bring up children to think it is rather a sad failure if they miss a chance of going a message, opening a door, carrying a parcel, any small act of service that presents itself. (Page 108)


Amber said...

This is fascinating! I really like how you encourage the children to observe what is around them to help them figure out what they should do. I'm also very interested in how you show them how to do something, and then build on that skill by creating different projects using some of the same basic principles and actions. There's a lot of food for thought here! Thank you.

amy in peru said...

LOVE. i need to shadow you someday. i continually learn so much.


walking said...

Amber, we spend way too much time thinking for children in the autism spectrum and commanding them. While it takes longer to get tasks done in the short term, children will be come more active and less passive when we let them observe and figure things out and when we guide them through elaborations of a new ideas.

Amy, you'd learn from my mistakes as I do. :-/