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First Grade Cha-Cha

Millions of Years Ago

“This is my friend, Mrs. Goldade. She’s here to help out today…She and I met when our kids were born. When do you think that was?” “MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO!” shouted one eager little guy. Oh yeah, you have to love first grade! In this article, I’ll share how I saw movement appropriately incorporated into the morning and the #1 strategy I used on an individual basis with these first graders.

Brain Gym®

The kiddos were encouraged to get into PACE upon arrival; see here for free resource. I was thrilled that they were familiar with this Brain Gym warm-up activity. I watched children fill their individual water bottles. They proceeded with Brain Buttons and then moved right into Cross Crawling. The teacher verbally recognized those sitting in Hook-ups while modeling it herself.

Learning a new Brain Gym® movement made it a special day indeed. After three months, they already knew 23 of the 26 movements; the poster on the wall used to be covered with post-it notes and today it was time to uncover the Rocker. I joined five children on the back rug and the others remained on the front rug. While we may think rocking on our bum from side to side is effortless, it was NOT easy for everyone. Some couldn’t figure out how to support their upper body while moving their lower body. (Hint: Tighten the core.) Figuring out how to move intentionally is a learning opportunity.

Small Groups = Big Movements

During small group work, I immediately discovered I would actively participate in the class, rather than simply observe. I had a photo cheat sheet where I wrote a descriptor next to each child’s name; for example, the boy wearing the spiderman hoodie was Spiderman and a girl was braid in hair. By the end of the morning, some of the better readers had great fun deciphering my handwriting. It showed them purposeful note taking! But what happens during small group work?

Kids moved. One small group had iPad time while another group had teacher time. The third group could work on spelling or writing. One little friend benefited from encouragement to focus on the worksheet in between his copious nose-blowing sessions. Other friends simply needed a curious adult to ask what they were supposed to be doing. I wrote in my notes how green shirt chose to crawl in a basket to work while green/gray guy crawled into and then on top of a crate to read. Striped shirt girl had a pillow that she laid on and over in what appeared to be misbehaving. As I breathed before intervening, she announced to the world that there were 41 titles on the back cover. She was counting while rolling over the pillow! I asked her to read to me and we spent some quality time on our tummies.

Cha-Cha Tapping

Chimes. It sounded like summertime outside. The children froze and heard that it was time for large group at the rug. Movement continued. They clapped and tapped their way through a syllable lesson. I sat closer to the rug this time and tapped a cha, cha pattern on one wiggler’s outer shoulders/upper arms. He relaxed.

When the next small group session occurred, I joined blue with maroon on the floor. Go Dog Go was his book of choice. He appears to read but is really using picture cues to make educated guesses at this time. Little did I know he is a recent immigrant and just learning English. He got called out to a specialist so I meandered over to a friend with a lot of energy. Red and black stripe was intermittently reading a book while also talking to many other friends. I began tapping the cha cha rhythm on his back and he read the entire book to me!

Afterwards, the teacher asked me why I tapped the cha, cha, cha-cha-cha rhythm. I do not know why. I have learned over the years to trust what shows up in my brain and go with it. So today was all about: slow, slow, quick-quick-quick. Some kids received that on their backs and others received it on their outer arms. Each one relaxed and focused. In searching for the “why” I remember learning the cha-cha rhythm is similar to our body rhythms. Soothing. It provided safe touch, which some of these kids need. And it is a pattern. I’d dare say most of our educational subjects involve patterns (skip counting, consonant-vowel-consonant, article/adjective/noun/verb, etc). So, perhaps receiving a tactile pattern in the form of a cha cha tap preps these kids for learning.

Immigration, Second Language, Incarceration, Poverty

In summary, I spent a wonderful morning in a first grade classroom with twenty-two little people. I knew nothing about any of them. Two hours later I know one is a new arrival from Senegal, another just returned from Mexico, one’s mom is in jail, and a number of them are learning English as a Second Language (ESL). Most qualify for free or reduced lunch. Many cannot sit on the rug and attend to the teacher for more than mere seconds.

Weeks ago the teacher asked, “Would you come observe my first grade classroom?” Sure. It might help my writing and my teaching. As I was leaving, the teacher hugged me and said it was the most relaxed she’s felt in a long time AND the children were the best behaved in weeks. She asked if I found it worthwhile. Um, I can’t wipe the smile off my face. I had a wonderful time and am excited to return for round 2, even if they do think I could be “millions of years” old.

(c) 2016 cindy goldade, in-motion intelligence
Brain Gym® is a registered trademark of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation, santa barbara, ca www.braingym.org


  1. Janet says:

    Ahhh…the incubator of so many positive opportunities! Thanks for the memories & the application for these lucky kids & teacher!

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