November 2, 2006

Rhythmic Exercises Help to Ease Learning

By Brian J. Pedersen, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Nov. 2--Teresa Shelby's son is doing much better in school these days, thanks to some racquetballs and beanbags.

For the past four years, Shelby's son Taylor, 10, has spent parts of two mornings and one afternoon each week during the school year participating in Bal-A-Vis-X, a program at Mesa Verde Elementary School that is designed to improve academic achievement through rhythmic exercises.

"It's just really given him a positive way to focus his brain," Teresa said of Taylor, a fourth-grader who in second grade was diagnosed with dyslexia and also has weak eye muscles. "His reading just seemed to shoot up."

Created by a middle-school language teacher in Wichita, Kan., Bal-A-Vis-X was brought to Mesa Verde, 1661 W. Sage St., by physical education teacher Ann Wheaton and first-grade teacher Terry Tinney.

Wheaton said she discovered the program five years ago at a conference and instantly thought it could help students at her school who have had trouble learning at the same pace as their classmates. She also felt Bal-A-Vis-X could work for students without learning disabilities.

"This is something for everyone," Wheaton said. "It's for any student. It can support the development of all the things children need to improve their learning skills."

The program is in its fourth year at Mesa Verde, and this fall 17 students from kindergarten through sixth grade have spent 50 minutes before school Tuesday and Wednesday and after school Thursday working on their exercises. Wheaton said most of the participating students have some sort of learning disability.

The main elements of Bal-A-Vis-X are balls, beanbags and balance boards, all of which are used to foster brain development.

To help with visual learning, participants use a yellow ball for their left hand and a blue ball for their right. The same color scheme applies to beanbag exercises.

When students are bouncing balls, the goal is to have the balls hit the floor in unison with other kids' balls, to create a rhythmic sound that improves auditory acuity.

The key to it all, Wheaton says, is rhythm and repetition.

"We all do the same thing at the same time," she said.

Mesa Verde principal Foster Hepler said he has noticed the improvement in students' academic growth as a result of Bal-A-Vis-X.

"It's been very beneficial for helping students with their attention and focus," Hepler said. "As you stand here and watch the kids do it, it looks very easy, but as you try it you can't believe how much concentration it requires."

Bryce Buckner, 11, has been doing Bal-A-Vis-X for three years. He said when he started the program in fourth grade he was having trouble spelling, but "now I can focus a little more."

Bryce, whose brother Tanner, 9, also does Bal-A-Vis-X, says his favorite exercise is the three-ball triangle, in which he must bounce one ball at an angle so it comes back up to his opposite hand, while at the same time readying a second ball to be bounced while a third ball is being shifted from one hand to the other.

Wheaton said Mesa Verde is the only school in the Tucson area doing Bal-A-Vis-X, and her hope is one day to see it integrated into all schools. Hepler said Mesa Verde is being looked at by Amphitheater Public Schools as a pilot school to see how the program works.

"We certainly envision this at other schools," Hepler said.

An explanation of the Bal-A-Vis-X program

What is it? Bal-A-Vis-X is a series of balance, auditory and vision exercises, most of which are rooted in rhythm, of varied complexity. The exercises, which can be done individually or with a partner, require full-body coordination and focused attention. They use color-coordinated balls and beanbags, as well as balance boards.

Who came up with it? The program was developed by Bill Hubert, a language-arts teacher at a middle school in Wichita, Kan. According to his Web site,, Hubert determined through observations over 30 years of teaching that all of his students who struggled academically tended to exhibit similar characteristics. Among them:

l An inability to control their eyes.

l An inability to focus attention.

l An inability to sit or stand without moving.

l Graceless, often illegible handwriting.

l Difficulty in distinguishing left from right.

l General clumsiness.

Who is it for? Hubert said his program is effective for students with learning or behavioral disabilities, as well as children who are considered gifted or learn at a normal pace.

--Contact reporter Brian J. Pedersen at 434-0749 or [email protected]


Copyright (c) 2006, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.