Sensory Enrichment exercise: roll playdough snakes

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2000 Sep;10(1-2):177-83.
Cortical activations in primary and secondary motor areas for complex bimanual movements in professional pianists.
Jäncke L, Shah NJ, Peters M.

and

PLOS One. 2012;7(12):e51900. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051900. Epub 2012 Dec 26.
Differential grey matter changes in sensorimotor cortex related to exceptional fine motor skills.
Stoeckel MC, Morgenroth F, Buetefisch CM, Seitz RJ.

These studies compared proficient pianists to non-musicians on a tapping task, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The conclusion of the study was that the pianists completed the task with perfect accuracy and more quickly than the non-musicians. More importantly, the study showed that the pianists used fewer neurons to complete the task. Other studies confirmed that proficient pianists were connecting fewer brain areas when performing. When a person’s brain is able to reach peak performances with less energy and fewer neurons, then the brain can assign the saved energy to connect new areas for additional learning and growth.

These studies demonstrate that practicing organized finger movements leads to the growth of reliable pathways which can be used in other organized movement needs, leading to enhanced performance and capacities.

Exercise

We have applied the results of laboratory research to create the exercise Roll Playdough Snakes which develops dexterity in both hands using a simultaneous task with specific positions for all the fingers. It is important for the person doing the exercise to hold their hands up at eye level to maintain their focus.

Sensory Enrichment Exercise: Roll play dough snakes

Like most of our exercises involving fine motor finger skills, this is actually a speech development exercise. Speech is the result of several brain activations: visual, auditory, memory and fine motor.

The first result of this exercise is to increase the neuronal density for the non-dominant digit combinations such as the thumb and ring finger. Without the expected migration of efficient new neurons toward weak neighboring areas in the brain, this result would be moderately interesting to not interesting enough to justify the time and effort.

Research has shown the brain’s ability to grow and build new connections in response to information (this process is called neuroplasticity). Scientists have observed that nonessential, effective connections and neurons will migrate towards less efficient areas of the brain. In the case of finger and hand fine motor pathways, the closest areas are the speech centers. By repeating this exercise every day for two weeks, your child’s finger skills will increase and the fine motor connections required to strengthen the speech areas of the brain will increase as well.

Speech depends on the fine motor abilities of the tongue, the muscles on the inside of the mouth and the lips. These muscles will only perform the organized movements needed to produce sounds and words when the brain is ready to take charge thanks to efficient pathways. Providing effective and reliable connections for fine motor control is an essential step that we take by prompting organized migration from a very populated brain area to its less efficient neighbor.

How growth happens

This exercise stimulates growth by presenting four challenges to overcome through practice:

  1. Separating your fingers during the fine motor exercise.
  2. Extending the fingers that you are not using.
  3. Focusing on the pincer action between the thumb and each opposing finger requiring particular motion and control skills.
  4. Focusing visually on the activity.

Sensory Enrichment Exercise: Roll play dough snakes

None of these actions is a common movement, consequently, they will stimulate brain growth over time in order to be able to complete the task successfully. It will generally require several exercises with this particular purpose and combinations of sensory-motor requests to achieve the ultimate goal of improved speech, while the child may never be able to execute the exercise task perfectly.

As your child gets better at doing the activity, he will no longer need to use all the new pathways his brain has built, so his brain can then use those pathways to strengthen other areas, such as speech.

Learning any new skill improves the brain in one capacity or another. Repeating a focused exercise that requires complicated combinations of sensory-motor tasks will prompt growth both in the working areas of the brain and their neighbors.

This very targeted exercise requires time and patience, and your child’s effort to do this exercise is an essential component of the learning process.

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