HEBRON — When you walk into Classroom 16 at Porter Lakes Elementary School and see students playing with a bean bag or rolling around on the floor, it may look like they are just having fun.

But the youngsters are participating in Minds in Motion, a process that educators say allows them to develop essential skills to later benefit them in the classroom.

Minds in Motion is a set of 15 exercises to improve sensory development and motor skills. It was created more than 10 years ago by Candace Meyer, a reading specialist, when she worked in Scottsburg, Indiana.

Program Director Carolyn James said it now is used in school districts all over the United States.

Last year, teachers from Porter Lakes Elementary School attended two Minds in Motion workshops hosted by United Way of Porter County. Meyer, the author of “The Minds in Motions Maze Handbook,” was guest speaker.

Porter Lakes Principal Kevin Donnell said teachers are enthusiastic about the program.

"We began implementing the maze soon after," he said. "We received a grant from United Way of Porter County in the summer of 2015. The grant awarded us equipment to use in our maze as well as assessment tools to track student progress."

Donnell said the school, which has 356 students in kindergarten through third grade, is using the maze with all grade levels. They started in January 2015. 

“I have observed teachers working with students to increase motor skills as well as visual and auditory processing abilities. We are learning more and more about each of our students through this process and seeing the benefits as well,” Donnell said. 

Porter Lakes kindergarten teacher Kristin Mucha said it's a great way to give youngsters extra movement during the day. Each session is about 20 minutes long.

Each station has a different function.

"Some students may be walking on a long wooden board; it helps them to balance," Mucha said.

"In the classroom, it also helps them with spacing letters and numbers on a line, the size and consistency of letters and staying in between the lines on paper. The balance motion helps them with the motor control in these areas."

With the jelly roll, students roll on their side on a mat, which stimulates the brain and helps students perceive the spacial orientation of an object or line of print.

The strong arm push, where students put their hands on the wall and push back, helps them to develop fine motor control and handwriting skills. The bean bag boogie exercise develops eye-hand coordination, focusing and eye tracking, and helps increase writing ability and computer work. 

"They can get some of those wiggles out in a meaningful way and come back into the classroom and focus on learning," Mucha said.

"So many of our students don't go outside as much to play, especially in the winter. They can get the break they need and at the same time stimulate their brain."

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Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.