Article for Teach Primary and Teach Early Years Magazines
Just in case you missed it, this is my article from the current editions of those two magazines,
LET’S GET PHYSICAL!
Children are physical creatures. I don’t need to tell you that. From the very beginning, they express themselves with their whole bodies. During the earliest of early years, when they know the cadence of language, but don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to fit the tune, they are already using gestures to help make themselves understood - and they learn those gestures from us.
It’s intriguing to me that whilst we accept the development of a regional accent, there is little thought given to the physical habits a young child might pick up - and this happens in school as well at at home.
Over the years, the amount of physical activity children enjoy has steadily decreased. This is not only detrimental to their bodily well being, but can also have a negative impact on their communication skills and confidence levels.
In pretty much every movement session I hold, there comes, at some point, the inevitable break down of organised activity whilst they run round and round in a circle. I always let them do this for a little while, since a delighted 5 year old girl explained to me, mid-hurtle, “It’s because we need to!” She’s right, and it’s always easier to bring them back after they’ve let off some steam.
I’ve worked a lot in EYFS, with EAL children and in SEN settings, all of which can mean needing to find ways to connect with children non-verbally. I have some tried and trusted techniques.
Firstly, to get down to their eye-level, it’s something we all know, but it can be so easy to forget to implement. When you think about it, if someone is already struggling, it only increases their feeling of helplessness to be gazing up constantly. Looking straight ahead is much less stressful.
Taking the attention away from the face entirely can be beneficial, especially when working to build a friendly group dynamic. For example, sitting on the floor in a circle with legs in front and knees bent, so that everyone’s shoes are touching and visible to all, then starting a toe tapping, foot wiggling game. Or similarly playing a clapping game.
With individuals who are finding it difficult to fit in, I’ve had great success by using a conduit such as a length of rope or ribbon. Whether holding on to the ends and alternating moving closer together and further apart; winding the child in and out; or twirling around and under - it acts a metaphor and works well to engender the idea of a link. I’ve used long lengths of latex or fabric to extend this idea with groups of children.
With these and many other physical games, it’s usual that although I start the ball rolling giving them something to copy, it’s never very long until they take up the baton and begin leading so that I (or the group) have to copy them.
Older children enjoy copying games too, and can also benefit by using movement to develop their sense of autonomy. One of my favourites is asking them to write their own name in the air with their finger, then very big, very small, and with different body parts; elbow; nose; toe; knee; bottom! They can then add to this a movement for their favourite animal; their favourite pastime; something about where they live - the possibilities are endless, but they end up with a little sequence that is very personal and that communicates some truths about themselves.
We seem to live in a world where the body is increasingly viewed as a mere vessel for the brain, but it has it’s own wisdom. Communication between brain and body is two-way, and we need to build fluid pathways to ensure this system works effectively as our children grow. And as we interact with each other, a strong sense of our own and others physical messages can only enhance our ability to relate.