Interesting listening on the radio this evening - talk about children going back to school, and especially what they’ve been missing during lockdown. The invited guest gave two examples he was worried about … some children have forgotten how to use a pencil, he said; and some have forgotten how to use a knife and fork. Both things often come up as key pieces of development, even when there’s not a pandemic around.
These are both things we talk about a lot in Developmental Movement Play training - precisely because they are important to people. And because they are both things that are intimately connected to our physical development.
Picture the scene. It’s lunch time on one of the last occasions I went into a nursery before the first lockdown. A lovely practitioner is helping those children who will shortly go on to school to use a knife and fork to eat their dinner. Good preparation. Some can do it beautifully already, some have food going everywhere and ‘lose’ the knife as soon as the aforementioned lovely practitioner isn’t looking. She encourages, demonstrates, models, gently positions their bodies … lots of different strategies to help.
And I make a mental note to see if I might join them in the Movement Play Area later in the afternoon … as another way to help.
The ones for whom it isn’t an issue are showing us that they can organise their limbs in a particular way. They can stabilise one side of the body whilst the other side is mobile; that is, while one arm does one thing, (holds the sausage still), the other can move freely, (cuts that sausage). They will be using this basic functional capacity in lots of other parts of their life as well, from using a cup, to waving goodbye, to pointing at the cat, to hopping to … mark making.
This body organisation isn’t something we can teach. It is a piece of developmental movement; and has to be found in the body, not put on like an overcoat. It goes like this.
We organise our limbs in three basic ways.
When we are first born we don’t even know we have limbs, we have to find our way into them, wriggle-kick-waving our way towards a sense of body.
And then we have to organise all those bits we discover we have, as separate yet connected things.
This is not easy and it requires lots and lots of movement play to achieve - lots of rolling, rocking, slithering, pushing, pulling and preferably jumping and leaping about, in just the way each little body finds for themselves. Little body-brains are hardwired to seek just what they need to get the job done. So they know what they need. Yes really!
Back to the man on the radio and the concerns he was voicing about the effects of lockdown on children.
Having to restrict your movement because you live in a small space with lots of other people (all of whom are trying to make life work in difficult circumstances), isn’t helpful if you are a child trying to develop foundation body organisation.
Climbing on and jumping off the sofa, bumping down the stairs in a sleeping bag, rolling around on the floor, running … running … running, a family bundle on a pile of cushions - these are all potentially helpful. But not available to lots of children recently for reasons we understand only too well.
So as we talk, nurture or catch-up, (depending on where you stand on what children need from us at the moment), we need to look at what has been happening for little bodies over the last year. And recognise that many of the things we want for our children as they come through, are grounded in body experience, in movement play.
Supporting them to re-find, or find knife and fork skills, or pencil grip - and so many other aspects of learning and development - will be well served by including masses of free flow movement play within their day.
They need time when they can follow their infant expertise and create the just-right physical experiences their bodies need to build the easy, comfortable, organised body that is the starting point for so many aspects of their future lives.