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  • Writer's pictureJabadao

Supporting children who seem to be struggling with more complex movement

Meet Mason - I expect you know him well.

Mason (4) is unsteady on his feet. He loves the energy of the playground and wants to be in the swim of things, with the bikers, running with the gang. But things regularly fall apart. He falls over rather more frequently than his chums; he gets shouty, stressed, quickly angry. He just wants to play with the others, but so often it all goes wrong.

His key worker knows that his physical development is cause for concern. She has noticed that he finds steps and stairs especially difficult and she wants him to become easier with them - life is full of stairs and steps - so she plans opportunities to practice. Today, she supports children to play up and down a set of wooden steps that she has put out with Mason in mind.

He’s not so sure.

Everything about his body says he doesn’t want to do this. He repeatedly goes to the back of the queue, happy to be in group, but meaning to avoid going up those steps himself.

When his adult cheerfully holds out a helpful hand and suggests he has a go he reluctantly and awkwardly climbs on to the first step. He is stiff and braced and looks like a disorganised jumble of limbs. More adult encouragement. He tries the second step, now hanging off her hand, then he collapses in on himself and is helped down, sinks to the floor, on his tummy, and watches the others from a safe distance.

This hasn’t gone to plan. How can we be helpful here?

Mason is giving us lots of clues; developmental movement theory backs him up.

Creating complex movement

Watch a child, or an adult for that matter, engaged in a complex movement task (like climbing steps, or running, throwing, sitting, jumping, kicking, mark-making etc) and you are seeing them skilfully combine a range of basic movement patterns, or building blocks, in order to create that complex movement.

Just as we form sentences by combining a number of basic words, we organise complex movement by drawing on a range of movement patterns that we have created earlier.

Mason is giving us lots of prompts to ask whether he has in fact created these earlier. Is this a body trying to make complex movement work without the raw ingredients? That’s hard and could account for lots of the stress he is experiencing.

So what do we adults do here?

Do we create opportunities for him to practise specific complex skills over and over, hoping his body will become more skilled and confident in the process? Or do we create opportunities to return to the foundations, the building blocks, and try to ensure they are as fully in place as possible - then support that body to build back up to the complex movement again? What’s most helpful?

Let’s return to the theory …

Motor development is the process of:

  1. creating the basic movement patterns or building blocks

  2. learning to combine them skilfully and improvise with them freely

  3. and then maintaining, tweaking and refining them over a lifetime - physical development doesn’t stop

The floor - or a firm, inviting surface - is where many of the first building blocks establish themselves and where we return for useful maintenance and refinement later. (Think yoga or pilates.) Our babies and young children, experts in physical development, often seek the floor to move on.

Look again. Is Mason engineering opportunities to be down on the floor? Perhaps he plays with toys lying on his tummy or side. He may want to lie down and wriggle at Circle Time. He may tussle with his friends on the floor quite a bit. Does he love to roll outside - when he can tear himself away from the bikers and runners?

Simply supporting him to get more time there may be developmentally very helpful. Knowing more about the detail of what floor play provides for him could be even more useful. Here are some starting points - lots more in the Floor Play course.

What’s so great about the floor?

Sensory-motor basics</