An interview with Penny Greenland
Q - How would you describe JABADAO in a sentence?
We’re a national charity re-thinking physical development in the early years.
Q - What do you want for children? Both whilst their children - and when they grow up to be adults?
It’s a big subject. There are so many areas of our lives that this body and movement stuff affects. Perhaps, in a nutshell, it goes like this.
Many of we adults are less at ease in our bodies, less engaged with our physicality, than we would like to be. (And it’ s not surprising because our education, the culture around us, is pretty much exclusively interested in our intellectual capacities, not on how we live in our body.)
I don’t want another generation of children to grow up like this. Disengaged. Shy about being physically expressive. Less body confident than they deserve to be.
Because everything goes so much better when we human beings live more fully in our bodies:
our brains grow better (make more connections - white and grey matter)
our bodies become stronger and more flexible
our alignment develops more surely and our body is more comfortable, stronger and more adaptable (and we will probably need fewer physio sessions later on in life)
we develop high levels of body awareness and feel ourselves more accurately
we are comfortable to be freely expressive in our bodies (as well as in words), with all the ease and openness this gives us
we can be physically spontaneous ( as well as learning and perfecting all kinds of techniques and skills that are the stuff of sport and dance)
we know how to read other people’s bodies well, because understanding how things feel in our own body is part of understanding others’
we can learn from our body intelligence, as well as our intellectual intelligence. So much human learning is rooted in body experience. It might not be too much of jump to say we learn everything first in our body and then roll it around in our intellect to add in other kinds of knowing and understanding. Big subject … I wrote a whole book about it
So back to your question - what do we want for children?
We want them to create great foundations for being the body they are (as well as the fantastic intellect)
We want them to have more spontaneous confidence in their physicality than their parents
And much firmer foundations for their wellbeing, whatever life throws at them
Q - How do you think JABADAO’s work can support this?
Well, we need to change hearts and minds at all levels. JABADAO is a change project. Our job is to think afresh and then engage lots of people in that fresh thinking.
Actually, it’s more accurate to say … draw attention to what people already know and find ways they want to act on it. A wise mentor of mine once said, “People learn best what they already know”. And that’s so true of all the courses we teach at JABADAO. The detail may be new, but the overarching ideas about how we humans need to live in our bodies - and young children’s amazing ability to do that - they know already.
Our job is to make it possible … easy even.
We’re looking for nothing less than culture change here, and that will only be brought about by lots of people working together.
So practically we do two things?
one is to offer our own events and training programmes
the other is to seek out people across the world who have an interesting take on human physicality and find inspiring ways to share their ideas with the early years sector. Expect more of this in the future
And it all has to be really practical. Something that every nursery worker, every parent, every child can easily get involved in - because they want to. Because it makes sense. Because it feels right. Because it's a pleasure. Because it fits their lives.
Back in 2002, we created a training programme called Developmental Movement Play. It was made in collaboration with many early years practitioners and is essentially about going back to basics. How does physical development work? Why do children move like this? How does movement support learning of many sorts? How can we make things better - change the spaces, the furniture, the activities, our mindset so that children can grow up to inhabit their bodies more fully.
DMP is not about rebranding ideas for games and activities to try and ensure children do one or three hours physical activity a day. Or about ways to hit the milestones. (Both are likely to be bi-products of course).
It's about finding ways to support the body and physicality in everything children do, not as an add-on to an intellectual/cognitive curriculum, but as an equal component.
So children can grow up building a different relationship with their body - that’s the key
Q - Can you describe a time when you’ve been particularly pleased with an outcome - either for a child, a practitioner or a setting - that stems from DMP?
So many - let me pick just one.
I'm thinking of a setting where the manager asked as to train the whole team - it’s a small setting, so we’re talking ten people - and after the training they set up a Movement Play Area in the playroom. This is a space where all the theory, all the thinking, comes together.
Like in any setting, there are a couple of children here who find it very hard to manage the day. In their various ways they are constantly on the move, unable to focus on all the lovely learning areas available. One hits out if any other children get close to him; the other spins and tips and runs constantly.
As soon as the Movement Play Area arrived, the spinner found her way in. She started everyday with 20-30 minutes of exuberant spinning, tipping movement play. Stunning stuff. What had been tricky in the main play area had suddenly become quite stunning to watch. But more to the point, after this time of movement play she was able to access all the other learning areas calmly and with focus, until she needed a quick top-up in the Movement Play Area.
The other little chap discovered that if he got bumped, and had a meltdown, he could bring himself back on track by jumping, rolling, leaping and playing squashing games with an adult in the Area. And then he discovered that if he started to feel a meltdown coming up, he’d head for the Movement Play Area and take avoiding action. He got so that it would take just two minutes to get back on track.
That is one fantastic strategy. That's an infant experts at work. I have so much respect for him and his great practitioner, who helped him to make this work.
It's so simple and so profound. All we did, was point out some stuff about what bodies need and how they get it - and look what can happen as as result.
But I don't want to suggest that it's only children we worry about especially who benefit. All the other children in that setting also grew fabulously confident bodies and physicality because of new movement play opportunities available to them as well.
Q - What do you want practitioners to gain from going through JABADAO training?
I want them to love noticing more about children's movement play - to be delighted by what children bring everyday. And for that to make their working day better.
I want them to be able to watch children move, sometimes in very idiosyncratic or challenging ways and feel confident to ask why. Why are they moving like this? What's the development or learning in there?
And to be able to answer their own question, because they know lots about how physical development works and they’re really interested in it. Not just the motor development, but much more widely.
And to be able to share what they know with parents, so the change happens all round a child.
Q - What sort of a relationship do you want with the Early Years Sector?
A collaborative one.
We in the JAB team might know lots about movement and the body, but early years practitioners and parents know loads about babies and young children. Change will only grow out of the partnership.
We want to be teaching and talking with early years practitioners all the time.
And the same with the parents of young children - knowing that because they are the parents of young children they have absolutely no time to spare at all!
So we have to make it possible.
That’s another of our jobs …
Q - Where did the passion to form JABADAO stem from?
From disbelief - disbelief with how this culture limits the way we live in our bodies. I guess I’ve always struggled with that in my own body.
And an absolute refusal to believe that things couldn’t be so much better if only we ….
Within any mainstream culture of course there’s a wide range of subcultures with different ways of being. And I'm incredibly aware that lots of people are very focused on body stuff, in a whole variety of ways.
But broadly - and particularly in education culture - the focus is on the intellect and the body gets forgotten. Even in Physical Development the focus is on motor skills and sensory awareness is sidelined. That’s a huge part of living in a body - human experience - left out.
And that seems plain crazy to me.
So undermining. So incredibly shortsighted.
So back in 1985, for complicated reasons, I found myself about to set up a new project - and I knew what the focus had to be.
Q - What’s the future for JABADAO?
This is almost too exciting to contemplate because there is so much ahead.
Firstly - we are putting all the DMP courses online so that people can access this material in really simple ways. That's the basics.
Then we will be involving more people, who understand the body in different ways, and creating ways to share what they know within the early sector. Films, podcasts, webinars, writing, to hold the debate. We want to make sure that thinking and talking widely about the body and how we live in it becomes much more frequent.
And we are particularly focused on what we can learn by looking at bodies in many different cultures across the world. We have a sneaky suspicion that the milestones we work with at the centre of everything here, are just one ‘truth’ among many about the way the human body develops.
And we want to make sure that we support parents as well - especially those with children who would really benefit from more body time.
JABADAO has always done it is fair share of celebrating, playing - and that's not going to stop. We fully intend to tour our beautiful Tig again when we can. (The Tig is a stunning space made especially for our youngest children and movement play.) And we will make other events intended to inspire as well.