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Case Study: Sensory Learning

Teacher, Early Years Centre, North Warwickshire

I wanted to focus on two boys who attend nursery. They frequently display aggressive behaviour such as hitting, kicking, pushing pulling and squeezing or crushing other children. They also often get into ‘tussles’ with each other. A variety of star chart type reward systems have been tried but with little success.


Staff realise that the boys’ needs are not being met and we wonder if their urge to be physical is what we really need to address. Vestibular and proprioceptive issues seem to be particularly relevant to these boys.


I created a Movement Corner with resources we already had – on carpet flooring, providing a selection of soft blocks, spinner, small trampoline, mirrors, small soft props to support movement and a chill out area with soft cushions.


I introduced Steven and Karl to the Movement Corner and observed their play.


For the first few minutes they rapidly explored what was available, flitting from one resource to another. Then they focused on the large soft blocks and the mirrors. They talked co-operatively as they moved together, taking turns making games, watching each other.


After 5 minutes the verbal exchanges ceased and the boys became interested in jumping off the soft blocks. They worked together to build a tower. Steven climbed the tower and launched himself off the top. He remained interested in climbing the tower and wobbling at the top until he finally lost his balance. He would then fall through the air with shrieks of delight and practice landing in a variety of positions. He appeared to enjoy the impact on landing and seemed to deliberately land heavily.


Karl lay down in the chill–out area and told me he was tired. After a while he joined Steven but the mood had changed and Karl repeatedly tried to knock down the tower. The boys tried to fight each other. At this point I decided it was time to stop observing and become involved in the play.


Karl became calmer and left Steven alone to climb and jump. Karl became interested in dragging himself up the sloping block and rolling back down again. We took turns.


Linking theory and practice


Within the first 10 minutes I observed both boys seeking movement experiences: jumping, climbing, leaping, bouncing, rolling, rocking, tilting, tipping, balancing, tumbling and falling – most of which aid development of the vestibular system and balance mechanisms.


The boys engaged in short bouts of rough and tumble play – pushing each other over and pulling each other back up - developing proprioception. The movement play during this first part of the session led to some very positive talk between the boys who usually find it difficult to get along together. This illustrates how DMP can support language development, communication skills and relationship building.


Steven was eager to engage in vestibular activity as shown by his interest in climbing the tower, wobbling, tilting and falling off. This was something he repeated over and over.


I have found it difficult to explain Steven’s urge to land heavily in a variety of positions but I wonder if it is about feeling pressure - the impact - against his body. If so he has a proprioceptive need.


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(JABADAO Team. Since this article was written we have included Splat! as one of the proprioceptive kinds of movement play - because we have seen it so much. Splat is about creating games in which the body lands heavily - from what we see we think children are doing this in order to build the proprioceptive aspect of their body awareness. We feel that Splat! is a tricky kind of play to acknowledge and value within our culture. Easier ‘not’ to see it! It certainly took us a while to value it - thanks to everyone who saw it and pointed it out. Its very familiar to early years workers it seems!)


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Karl chose to rock, slide on his tummy and roll. He seems to needs more opportunities to move on his tummy and back.


Reflection, evaluation and future plans


  • I need to purchase mats. Steven received a nasty carpet burn on his nose. I need to provide vinyl flooring for the sliding and tummy down activities that Karl showed me he needs.

  • I must not underestimate the role of the adult as playmate. When I joined in with the play Karl became calmer and his experience in the Movement Corner was greatly improved.

  • I have learnt that observation is crucial if I am to support children’s developmental movement patterns. I now know that Karl and Steven have quite different needs.

  • As I increase provision for DMP I need to consider how we use the Movement Corner: grouping of children/resources/ adult support/an Outdoor Movement Corner?

  • I need to consider how the everyday environment can support DMP in all aspects of the Centres provision: Nursery, Holiday Club (3-11 yr olds), crèche, childminder’s group and work with families in Stay and Play sessions and Baby Club.

This is a fascinating observation by a teacher in an Early Years Centre that unpacks the importance of noticing the detail of children's movement. It also shows how Development Movement Play grows when we can all learn from each other's observations.