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Developing Practice: When Dad joined in

Parent and Toddler Group Support Worker, Newcastle upon Tyne

I often find children don’t know how to play any they don’t know how to move because their movement play isn’t valued.


At school, children are told to go out and run off energy and come back and … sit still to learn. 


And when I invite parents to move indoors with their children, they may say ‘Oh no, you have to send them outside, it will be chaos, they’ll wreck the place’. 


Then I insist that it is possible and show them. Parents have seen me spinning, swinging and throwing babies and they have said ‘That’s what daddies do!’. 


A mum will say to me, ‘I couldn’t spin him round like that, I‘m always telling his father to stop it,’ and I have the opportunity to say why babies need developmental movement play. 


An incident in the parent-toddler group made me realize that we often fail to value how children move and the effect that can have. We were in a big hall and the children were sitting at a table having their snack. At the other end of the room the chairs were in a circle ready for story time. A boy of fifteen months got up from the snack table and he ran all the way to the circle of chairs and sat down. There was nobody at the chairs, so he ran back, with lovely coordination. 


The parents said, ‘Stop running, stop running and sit down’ and I thought ‘That’s so not right.’ I wanted them to clap and say ‘Well done, you ran all the way up and you have come all the way back to us – well done’. When the boy ran the first time there was a lovely smile on his face. The second time he started running away (and all the little ones joined in too) with the feel of, ‘Lets do something we shouldn’t do.’ The children had a negative message about movement. 


It is the adult attitudes, how we approach movement play and what we think about moving, that creates the agenda for children. 


To change the adult mindset, I decided to set up DMP activities that would speak for themselves. Once you have the parents and families on board then there’s no stopping them. I have had some amazing sessions with parents, playing, belly spinning, and having running races. 


I had grandmas, three in the spinning cone and one said, ‘I have never laughed like that since I was eight!’ 


One father, attending with his son of three and a half, joined in the race the children were running – just round cones to make a track. It was in a small space -  you don’t need a big hall. 


Other parents urged, ‘Off you go dad, do the funny walk’ (the bear walk on all fours). The little boy was in guffaws laughing because his daddy was bear walking. The mums were laughing and the father said, ‘Is all this just because I joined in the race?’ He saw that all he had to do was join in with his child to make his little boy so happy. I can still see the son’s little face and his sheer delight in watching his daddy playing in movement. 


We all had running races and rolling races and everybody had such good fun. Everybody in that hall went away with something, the feeling that we need more fun in our lives. It was such a good feeling. 


My job is good for encouraging parents to try out moving for themselves. Now they are making obstacle courses with their children, for movement play at home. This is not about parents coming to the odd session, it’s about movement play being part of their life. 

This impassioned Parent and Toddler Group Support Worker grabbed all the information on a DMP course and put it to great use by modelling a different way of valuing children’s movement play. She is so smart about the ways in which we adults create the body and movement culture for our children. How they feel in their bodies, their wellbeing even, is so dependent on what we support …