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Observation: How to be helpful

Early Years practitioner - Sure Start Children’s Centre, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

I work at Sure Start in play sessions with parents and under threes. I am fortunate to work in an environment where we actively encourage child- initiated play believing that this is the work that children do. 


Developmental Movement Play training reinforced the importance of  this and increased my awareness of the kinds of play children undertake naturally and spontaneously. They need support to do this from the adults around them, the resources we provide and the space we can give them. 


I observed children moving spontaneously during soft play sessions. The information about DMP had heightened my awareness of their moving and I was amazed at how much meaningful movement the children were engaged in. 


I also noticed that much of what the children were doing themselves stopped or changed if an adult intervened. This made me question the role of the adult in such situations. 


The temptation, when watching a child play, is to go over and try to channel the play in a certain direction to ensure that learning is taking place. Throughout the sessions I tried to place myself so that children knew that they could come and get me to be involved in what they were doing, but that it would be their choice. I still observed and praised what they were doing, but I did stand back more to give them that freedom. 


I introduced equipment that would encourage different types of movement such as spinny tubs, parachute and elastics. 


I was able to find ways in other sessions to encourage more movement. I placed messy play resources on the floor instead of tables so that children were on their hands and knees and tummies when playing. 


Parents took to this naturally and took part in the activities more at this level. Working with babies I feel there are too many toys offered and toys with specific purposes. We plan to use more open-ended resources and have less of them so babies have room to move.


Interestingly, I found that babies were less likely to be left to move. This was either because the parents and workers felt they should be entertaining them, or because they were trying to move them on to the next stage or showing them off. There were also issues around leaving babies in car seats or pushchairs. Older children seemed to have more freedom to move as they wished. 

How can we genuinely help our little infant experts get what they need to develop well in their bodies?  Back in 2006 this Sure Start practitioner was questioning some basics. 


More recently we have been talking to some practitioners who were involved in the original development of DMP. We were surprised to hear that they think it can be harder to justify free-flow, movement play now, than it was back then. And not because it has become any less relevant or useful for learning and development …