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Reflection: Taking the stress out

We are all very focused on children’s wellbeing as we make our way through the new world we live in - one with a pandemic in it. Back in 2006 the world felt like a very different place, but settings were still acutely aware of the importance of children’s wellbeing at the core of their provision. Many settings, like this one, found that movement play is a very important way for children to explore and understand their world - and enhance their wellbeing.

Nursery Teacher, Children’s Centre, Leeds

Focused movement play supports wellbeing at every level in the centre. It is very obvious when children are not comfortable within  the setting. If they lack confidence and find it difficult to settle or to integrate then it is often through movement and one-to-one contact with an adult through movement that they begin to feel more comfortable and more confident. 

Observing, I may see a child standing aloof, watching other children but not interacting with them, not speaking particularly to anybody, observing warily, being unsure of themselves, not seeking out an adult for support or maybe looking tentatively towards an adult but not actually going and asking for help. Staff are used to picking up on those signals and taking the child onto the movement area and giving emotional support and encouragement to the child. 

I can think of a number of children in both age groups, over threes and the under threes, where I advise staff to work at the beginning of a session with children on the movement area. They have found that the day then progresses in a natural way and children are not as needful for adults when they have been given that initial moving start, one-to-one contact within the movement area. 

We work with what children offer rather than asking them to do things. When they are working from what they can do, they feel comfortable. DMP is familiar to our children; they are used to playing in movement and enjoy it. We will often see other children coming to join in movement play with a single child and from there the relationships start to build. 

When we have children who have problems with their behaviour, perhaps a child hurting another child or a child not being able to share, we often use the movement area as the starting point for addressing these issues. 

Supporting a child to learn to share can be done within a very small group; with just two children initially or with an adult and a child taking turns. We can use a movement structure here. If one child is hurting another child we will consider whether there may be a sensory deficit contributing to the problem and how we can work with that issue. 

We use the Movement Area to develop the senses, working with different elements to develop those sensory expectations. Working with low light or high light, with all the different sensory elements we can offer them, textures on the floor, different textures for the tummy, hard and soft. 

Outside is often the favourite part of provision for children with behaviour problems who enjoy the freedom to express themselves and give rein to their emotions. We try to ensure that the outside area is open from the start of the day. The outside is free flow all session and gives opportunities for children to be as vocal and expansive as they like. 

If the weather is bad the children will still have access to outside. If it is really throwing it down with rain or hail or snow we have appropriate clothing, boots and umbrellas for being outside in small groups. 

Little Andrew is not speaking very much. He is used to his brothers and sisters speaking for him, or mum. He looks to adults to speak for him and he is very self conscious. It is through developing his movement that he is beginning to develop his speech and through that his self-confidence. He is a child who we will always start with if possible on the movement area. 

We have a little girl who has gone through some quite severe domestic traumas. She constantly needs reassurance that her mummy is coming back – she is needing her mummy. Working with music and movement and dancing and having fun using the equipment is developing her relationships with other children in the group. Work with movement play has helped her to feel more secure, to distract her from her worry about mum all the time. 

With Simon when he got overwrought we used the body ball to calm him. Initially he had a resistance to being on his tummy. It was through the body ball that we got him to connect with that section of his body. Gradually he got so that he would use it himself and when he was feeling stressed you would often see him go and get on the ball and have a rock backwards and forwards. 

On the whole we do not have to work with children in that way. The children seem to intuitively go into the movement area when they have been really busy and have a rock or a lay down or a roll about and generally use it as a chill out area. They will use it as they need to. 

‘A lot of the stress has been taken out of the work using the movement area. We get comments from visitors about how calm the centre always seems, how well focused the children are and how well integrated everything is’.

As for the staff, everybody enjoys using the movement areas and they know that it is beneficial to use them. They can work with children having problems within that area and see real improvements. 

It has taken several years and I think the staff do not realize sometimes how good they are at doing DMP, how good they are at being able to see a problem, analyze it and then do something about it. They still think that there is somebody out there who knows more than they do but they have learnt to look at the children and know what they are seeing and be able to fill those gaps and I think they are doing well with that. 

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