It feels important, at the moment, to get more noisy.
We live in grim times and exuberant physicality is not high on the agenda.Support for the human capacity to embody our lives - to live as much in our bodies as in our heads - is under threat from many quarters.
Shame - we have never needed it more.
In particular, the battle to ensure that our youngest children can be as as physical as their instincts tell them (and their development requires) is on. Over the last 15 years, together, we really gained some ground on this one. But at JABADAO we can see this slipping away if we don't get pretty active again.
So here is the first Blog in an occasional series (the frequency of which will only be dictated by how busy we are from day to day).
Back in 1998 the JABADAO team worked in many early years settings running workshops for children - at the invitation of staff.
Mostly we were asked to do something in the area of 'creative dance'. But this always troubled us. The term tends to strike a chill into our hearts - memories of adult-led sessions we were involved in as children, with hollow encouragement to move in particular ways, ('lift your knees up high!') or be a particular thing ('be a clown!, slither like a snake!, jump like a frog!').
Children's bodies are so full of their own ideas, prompted by their innate drive to develop and learn. Adult 'creative' ideas are seldom as challenging, exciting or relevant as the things children find for themselves.
And, for reasons we understand but would like to change, many adults spend a lot of time and energy getting children to stop moving in innovative ways. So this creative dance might be a bit of a con. (And there are, as always, some notable exceptions.)
To address our disquiet, in 1998 we started a major project to explore young children's physicality. It was this project that created Developmental Movement Play (DMP).
We wanted to find a thoroughly positive way of supporting children's physicality - on their own terms. And we needed to know more about their movement in order to develop something with rigour and real validity. (After much consideration we rejected the idea of a Randomised Control Trial, and instead we opted for an Action Research Project gathering lots of very practical evidence from the midst of everyday life in early years setting. We wanted to gather - and trust - the observations of the people who work with children every day. And even though this choice means that certain people and bodies don't value the evidence we collected, it is not a decision we would reverse.)
We spent two years researching different models of understanding physical development.
Then we asked these questions:
• how do children choose to move when adults back off a bit. (Safety of course is always paramount.)
• are there any discernible themes here?
• what? why? what does this tell us?
• if child led movement is important how can we support it better?
Lots of early years practitioners, and some special needs support staff, joined us in the inquiry. They joined the project for three years. We taught them what we know about the body and developmental movement theory. They went away, applied their new knowledge in their settings in ways that fitted their ethos and context, and then we met up every three months to share what we had all learnt.
(O my! these were different times. Imagine trying to run a project like this now. No practitioners would get the time - or the funding - to attend. But it was a thoroughly positive, careful and joyous project which supported substantial change across the early years sector. We still teach the approach - often to the colleagues of the original research group.)
As a result, settings made major changes in the environments, resources and experiences they offered. Part of the DMP training required participants to do their own action research project around these changes. We gathered over 1,500 of these projects, giving us a very clear sense of emerging themes - along with the detailed data we collected around the research questions we had set ourselves. We heard the same things over and over and over.
We learned a lot. And changed a lot.
Usually we would move on and not look back. But ...
'How do you teach spelling and handwriting in Reception?'
As phrases like 'Sit correctly on a chair at a table when writing' and 'Hold a pencil correctly and comfortably using the tripod grip' find their way centre stage again, we feel it is important to return to what we learnt and share it again. These phrases beg so many questions about the body - what it needs, how it functions and what you do if it doesn't function as you hope ... none of them addressed fully as far as we can see.
We will return to this another day.
(It is interesting that the first request we had this year for training was for something to support reading and writing. A sign of the times. Great! We have lots to say about how to prepare the body, in ways that children are desperate to create for themselves, for those tricky and useful skills that will underpin so much in their lives.)
For now, we simply wanted to re-introduce Developmental Movement Play, the approach we made with the support of many early years practitioners. We think it is still the most detailed study of how children in early years settings move, and how adults support them, ever done in the UK. Please tell us if you know different. We'd love to hear from you.
So we'll start by introducing the many people who joined us in the research phase.
There's lots of them. If you're on the list - Hello! We still think of you often.
If you're not - look what a lot of experience went into thinking this through.
DMP Action Research Project Advisors
Pat Atkinson, Paediatric Physiotherapist (Retired); Sally Atkinson, Early Childhood Pedagogue, Peterborough City Council, Kim Glassby, JABADAO Movement Practitioner
Action Research Project Cycle One (2002 – 2005)
Vivien Allenby, Lisa Robinson, Bridie Stanfield (Cambridge Park School, Grimsby); Helen Pattinson, Chris Hoy (Canterbury Children’s Centre, Bradford); Jan Rogers Wood, Philippa Betterton, Tony Goodrick (Cruddas Park Early Years Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne); Caroline Kerr, Noreen Higgins, Sarah Bainbridge (East Leeds Children’s Centre); Claire Bell, Sue Ayliff (Grimsbury Family Association, Banbury); Amanda Willis, Helen McLeod, Carrie MacIntyre (Goosehill Private Nursery, Morpeth); Kate Johnson, Jo McGrath (Parklands Children’s Centre, Leeds); Linda Jones, Sharon Walker (Seacroft Children’s Centre, Leeds); Sarah Barrett (Armley Early Years Centre, Leeds); Heather Bower, Alison Whitehead, Suzanne Radford (Sure Start Kirkby-in-Ashfield); Wanda Colbeck, Debbie Hardwick, Cathie O’Halloran (Sure Start Elland, Halifax); Moira Hay, Diane Hudson, Hayley Scown (Sure Start Ferryhill and Chilton)
Action Research Project Cycle Two (2006 – 2009)
Ann Fox, Helle Hvarnes, Sally Bownes, Katherine Milchem (Eastwood Nursery School, Wandsworth); Anne Lawrence, Maria Mernin (Walkergate Early Years Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne); Gill Bond, Teresa Davies (Ursuline Catholic Primary School, Sefton); Sue Ashdown, Becky Clack (Wroughton First School Great Yarmouth); Jean Coulman, Catherine Wittey (Northcott Special School, Hull); Fiona Taylor, Elaine Tattersdale, Rebecca Sutcliffe, Caroline Davies, Caroline Hambleton (Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds); Jo Lester, (Hillfields Children’s Centre, Coventry); Carolyn Henderson, Karen Burton (Fulbridge Primary School, Peterborough); Jacki Cunningham, Stacey Weller (Kate Greenaway Nursery School and Children’s Centre, Islington); Emily Adelsbach (Granville Plus Children’s Centre, Kilburn); Nikki Smith, (Kinsley Neighbourhood Nursery, Fitzwilliam)
Research Partners Kirklees Transition Project (2006 – 2008)
Kathy Frudd, Debbie Stead, Anne Jordan, Janet Greenwood (Field Lane J, I & Nursery School, Batley); Angela Sugden (Staincli e & Healey Children’s Centre, Batley); Pat Horne, Susan Marsden, Jackie Firth, Lynne Christian, Sue Croft, Vicky Shea, Melanie Jackson, Tracey Betts (Millbridge J, I & Nursery School, Liversedge); Kylie Okarski, Amanda Smith, Helen Harrison (Sure Start ornhill Children’s Centre, Dewsbury); Catherine Sharpe, Johanna Ludlam, Justine Kolazinski, Janet Whitaker (Overthorpe J, I & Nursery School, Dewsbury); Julie Smith, Miniza Hussain, Ruth O’Connor, Carol Paxton (Dewsbury Moor and Scout Hill Children’s Centre, Dewsbury); Ursula Clay, Pam Goddard, Tanya Hameed, Abidah Maqsood (Boothroyd J & I School, Dewsbury); Kirsty Sykes, Katy Marsden, Ruth Laycock (Chestnut Centre, Ashbrow, Huddersfield); Marcia Robinson-Baker (Birkbees Children’s Centre, Deighton, Huddersfield); Joanne McKlean, Lindsey Hirst, Ann Taylor (Christchurch Woodhouse CE J, I & N School); Joanne Jennings, Jayne Gough, Sally Garbutt, Kalsoom Bibi (Surestart Crosland Moor Children’s Centre, Thornton Lodge Nursery, Crosland Moor, Hudders eld); Kirsten Luff , Janice Hardcastle, Wendy Ewart, Claire Fearnley (Dryclough C of E Infant School, Crosland Moor, Huddersfield); Jenny Game, Sharon Jagger, Grace Dronsfield (Meltham Pre-School Playgroup, Meltham, Holmfirth); Mary Hardy (Meltham C of E School, Meltham, Holmfirth); Pauline Teal, Annette Simpson (Manorfield I & N School, Batley); Vanessa White (Kirklees Early Years Service); Kim Glassby, JABADAO Project Support Worker for DMP Kirklees
Janice Turner (Chair) – Primary Head Teacher, Leeds; Elizabeth Coleman – Chartered Physiotherapist (Retired), Freelance Trainer, Consultant; Jon Gray – Senior Physiotherapist, Mental Health, Barnsley PCT; Mo Park – Children’s Centre Improvement Manager, Partnerships, Leeds; Debbie Hardwick – Public Health Team Leader, Calderdale PCT; Malcolm Riggler – General Practitioner