The Podcast Has Launched

I have a new podcast: Teaching with the Body in Mind about the importance of children moving for learning.  It is hosted by me, Tom Bedard, Joey Schoen and Ross Thompson.  The first episode launched on March 14, 2017.  New episodes will come out weekly.  The podcast is part of the Explorations Early Learning podcasts: https://www.explorationsearlylearning.com/podcasts

You can find it on iTunes and Stitcher.  We will have a Facebook page for the show in the next week or so.

We talk about various issues related to movement and early learning.  In the first episode, Tom talks about his evolution as a teacher, allowing big body play in the classroom.  In the second episode, I talk about how I started allowing gunplay in my classroom.

I was also a guest on the podcast Renegade Rules with Heather Shumaker and Jeff Johnson.  You can hear me on episodes  46 and 47.

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Human Being or Human Becoming?

“When I got home from school, I would run with my dog spot to the pond past the pine trees.  That was a long way back, probably a quarter mile.  Then we would run back to the road.  We would run back and forth until I had to go in for dinner.”

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My dad doesn’t talk much about his childhood.  I didn’t even know he had a dog, but I could tell he was picturing the scene in his head as he told me about the freedom he felt as a child as he ran endlessly.  It’s harder for him to get around now.  His legs don’t always take him where he wants to go.  But he still has his memories.  He can smell the pines.  He can feel the breeze.  He is no longer on the other end of the line as I talk to him on the phone.  He is back at his childhood home, and I picture it as if it were a vague memory of my own.

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This made me think about some of my assumptions as a preschool teacher.  In early childhood education, we often think of children in terms of “development.”  Child development can be important, but we must remember it is one lens to look at children.  When we look at children in this way, we are always looking at where the child will go next.  Emily Plank, author of discovering the Culture of Childhood, told me that we think of children as Human Becomings rather than Human Beings (although I think she was quoting someone else).

 

Talking to my father, I see it is just as important to look at childhood from the other side, to look back and see what we have been.  That boy running with his dog is still a part of who my dad, but it is not something he could do now.  That boy running was also once an infant taking his first steps.  The developmental view is no more important than the reflective view.  I could talk about how that child running is not just developing his muscles, but releasing BDNF to spur neuron growth, while also regulating his attention so that he could focus on academic skills.  But that is really beside the point.  It seems to me that where we might be next in our development is comparatively unimportant.

 

How we feel at any given moment is what we carry with us.

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Embracing Rough and Tumble Play

Embracing rough and tumble play? Isn’t that the type of play I try to stop from happening in my classroom?

I spent years gently reminding children that we don’t play that way inside. Wait until we get outside. Even when we were outside, I would constantly interrupt, “Be careful. You might get hurt.”

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I often talked about teaching to the whole child, meeting their needs in all learning domains: social-emotional, literacy, cognitive and physical development. But looking back, I ignored many of the children’s needs for physical development. I was failing to see a vital part of who these children were.

 

Rough and tumble play is the purest form of what it means to be a child. It is the two year old jumping up and down, waving their arms a up and down yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!” at the end of a school day. It is the four year old spinning and falling, and then spinning again. It is the time when children are so engrossed in the joys of movement that they lose all track of time.

 

As we grow into adulthood, we see this same total immersion of the mind and body when a dancer executes a phrase with extreme focus and precision, or when a surgeon completes a complex procedure and saves a life. Sometimes this immersion in movement is as simple as tending to a garden, or rocking a child to sleep. With adults we call this flow, but with children it’s called childhood.

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I embrace rough and tumble play because it is literally a type of embrace. It is a way for children to show affection for another while also testing the limits of their own physical abilities. Children need tender affection such as cuddling and hugs, but children also need to be physical in a more vigorous way.

 

So yes, I embrace rough and tumble play. I love the joy it brings when my class engages in it: roughhousing on the mat together, spinning endlessly, stomping, making themselves bigger and more powerful . I also embrace that peaceful calm they have when they (eventually) get tired and focus on a quieter activity such as building with Legos or Mobilos.

 

I can’t tell you how many times I have had an adult come into my classroom and ask how I get preschoolers to sit so quiet and focused. If they had come into my classroom ten minutes earlier, they would have seen children roughhousing and laughing riotously. People also comment on how well the children get along in my classroom. Again, this happens because we play loudly and physically, not despite it.

The more I teach, the more I have come to believe that children move from parallel play to collaborative play first through physical play, literally having their bodies interact with others. It doesn’t necessarily need to be rough and tumble play. It could be dancing although I find it hard to tell the difference with preschoolers.

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I embrace rough and tumble play because I think it brings out the best in children.

You Gotta Move

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I went to see Gill Connell last night speaking on how movement teaches the brain to think. Most of the talk was based on her book A Moving Child Is a Learning Child. I can’t recommend the book enough. Connell lays out child development in a way that is fairly easy to follow. Children are born with reflexes. When a child moves, these reflexes are relaxed and conscious movement takes over. For this to happen, movement skills start as processes that the child must think about. The child repeats these skills until finally they become automatic. Only after these movements are automatic can the brain focus on higher level thinking. In other words, one of the main things the brain focuses on as it begins to develop is movement. I would add the other major thing the brain focuses on is communication. Of course communication at this stage requires movement and (a lot of) crying.

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Connell’s message serves as a good warning to those who want to get preschoolers (or kindergartners) to sit down and

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learn. Sitting does not necessarily lead to learning for any age. Sitting does however lead to health risks. It’s ironic that as we learn more about how movement relates to brain development and learning, we are having young children sit for longer and longer periods of time.

 

 

 

 

The talk I was at was geared toward parents, and Connell focused a lot on how movement is important for literacy

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development, and specifically reading and writing. Afterwards I was thinking about how movement relates to communication in general. Children often play games that involve movement with a few people: games such as chase, climbing together, digging and playing in sand or mud, and, of course rough-and-tumble play. All of these games require speaking and listening skills, but also the reading of non-verbal cues. Children also have to trust each other to play with each other, especially games that could involve physical risk if the other child doesn’t respect their limits.

 

 

 

 

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When children take the risk to trust others, they also build trust, and ultimately friendships. And friendships create a need to communicate. Some of that communication will be face-to-face, but it will also involve writing (notes, texts, emails, and social media posts). Movement build the skills to physically read and write (eye tracking, anchored body, tripod grasp of the pencil, dexterous thumbs for texting, and most importantly automatic movements so the brain can focus on higher level thinking). Movement also creates the bonds of friendship that builds the desire to read and write.

 

Connell describes this as a cycle: The more a child moves, the more the child knows: The more a child knows, the more the child wants to know: The more a child wants to know, the more the child wants to move. I would just add a concentric cycle: The more a child moves the more the child communicates: The more a child communicates, the more the child wants to communicate: The more a child wants to communicate, the more a child moves.

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The Whole Child, The Whole Day

We were moving. I was an enlightened teacher. I knew children need to move as part of their healthy development. It was morning group time and I was having the children move to music, creating a story that matched the mood of the music. We were lions waking up and then running and leaping. All of the children were moving and contributing ideas. Well, almost everyone.

Greg had ducked behind a shelf. I tried to get him involved, but he said he was tired. I gently tried a few more times, but didn’t want to pressure him. Maybe next time I can get him moving, I thought.

Soon I had the lions wash their paws for snack. Greg waited until the others were done and washed his own hands. As we finished snack and got ready for freeplay, Greg told me he was going to “attack the bad guys.”

Suddenly, this quiet child put on a mask and pretended to shoot at all the bad guys. He leaped to his right, ducked behind the couch, rolled on the ground and stuck his wand out again. Soon a few other boys joined him.

Greg added a police hat and a tool belt, and he was ready for round two. Sometimes they attacked the bad guys. Sometimes they jumped and rolled on each other. It was as if something inside Greg had woken up. Something I was unable to do with my planned activities. I thought I was an enlightened teacher, but I realized I knew nothing.

I am exaggerating, of course, but the thing about teaching is that just when you think you know what you are doing, you realize there is more to learn. I knew children need to move, but I didn’t always reOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ready for the bad guys
Ready for the bad guys

cognize it. The truth is, a few years ago, I would have told Greg and the other boys to calm down when they started roughhousing. The very thing that got them moving, for Greg the only thing.

Planning movement activities is not enough. Getting children outside for long periods of time is not enough. Having a mat set aside for boisterous rough-and-tumble play is not enough. Children need a sense of power, a chance to take risks, and a choice in how they move their bodies throughout the day.

Greg, and many others like him do need to move their bodies, but they might not do it when the teacher plans it. We can’t address a child’s physical development for fifteen minutes and then move on to the child’s literacy skills the next fifteen minutes. We need to be aware of the whole child the whole day.