Movement is not a break from learning, it is learning

What will you do to incorporate more movement into your child’s life? What will you do to incorporate movement into yours?

img_3037These were two questions asked of me in a short parenting course I’m taking with one of my favorite childhood development gurus, Aubrey Hargis. On the same day, Ivan’s school communications’ outreach sent an article, “Movement as part of education.” And with the weather warm as ever here in Texas – but not yet dreadfully hot – being active in nature has been top of mind. As I slow down to think intentionally about movement, I realize I’ve been moving past movement a little too fast, largely on the assumption that we already do it by way of getting outside. 

But my assumption of leaving movement for the outdoors feels a bit like treating it as a “break” from learning. This is how it’s treated in conventional school – a short “recess” that we grant in 30-minute increments before lining up to get back to neatly-aligned rows of desks where we expect kids to sit still to learn. Except we know a child’s education is so much more than academics. We know that children learn through their own discovery, of which movement is crucial. We know that a child’s need to get up and out, running, balancing, climbing, swinging, jumping, pushing is healthy and purposeful.

It is not a break from learning because it is learning.

And the greatest irony of this is that we as adults feel firsthand the effects of overlooking movement. Connecting to a 9-5 job that taxes my brain can leave my body pent up. Anxiety and restlessness can fester, cured only when I finally acknowledge my body’s innate cry for releasing that energy in physical activity, intentional movement, re-centered in nature. So it’s no surprise to see that movement is valuable to our kids, valuable to ourselves.

Till now, almost all educators have thought of movement and the muscular system as aids to respiration, or to circulation, or as a means for building up physical strength. But in our new conception the view is taken that movement has great importance in mental development itself, provided that the action which occurs is connected with the mental activity going on. – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind.

These questions have made me realize that it’s time we treat movement with as much appreciation and cognizance as we do practical life, social skills, fine motor skills, language. I don’t take this to mean that I need to suddenly run around and plan more structured activities; it’s not that we need to make our kids more busy. It’s about honoring their impressive energy as meaningful rather than jumping to assumptions of it being undesirable, hyper, aimless.

How are they trying to connect to their surroundings, and how does their energy match their moods? Are they getting enough time and space to move in different ways? Does one child seem to need more of this than my other? 

I felt so proud of my 18-month old when she successfully threaded her first three beads on a string today, and I melted with joy when she vocalized three new phrases, “Thank you!” “All done! “Bless you!” I also currently have a whole two rows on my phone of funny photos I took when she was trying to do a somersault and balance on her head. But wait a minute. It’s interesting that I laughed off her headstand while taking her fine motor and language milestones with greater awe.

It turns out, toddler headstands are amazingly purposeful:

“Playing upside down has been shown to stimulate the vestibular system, which is part of our body’s sensory system that helps establish where the body is in relation to our environment … children’s brains and vestibular systems are going through a ‘training process’ that includes interacting with their environment and building sensory and motor connections in the brain.”

She wasn’t trying to be silly, even though it was adorably silly. She was seeking a need to practice balance, cognition/orientation, muscle strengthening. How cool?!

I didn’t expect those original two questions to spark so much in me, but  I’m so glad they were sent my way. It was a much-needed reminder to check in with my littles and get on their level so that we can literally move with greater intention and understanding.

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