Monday 21 August 2017

Let The Children Play

Children have a natural curiosity and desire to explore. They need unstructured time to try new things, create, and test ideas. They need time to play. Play is enjoyable, creative, spontaneous, child-led and has no predetermined end goal. I'm a believer that the most learning happens when children play without inhibitions, guided solely by their own natural curiosities. Play is an important part of a child's cognitive, social, and even physical development. In the dance studio, where I often teach 1-hour "Creative Movement" classes for children between 2 and 5 years, I reserve a minimum of 15 minutes for free play and here is why. Given access to the right materials, through play, a child can develop a greater understanding of their body and how it moves. In this type of play they will be strengthening large muscles groups and improving overall physicality. At the same time they will be role playing, using oral communication skills, socializing, and problem solving. There is no structured, adult-directed activity that provides the same opportunity for growth. In the context of physical development and gross motor skills, it is their time to make sense of their body and how it can move.

To encourage movement and learning I give the students a variety of props. I vary what they have access to each time so that they are encouraged to try new things.

Some of the props I often put out include:
- yoga blocks
- hula hoops
- variety of balls
- bean bags
- ribbons
- scarves
- animal shapes

This doesn't mean that there is no adult involvement in play. The role of the educator or parent is to create an environment with opportunity for rich, playful learning experiences. You can recognize appropriate times to insert yourself into a child's play and extend the thinking and movement that is happening. For example, when I see a child playing with a scarf (often making it a cape, hat, or tail) I might say "I see you have a cape. What else can this scarf be?" or "I see you have a tail. What kind of animal are you? Do you crawl, walk, or fly?". I ask questions purposefully that encourage them to think, talk, or move, depending on what I feel will best extend their play.

From my experience I have learned that it is important to remember that free play is not a reward for good work, it is good work! It is very easy to resort to using free play as a reward in a behaviour management strategy. I have caught myself saying "If you finish x activity, then you will get to have free play". What message does this send to the children? Do we believe play is a prize? It's not! It's the right of every child and it is needed. Children can recognize and understand how you value their play. When this is understood between the child and the educator, the play is much more purposeful and the learning experience is much richer.

Above is an example of the learning that happened during play in a 2-5 year old Creative Movement class. The children were given hula hoops, yoga blocks, a few balls, and their favourite playtime prop...the tunnel! One child put the hula hoops in a row and began to jump into each, another child became interested and added the tunnel at the end of the hoops and began to climb through after jumping in the hoops. What they created was a collaboratively developed obstacle course that included multi-steps and had them running, jumping, balancing, and crawling. My role in this play was simply to observe and encourage the children to describe their thinking and to keep moving! All that learning took place because they were given time to play and materials to play with.

So for all parents and teachers of early learners, if you want them to be active and move, let the children play!

Happy Learning!

Thursday 3 August 2017

Patterns and Direction

Having a large open studio space in our learning environment means we do a lot of dancing and moving! Gross motor skills are an important part of early childhood development. This is how we learn about personal space and develop the strength and coordination to effectively perform skills such as: walking, running, jumping, and climbing stairs.

Here's a provocation that was set up to help us explore patterns of movement, pathways, and direction.

Before the children arrived for the day I laid tape on the floor in a pattern of lines. (Luckily, we have a mezzanine above our studio room so I can take overhead pictures!) The children came into the room and immediately began exploring the lines. I initially gave them no instructions and let them discover! I observed as the children started walking along the lines, forming a train and following the pattern on the floor. They quickly learned they had a problem when two children went opposite directions on the path. There was great problem solving happening as they figured out how they would all move along the lines without bumping into one another.

To expand on their learning, I added frog cut-outs along the lines and challenged them to continue moving along the lines without stepping on any frogs. They decided that they could jump over them! This expanded the gross motor skill development the children were getting from this activity. Next thing I knew we were frogs jumping along the lines and creating a pattern of movement, all going the same direction!

Happy Learning!

Motor Skills {And Why We Need Them}

I often talk to parents of preschoolers about the importance of activities that engage gross motor skills. Movement and a variety of movement is so important in the daily lives of young children. There are lots of ways to get kids using their motor skills: walking, running, climbing, and of course, DANCING! So what are gross motor skills and why do we need them?

Gross motor refers to the skills involved in movement of the large muscles and parts of the body such as our arms, legs, and trunk. We begin to develop these skills as infants while we learn to sit upright and crawl. Preschoolers need different kinds of gross motor skills: locomotor (moving from one place to another such as running and walking), non-locomotor (staying in one place such as bending and reaching), and manipulative (moving an object such as opening a door). Through dance and musical movement, all of these skills can be taught in a fun and engaging way.

One of the outcomes of encouraging gross motor development is that it benefits everyday self care skills. For example, children need control of their large muscle groups for skills such as dressing independantly, climbing in and out of a car or bed, and maintaining table posture during a family meal.

As an educator and lover of dance and music and in my experience in working with young movers, I believe the most important reason we need to give kids gross motor skills is because it also gives them confidence. Children with strong gross motor skills have confidence in their body and ability to move. These children are more likely to take safe risks and push themselves, not just physically. The willingness to take chances and approach challenges with confidence is how children learn. Confidence is happiness. When children feel good about their ability to move and control their body, they develop a love of exercise and being physically active. To keep children healthy they need to love to move and they need the endurance to develop strong bodies.

So what do children need to develop these skills? They need to move. They need to move a lot and in a lot of ways and they need to have fun while they do it!

Happy Learning!