Talking Without Words

As an Early Years Practitioner for almost 20 years, developing rich creative experiences for young children has always been high on the agenda, yet finding innovative ways to do this is always a challenge.

An unmissable opportunity arose in 2012 to collaborate with The Carousel Project on some action research exploring creative approaches to arts based learning.

Participating in this project cemented the idea that something we really needed to do more was to give the children (and adults) in our nursery increased opportunities to work with artists as it significantly enhanced and deepened their experience in a way that was different from what we were doing day to day.

During 2013 we were involved in another action research project, this time with dance practitioner Lizzie Swinford ‘Let’s play dancing: researching the adult’s role when using play in Early Years creative dance’ (funded by the University of Exeter and Dance Network Active Catalyst Bursary).

A significant and unexpected theme that arose through her research was the development of the children’s communication and expression through movement. Furthermore, we found that this increased ‘talk’ through movement challenged our perceptions of the children’s capabilities, as many children displayed a confidence that we had not seen before, particularly in their ability to communicate with others.

We have a high number of children with English as an additional language in our Infant School and Nursery and, with twelve children starting in September 2014 with little spoken English and eight different languages spoken, we knew that we needed to look for more creative ways to develop their communication that were not reliant upon talking

We secured some funding that enabled us to have some quality time to really develop this project and reflect upon the outcomes – something that we never really have time to do in a busy week. We booked Lizzie to dance and move with the children for 10 sessions, five in the autumn term and five in the spring term. Our key question was to see what effect movement play would have upon the children's relationships, wellbeing, communication and learning

Key findings

Lizzie started each session with a movement idea and an interest that the children had been exploring in the Nursery, then encouraged them to use their whole bodies to develop this movement. She used props to stimulate ideas and set the scene - creating a space for the movement to happen.

Using playful movement stimulated the children's imaginations, gave them time and space to develop their own ideas and enabled every child to take a lead if they wanted to. Communicating through movement rather than spoken word created a more 'equal' feel amongst the adults and the children - everybody was talking through the music and movement and gestures became more significant than words.

The children branched out and interacted with children that they may not have played with before - this was especially significant for the children with English as an additional language. Exchanging their ideas through action and movement dramatically reduced language barriers and we observed that the children were more likely to instigate an interaction with another child than before.

Even though the sessions were energetic and lively, there was a high level of empathy and openness. Lizzie was spontaneous and relevant in her responses, creating excitement as well as emotional safety and warmth. The children were keen to help each other and celebrate each others achievements, sometimes clapping and cheering but mostly through following an action or a movement idea.

Full, genuine involvement of all adults involved was vital - this really helped the children to feel empowered and confident to 'have a go'. Some children needed the adults to be their 'co-collaborators', so having the time to do this in a meaningful way was a key factor in the success of the project.

Having time for reflection and discussion with Lizzie and the Nursery team meant that we had a respectful, open and collaborative relationship. I feel that this then contributed to each session as the children knew that we took their ideas seriously and were partners in their movement play, following their ideas and taking their lead.

Implications for the future

It would be wonderful to have the resources for an artist to work with us on a more regular basis rather than in sporadic blocks throughout the year and we are exploring ways of trying to make this part of our continuous provision in the Nursery.

We learnt so much from the project - the significance of movement and physical wellbeing for young children and the sensory experience that it provides was unmistakeable. As a result we have made some adjustments to our day to day plans so that providing space for movement experiences is now very high on our agenda!

Clare Farion, Early Years Practitioner at Stoke Hill Infant and Nursery School has been teaching since 1997 and since a study trip to Reggio Emilia in 2000 has been searching for ways to ensure that the curriculum for young children and their families is rich, relevant and exciting. She has also worked at the University of Plymouth as an associate lecturer, teaching on the Early Childhood Studies Degree course and mentored students on their teaching experience.

Clare says that teaching for her is a real passion, especially in the early years and she currently teaches in the Nursery at Stoke Hill Infant and Nursery School in Exeter, where she is fortunate to work with amazing, like minded colleagues. Research has now become an important part of their practice - the impact for them and the children is so, so important and keeps them on their very tired toes!

References and further reading