Dance conjures up a range of images and associations for most people, yet I would guess a lot of them may involve a ballet dancer, strictly come dancing, music videos, dancers on stage or screen performing a well rehearsed, slick, stunning sequence offering great entertainment and inspiration. I have been involved in community dance for over 15 years and I am particularly fascinated by how real people dance. Not on the stage or screen. How real, non-trained, individuals of all ages and quirks move, express and dance in their bodies. It fascinates me, not only how individuals uniquely inhabit and express themselves but understanding the crucial importance of movement to developing and strengthening our brains; our own neurological potential.
Early years children are fluent in the language of movement, they learn about and interact with the world through their bodies and movement, activating their senses and brains. They understand non-verbal communications of emotions and body language from just a few months old; they have a strong instinct for the value of body or kinaesthetic intelligence, which provides a felt sense of knowing or understanding something or someone. Children know the value of active learning through our own physicality, yet too often the world around them is asking them to be careful, sit still and tell me what you know.
We are undermining children's innate knowledge and skills development if we ask them to override their biological urges to move more and interact with their environment, for our convenience and risk assessment. If children are not able to feel at home in their own bodies, how will they feel at home in the world around them? If we want children to become resilient, resourceful and reflective learners this needs to start in their own physicality first, to have the opportunity to learn and improve these skills - developing both body and brain.
Early years children have huge leaps in physical developments to master before they are able to even consider sitting still and listening in reception class. They have to progress from random, uncoordinated impulsive movements to more intentional, skilled and synchronised articulation of their limbs, balance and bodies. They have to learn by reflective and repeated physical experience, and lots of practice, how to be in their bodies. Meaning the question of how to be yourself in your own body is essentially an act of creativity in itself.
Through movement play and creative dance we engage in a full bodied conversation about ourselves and our ideas by visualising feelings, emotions and expressing things which can't always be spoken. This allows us to extend and transform ourselves through dance to become our own small work of art. Creating something fleeting, perfectly flawed and a lot of fun!
You probably see children being physically creative every day - finding new moves they enjoy, creating funny rhythms, seeing the world from upside down, testing their balance, being an animal, copying something they have seen, showing you a move they have mastered, expressing their feelings through movement, making a new shape. Getting stuck, as any artist will tell you, can be the most important learning curve of all. Physically it is good for children to get stuck and then figure out how to do something, such as reach for that toy, climb over the cushions, untangle their legs, transform into a dinosaur, scramble back down the tree or hold hands and skip. It is by doing this that they have to try something new.
By learning new skills and using new approaches, new neurological connections are developed - creative problem solving in action! These are not only skills for learning but also life skills, they are priming themselves for life and some of the challenges it will offer. Ask anyone who has had to learn to drive, ride a bike, climb stairs with shopping and a toddler, recover from a broken leg or manage with a disability, let alone the next Olympic winning gymnast or prima ballerina.
Children have a natural tendency for experiential learning, primarily through their bodies and senses. Do we unintentionally get in the way of this or allow plenty of time and space for valid learning to take place? Your body is the one partner you will dance through life with and we would do well to listen carefully to the subtle language it speaks. As a real awareness, understanding and trust of our bodies allows for a strong connection between the body and mind. Through life this foundation informs us of our desires, our abilities, our risks and our health and wellbeing.
Physical development is so much more than learning to safely move round obstacles or not getting over weight. If early years children discover and trust self initiated learning, expression and creativity through their body first, the ground work for love of life long learning is laid. It's a shame our education system works so differently.
Anna Daly is the Director of Primed for Life