A Heart for Toddlers - Movement

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Moving and learning is inextricably linked. Toddlers are wired to move and whilst they move, they learn. They need sensory full body connections for the learning to occur.

Learn to move, Move to learn

It starts with the baby.  The infant who will repeatedly put their head between their legs. They are learning, it’s all about gaining a different perspective on their ever changing world. As they grow and develop they go through different stages and repeated patterns of play and thinking that are biological imperatives. We call them the urges of play. 

Urges are innate and totally intrinsic to what children do. For example children love to enclose - hide, bury, wrap and cover themselves and things. They transport, gather, collect, construct, deconstruct, make families, connect, transform things make potions etc. When observing children's play we will always see these innate impulses outplayed in what they do. In their movement and in their play.

For example, as they explore the 'positioning' urge when sitting up, they will also position things in a variety of ways. This can often be seen in block construction, as the child positions blocks in a way that reflects the inner urge e.g. creating 'inclines' with blocks. This is adding to the 'body of knowledge' the child is forming. 

Adapt the environment, not the child

As a team it is always important for us to remember that we allow toddlers to move naturally and freely in order for them to gain confidence in the functioning of their body. They need to find joy and pleasure in 'what I can do with my body.' We have a never ending relationship with gravity. For our infants and toddlers finding their own balance is a continual process. 

Children need to move to out play their urges. It is therefore crucial we understand these urges as that will assist us to modify our role: adapting the environment. 

For infants we create the 'space'; one that is uncluttered, that enables the infant to immerse themselves fully in the task of 'being' in their body, not being distracted by a clutter of toys that may divert them from that vital task of 'being in and with their body' as their movement unfolds. It's not saying don't have toys; its about being aware of what is happening for the infant.

For toddlers we create the ‘space’ to move, to build, to create, to explore, to discover. They are budding architects, designers and builders and their ‘work’ is creating ingenious structures. If we ensure that each day they have access to the same resources they can 'extend' themselves, no planning needed. Their imagination is enriched, thought processes expanded, knowledge compounded, not to mention the sheer beauty and aesthetics of the varied and always surprising structures they dream up and engineer. 

When we know about urges we can prepare our environment. We do not have to keep guessing what a child will want to learn next. We can provide for the urge and let the children lead the way!

The urge to move

As mentioned before, there are certain universal urges that can be witnessed in children’s play – things they just feel compelled to do and driven to repeat, in many ways and with many objects.  These patterns of play are universal and innate. 

When we are aware of the urges we are more likely to notice them and understand what is behind a child’s actions.

Play is programmed in the human genes.  Children need to play for their brains to grow to their full potential.  Children follow their own play patterns coded into their body and developing brain. 

Just like bunnies need to hop, goldfish need to swim, dogs need to chase sticks, birds need to fly, toddlers need to move!

We would never say to a goldfish "do not swim" These examples are against the natural biology of the goldfish. 

"If we give children enough space and possibilities for free movement, they will move as beautifully and gracefully as animals; nimbly, simply, confidently and naturally" - Dr Emmi Pikler

Have a think and see if there is any unrealistic expectations that your team and place have that is a mismatch to the child's own biological imperatives.This is not a philosophical debate this is a much more critical issue! Toddlers need to move!

Before you say "sit still", "don't run", ask yourself, am I using the child's biological imperatives as the guide for 'how'?

Want more? Check out our new toolkit "A Heart for Toddlers".