Dancer and mum Liz Clarke explains why moving with your child through play is so important for their development – and lots of fun too!
For the last two years my little men and I have been going to an awesome weekly class that is all about moving, playing and having fun together.
It’s my favourite ever parent and child class because it’s really child-led and there are no rules or boundaries so there’s no need to panic if your children are on the ‘energetic’ side like mine! Plus we get to crawl on the floor and play with fun stuff like huge cardboard boxes and plastic tubs, stretchy fabric, sponges, bouncy balls, feathers, and even conkers (in season of course!).
And for that reason I’m so chuffed that the ladies behind this fabulous class have been shortlisted for National Lottery funding to help them take their Sponge Play sessions to more families including children with additional needs and those with terminal illness. If, like me, you think this is a fabulous idea, please vote for them before noon on Monday 3 April 2017.
In this special guest blog, class founder Liz Clark explains why classes like these, or just moving more with your little people, is a vital part of their development…
“As a dancer and maker of theatre shows I’m fascinated by movement, especially that of very young children.
As a mum of three children (two boys and one girl) I was fascinated to watch them move, as babies, as toddlers, as young children and now growing into adults as they move towards their teens.
Being a mum and being a dancer has given me insights into two fascinating worlds that often collide, inform each other and bring me interesting perspectives. One piece of information that surprised me was how much dancing and moving is directly linked to our children’s engagement with and ability to learn.
Children are born with nine reflexes – automatic movement responses that happen when certain parts of the body are moved or touched. You might be familiar with the grasping reflex – when a baby closes its tiny finger around your finger. Apparently you can hang a new born from a washing line (!) but I’ve never tried it.
One that’s less well known is the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR). This is when a baby turns its head to one side and its arm/legs on that side straighten while the arm/legs on the other side bend. Like all of the other reflexes that a baby is born with they need to be ‘switched off’ by the time the baby reaches about six months. And here’s where it gets interesting for me… switching them off involves moving; spending time on tummies, crawling, sliding, rocking. And I don’t just mean the baby, I mean the mummy/daddy too.
We are our children’s best tool and encourager for development. While I do believe in ‘healthy neglect’ (which enables children to explore their surroundings without too much adult interference) I’m mostly a firm believer in playing, exploring, creating together. And here’s why…
As well as helping to switch off the reflexes we’re born with crawling can help with strength, both in the arms for later using them for mark making, painting, etc. Being on the floor, sliding, rolling stretching is necessary for back strength so we can sit upright, and be in control of our arms and legs. Spinning round and being dizzy develops our vestibular system – if we want to be able to track words to read, then this is really vital.
While it isn’t good to dwell on the negative it’s worth knowing that if the ATNR reflex isn’t switched off it can be responsible for some difficulties with learning;
handwriting – each time a child turns his head to look at the page, his arm will want to extend and the fingers will want to open.
holding and working a pen or pencil will require enormous effort, meaning that there might be a very heavy pencil grip and tension in the learner’s body.
reading is linked to eye tracking difficulties which can result in the child loosing its place, meaning that there’s a loss of accuracy and comprehension.
Today why not clear some space… put on some music and move. You don’t have to know what to do, your child will show you how.”
Watch this Sponge Play video to find out more:
Liz Clark is Artistic Director of Turned On Its Head. Its Sponge project is shortlisted for a Big Lottery Peoples Project Award.
The company needs your votes to be able to take their dance workshop out to families who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance. Please vote for Sponge Play