The Sense of Self Movement ~ Part 1
We continue our journey of the twelve senses recognized by Rudolf Steiner, focusing on the first four known as the Foundational Senses. Upon the strength or weakness of these four senses, the human being will meet the world with certainty or hesitation. To review, these Foundational Senses build three capacities in a child: Body Geography (knowing where the parts of your body are), Spatial Orientation knowing where you are in space) and Dominance (having an established preference for one side of the body to do tasks). These three capacities are basic in order for children to perform many practical activities in school and at home.
Following the sense of life, which informs us about our well being, comes the sense of self-movement, or the sense of movement. The sense of self-movement brings great satisfaction to the child as she learns to bring her flailing newborn arms and legs into her control and reach out for something she wants. Over the first year of life, this sense then leads a child to stand and take the first steps – a huge deed and the first of three important ones in the path toward becoming an upright human being. As there is so much to say, this month will be part one and next month part two for the movement sense.
A critical piece in early childhood is for a baby to be lovingly but firmly held and swaddled, which helps the child to feel embodied as well as emotionally and physically secure. From there, it’s crucial to provide ample opportunities for a baby to be in the horizontal plane. Infant development depends on floor time; thankfully many pediatricians promote this important step. When fully horizontal, a baby responds to a pushing reflex, pushing against surfaces with hands and feet to lift that heavy head or another part of the body and eventually to roll over, move forward, backwards or sideways. Be assured that if a child has this opportunity, it is golden, for this is a large part of development of the WILL (the drive to do, to plan, to take action). Here is where the infant begins to develop a relationship to earth and the space around oneself. We are spatial beings; developing our orientation to the earth properly while still on the horizontal plane will help us to become fully upright, but it has to happen in the right order.
If a child missed out on floor time, then spatial orientation is compromised. Knowing where we are in space- I am in my body- I am under the table- I am on the log- I am next to my friend-these experiences are not to be undervalued. The real world teaches this best, not a video or TV show on prepositions. When orientation is experienced first hand, then children build an internal map of what is where – in their body and in their world.
To illustrate this concept, here are two stories:
1) I know a young adult (who does not have learning issues) who missed out on sufficient floor time, watched TV in a home day care, and did not use the pronoun “I” until she was age 8 or so. Well into her twenties, she often got lost driving in her town and had to call her parent to help her re-orient with verbal directions. It was clear to me that she did not develop a strong sense of “I” in her body at a young age, therefore navigating space in the real world is sometimes a challenge for her.
2) A few years back, my client’s toddler sister enjoyed coming into the movement room after big sister was done her Extra Lesson session. These girls had wonderful opportunities to live a balanced childhood, full of appropriate free movement and no media. One day as the mother and I were talking, she pulled what seemed like every marble, ball, stick, etc. off the shelf, leaving them scattered across the room. At one point, she was at the shelf and then wanted to come across to where her mother sat. Thinking she’d slip on one of the many objects as though the floor were covered in banana peels, my fleeting panic turned to amazement in no time. She looked right at her mother while talking and navigating her way through the maze, stepping over any object in her path!
The trend in recent decades to leave children for long periods in infant seats is detrimental to their motor development, and will development. The child cannot turn her head fully to one side or another, which affects peripheral vision, eye tracking and neck reflexes. These seats should be used for travel and shopping outings, not in the home. Playpens, however, allow the child to safely nap or rest in the horizontal plane and then develop the will forces to become upright on their own, without artificially pushing them upright too early. The message here is: If someone else does our work for us, this reduces our inner drive to do the work ourselves. Let’s let our babies strive on their own to become upright. Remember the advice from last month-the LIFE SENSE. By not making everything so comfortable, we give our children a chance to develop competency and resilience.
Besides too much time in infant seats, there are other deterrents to free movement in western culture, (by “free” I mean movement stemming from the child spontaneously): too much time in cars, too much time in front of screens (TV, computers, electronic games, handhelds) and organized sports for young children prior to age 9 or 10. The consequences of this lack of free movement are seen in countless grade school children struggling to sit at a desk and write properly on a page. This can happen to very intelligent children (in my experience, almost all children I meet are innately quite intelligent). Sometimes issues of low self-esteem have to do with the child’s sense of not being able to move her body at her will, to do all the things she observes her peers doing. The question people like myself ask is: “Did this child have sufficient time in the horizontal plane prior to standing and walking?”
If deprived of sufficient floor time and movement opportunities, children may have a poorly developed sense of space and also they may not have worked through the early reflexes. Their bodies are unable to form maps of motor movements and even simple tasks like buttoning may require too much cognitive attention, which then creates stress and low self-esteem as children observe how others seem to be able to do tasks with more ease. If spatial orientation is secure, children generally have a better understanding of which way letters and numbers go: top to bottom and left to right, and what’s in front vs. what’s on the back of a page, what is left vs. right.
Insufficient floor time can also lead to a lack of crawling which then compromises eye tracking and the ability to hold the head up in space free from the movement of the limbs. Reading and other school work can be a huge struggle for these children. Lack of crawling also compromises hand development which affects fine motor skills, and it is a hindrance to integration of the left and right brain hemispheres. In fairness, I will say that some children do get sufficient floor opportunities but still have incredible drive to stand and walk; they naturally skip crawling. Whenever a child skips crawling, it is very helpful to play crawling games on the floor or grass when they are toddlers or preschoolers. Ideally a child should crawl for a good three months, and the hands should be flat – no curved fingers. The more one crawls, the more it self-corrects. Crawling games are fun!
Children are naturally wired to move for optimal brain development. In our vehicle and screen dependent culture, children who get insufficient movement experiences are at a disadvantage. Unknowingly, they will try to move when a sedentary activity is over, but their timing may not match the adult’s plan. It’s best to structure movement time in the form of free play, outings in nature and playground visits as much as possible. Screen time should be not at all or extremely rare and only after age 7, and programmed sports saved for age 10. Children should freely move, build, play by themselves, read, draw, do a puzzle, cook, be bored and help with numerous chores at home. There is no time for screens and hand held electronic games in this scenario!
If you haven’t already, please watch the movie BABIES. At the end of the film, the African girl stands up and brings her hands together in pure delight. Unlike her western civilization counterparts who have lots of material possessions, strollers, classes, and gadgets, etc. she has moved through the development stages of the first year within a culture that honors our innate knowledge about development. She has been allowed to make friends with the earth, learn about gravity, lift and carry authentic objects, and feel immense joy with all her accomplishments.
Next month, the discussion will continue with purposeful movement, chores and the connection of movement with speech issues. (Children who have ample and sustained movement experiences often have fewer speech problems). If we let our children lift, carry, push, pull, run, skip, roll, etc. …and receive sensory integration help (a specialized physical therapy for children) if needed, they will be on their way to being well grounded for life and full of a sense of competency. They will move with more ease in the world.
Next article ~ The Sense of Self Movement ~ Part 2
Connie Helms works in private practice as an Extra Lesson teacher in Vermont with children, adolescents and adults at Balance in Childhood. She is a consultant to Waldorf schools in the U.S., mentors Waldorf remedial teachers and serves on the board of the Association for a Healing Education. Connie is the mother of three young adult children who attended Waldorf schools from nursery through grade eight. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or telephone 802-660-0555.