The Sense of Movement ~ Part Two
Last month hopefully it became apparent that the key concept for the sense of self-movement was sufficient time in the horizontal plane so that:
1) spatial orientation is well grounded (the body’s internal map)
2) the crawling stage evolves easily, leading to proper stimulation for brain development and eventually an upright human being, and
3) optimum early development of the will forces occurs
I also mentioned that there is a connection between movement and speech. Children who have ample and sustained movement experiences often have fewer speech problems, assuming the speech they hear is natural and correct and not from a machine such as a TV or computer. Children who do have speech issues may need intervention along the way, but movement will be essential to their success. Many children have mastered use of correct syntax by the time they are six, and most children have mastered the speech sounds in English by the time they are eight. If a child has not mastered the /r/ sound or other sounds by age eight or nine, I encourage parents to consult with a speech/language therapist.
In addition to movement opportunities that support crawling, standing, walking and speech development, another important concept associated with the whole topic of self movement is the concept of proprioception, which is our body’s awareness of our muscles, joints and tendons as they move and give us information about the location of our body and body parts in space. The sense of proprioception allows us to form a muscle memory of practiced movements, such as reaching for an object, running, dancing, riding a bike, using a hammer, a spoon or a pencil. Proprioception is best helped by conscious awareness that our children need to move daily and also need to lift objects daily. Right now in our culture, forces have conspired to weaken the lifting system. Other than maybe carrying a backpack, some children may not get enough opportunities to lift something of substantial weight with their arms. This lack may show up as fidgety behavior, restlessness, feeling out of sorts, sluggishness, and continual pushing behavior.
Here are some chores children can do in daily life to support the lifting system:
Carry their laundry bag to/from the laundry area, be it at home or a Laundromat.
Carry in groceries. (Be aware of glass containers that may break-perhaps a tomato sauce jar gets removed by a parent before the child carries the bag.)
Carry indoor and outdoor tools such as vacuums, rakes, shovels.
Stack firewood. Lift branches, rocks or bricks that need to be moved.
Carry pets, pet cages, etc. Carry bags of pet food and litter, chicken feed.
Carry a bag of potting soil.
Carry their own musical instrument cases.
More activities that support hand development include:
(The first four require the hands to be flat on the floor for optimum
palm and finger development.)
Crawling as a relay activity in school or at home.
Doing the wheelbarrow walk.
Doing the “alligator walk” on a large physioball, feet together & legs extended.
Doing the crabwalk .
Lifting or carrying hand weights.
If your child needs solid lifting opportunities at school to help them be more grounded, a conversation with the teachers can be helpful. In some schools, I have mentioned to teachers that they can conspire with the front office or other colleagues. Fill a box with a few reams of paper or some heavy books. Then call on a student: “Justin, would you please take this box to Mrs. Jones’ room down the hall. Thank you so much.” That heavy lifting helps children feel their own muscles and joints to gain a better sense of embodiment. It doesn’t matter that the paper gets moved down the hall 20 times a day-what matters is the weight bearing activity.
In the 1990’s, my friend went on an educational visit to Japan. She remembered that as a consequence for misbehavior, the children in an elementary school had to stand in the hall for half an hour holding a bucket of water in each hand. Now that is an interesting idea! But also in these schools, the children cleaned the building themselves, so carrying water, mops and supplies was part of their routine.
Many of us know adults who literally have to work out and lift weights daily. Their systems are wired so that when they engage in weight lifting, they can go through their day with calmness and clarity. Likewise, children can be the same way. Here in Vermont, some children have the opportunity to stack firewood at school-lucky them. Is it possible for children in schools to sometimes lift the boxes of paper goods and cleaning supplies that the delivery folks bring in with a dolly? How useful this would be for them and for the maintenance personnel as well. It also turns into a social deed for the community.
One of my favorite stories that illustrates children and purposeful movement is from Carol Stock Kranowitz who wrote The Out of Sync Child books. For twenty-five years she worked at St Columba Preschool in Washington, D.C. She would often hear teachers at the local elementary schools say to her, “We can always tell the St Columba kids. They have such good scissors skills – you must have them use scissors every day.” Carol thought to herself that 15 minutes once a week with scissors at her preschool was not a contributing factor, but what was significant was the curriculum outdoors. Every day the children at St. Columba are outside for 90 minutes on a playground full of natural activities where they can crawl through tubes, swing, balance and especially lift heavy objects. The children are allowed to fill milk crates with rocks or even sand which they can wet with a hose. Imagine the pleasure a couple of preschoolers could derive from carrying a loaded milk crate together!
This opportunity provides the perfect scenario for children to develop their fine motor skills because of the proprioception-all the heavy lifting utilizing their shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers. You might well imagine how unsatisfying it is for me to hear from educational professionals who think children are dysgraphic (unable to write) by nature. Then the children are given keyboards to use in school, which further deprives them of good proprioceptive feedback for the arm muscles and joints. Unless a child has an organic problem with hands or eyes that prevents them from using pencils correctly, most children can have legible handwriting. If a child has not crawled, then this is already an indication that she missed out on proprioceptive feedback from her shoulders down to the hands and fingers.
Remember that children can start carrying groceries (like a jug of detergent or a bag of oranges) into the house at a preschool age … and this extends well into the teen years. Thank you to all the parents who have their children carry big and heavy objects! Now that my children are grown, I carry the groceries for my own weight bearing workout, but I rarely miss an opportunity to have a child help me carry supplies. They are usually glad to help and I know how much it helps their muscles as well as their sense of competency.
The sense of balance is here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 802-660-0555.