Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement
Children acquire knowledge by acting and then reflecting on their experiences, but such opportunities are increasingly rare in school.
One of my children is spinning in a circle, creating a narrative about a princess as she twirls. The other is building a rocket ship out of a discarded box, attaching propellers made of cardboard and jumping in and out of her makeshift launcher. It is a rainy day, and I’ve decided to let them design their own activities as I clean up and prepare a meal. My toddler becomes the spinning princess, imagining her character’s feelings and reactions. What seems like a simple story involves sequencing, character development, and empathy for the brave princess stuck in her tower. The rocket ship my first grader is working on needs a pilot and someone to devise the dimensions and scale of its frame; it also needs a story to go with it. She switches between roles and perspectives, between modes of thinking and tinkering.
Movement allows children to connect concepts to action and to learn through trial and error. “If you walk into a good kindergarten class, everyone is moving. The teacher is moving. There are structured activities, but generally it is about purposeful movement,”comments Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of early-childhood education at Lesley University and the author of Taking Back Childhood, describing the ideal classroom setup. In the classroom culture, she advocates for, “[Kids] are getting materials for an activity, they are going back and deciding what else they need for what they want to create, seeing how the shape of a block in relation to another block works, whether they need more, does it balance, does it need to be higher, is it symmetrical. These math concepts are unfolding while kids are actively building and moving.”
Research has shown repeatedly that children need opportunities to move in class. Memory and movement are linked, and the body is a tool of learning, not a roadblock to or a detour away from it. Any parent who has brought home a kindergartener after school, bursting with untapped energy yet often carrying homework to complete after a seven-hour day, can reasonably deduce why children today have trouble keeping still in their seats. Many children are getting 20-minute breaks, or none. (In Florida, parents whose children have no recess have been campaigning to legislate recess into the curriculum.) Recess, now a more frequent topic of research studies, has been found to have “important educational and developmental implications.” Schools that have sought to integrate more movement and free play, such as short 15-minute recess periods throughout the day, have seen gains in student attention span and instructional time. As Carlsson-Paige points out, “Recess is not a separate thing in early-childhood education.”
Ms. Nora Sierra
Early Childhood Assistant Principal