Up until relatively recently, we thought that our bodies were little more than meat with nerving endings, while our brains were there to give us direction, to move move us around, like some sort of command center. Much of what passes for education is still based upon this misunderstanding, with generations of children spending their schooldays confined by desks, by walls, being expected to hold their bodies still while their all-important brains absorb lectures and text. We now understand that in order to learn at full capacity, our full bodies must be involved. In education, we tend to divide movement into two categories, large (or gross) motor, and small (or fine) motor, but movement, like most things really falls along a continuum. Of course, preschool teachers have always known about the value of large motor play such as running, climbing, jumping, lifting, and swinging. Exercise is essential for proper human development, physically, psychological, socially, and emotionally. And this goes for fine motor activity as well, manipulating our world with our fingers, our hands, and even our toes, tongues, and other appendages, is part of how our body-brains do their thinking. In contrast to the stereotype of schoolchildren sitting in desks absorbing information, high-quality preschool programs offer ample and various opportunities for children to engage in bodily movement throughout their days.
Outdoor free play
Outdoor free play is the gold standard for bodily movement. Children need daily outdoor play opportunities with space and variety in which to move their bodies. Quality spaces provide: Room to run Opportunities to climb Changes to swing and spin Both flat and uneven surfaces Moveable parts (from balls and other toys, to tools like shovels and pails, to natural items like rocks, sticks, and pinecones) A place to dig Access to water Other things that are nice to have might include:
- A place to grow plants (beds or pots)
- A playhouse
- A workbench with child-appropriate tools
- Art supplies
- A flat, paved space for riding wheeled vehicles
- Animals (like chickens, dogs, or cats)
- Hooks for hanging coats when they get too warm
- Lumber, bricks, crates, or other building materials
Indoor large motor play
We tend to think of outdoors as where large motor play takes place, but as anyone who has worked for any length of time with young children knows, there are plenty of ways to engage in this sort of play indoors should weather or other circumstances require. The most essential aspects of making this happen are spaces in which children can move their bodies and a willingness on the part of the adults to allow it to happen. The rule of thumb is that If you find yourself too regularly scolding children about their “rough” or “rowdy” or “messy” indoor play, you don’t have an adequate space (or mindset) for it to happen. In this case, it’s best to just go outside, even if it does mean getting wet or cold.
Fine motor playWe tend to think of fine motor play as something restricted to indoors, but anyone who has watched children examining motes in the dirt, know that it can happen anywhere. Children need the opportunity to use their fingers to pinch, to organize, and to arrange. They need small doors to open, levers to manipulate, and switches to flick. They need buttons to fasten, zippers to pull, and laces to tie. Many of their favorite “table top toys” (which needn’t remain on tables), like Legos, small figurines or action figures, and Hot Wheels, are excellent for this type of play. Activities like beading, needlepoint, or even drawing with crayons, help children build the fine muscle and synaptic connections they need to think about their world at full capacity. Our brains are not our brains and our bodies are not our bodies. They are all one: the body electric!