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How Movement Supports Early Learning

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Children are wiggly! They love to move around, reach for new objects, and explore new areas. While we know movement is important for motor skill development, it can be easy to forget that movement helps with all aspects of learning. Infants and young children learn by exploring their environment, which isn’t easy to do within the confines of a playpen. Even as they enter toddlerhood, children still rely on movement to guide their new experiences.

Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy’s book A Moving Child is a Learning Child explores the concept of movement and exploration, detailing its importance in early education.

As the authors explain, movement solidifies learning in many aspects. See below for a sample of activities that significantly benefit from movement and exploration:

  • Language: This might be one of the most obvious ones. We have to know how to move to communicate. As infants and toddlers, we learn how to move our lips, teeth, and tongues in order to make words. We also move our hands to help emphasize what we’re saying. Some of us just use our hands entirely to speak. While these movements are small, they are very important. Bigger movements can also resemble the subtle movements of language. A toddler might notice that when he bangs blocks together, it makes a sound similar to the letter T. This connection might make it easier for him to remember how to properly pronounce T. Language is made up of movements big and small, and, as with anything, practice makes perfect.
  • Perseverance: If we didn’t persevere, none of us would have learned how to walk. Children persevere all the time when they learn to move around on their own. The first few movements towards rolling, crawling, and walking can be difficult and frustrating, and they lead to frequent falls and failures. However, children learn to move past these setbacks in order to achieve their end goal: getting from point A to point B. This is an important thing to learn, and is something that children may remember when learning how to do new movements like hand-stands, skipping, or dance moves.
  • Concentration: Many minor movements can be even more difficult than larger ones. Take, for example, balancing on one foot. Even though it seems simple, balancing is a task that requires a fair amount of focus; you have to make sure your weight is evenly distributed, and you can’t risk over-correcting yourself or you’ll fall. Young children find themselves attempting many balancing positions that require concentration. Standing on one foot, leaning forward on both hands, and even movements like cartwheels require concentration to be done successfully, giving children the opportunity to develop their focus.
  • Reasoning: Movement means getting stuck sometimes. When that happens, children need to reason their way out of the situation. Take, for example, a child who climbs to the top of the end of the monkey bars and realizes there’s nowhere left to go. The drop feels too high, and there isn’t a platform for him to step onto. However, there is the platform back at the other end of the bars, so the child decides to turn around and go back the way he came. It’s a simply enough solution, but being able to figure out an answer when it’s not right in front of you is an important development skill. When children move around, they are presented with these kinds of scenarios frequently, and so their ability to reason develops accordingly.

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