Physical development is one of the three prime areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), alongside communication and language and personal, social and emotional development. These three areas have equal status, are interdependent and together form the very heart of all learning and development. In this free extract from Alliance publication, Moving Right from the Start, Anne O’Connor, Jasmine Pasch, Dr Lala Manners, Carol Archer, describes how the four specific areas of learning and development are strengthened through physical competencies.
The experience of hearing stories, rhymes and poems is greatly enhanced for children when they can explore them physically and with their whole bodies. This might be through repeated actions (for example, using their hands to create Incy Wincy Spider climbing up the spout) or spontaneously as they physically engage with aspects of a story and show their delight, surprise, anticipation, excitement or relief by jumping up and down or moving in response. Children often revisit stories in their physical and imaginative play, helping them embed literary conventions as well as content and narrative.
Before children can use the fine muscles in their hands and fingers to hold a pencil correctly, so as to be able to write well, they need to have fully developed the required large motor skills in their arms, neck and shoulders. These gross motor skills are acquired through lots of vigorous activity, for example, by stretching, pulling, pushing, reaching, swinging and hanging using the whole body; the kind of activity that children love to use in their physical play. These motor skills need to be in place before the child is fully able to manipulate the smaller muscles in the hand and fingers to find a comfortable pencil grip that is relaxed and does not put an unwarranted level of stress on the whole arm when writing.
Spatial awareness is very important for mathematical development. Interestingly, our physical experience of mathematical concepts actually begins in the womb, before we are even born. The growing baby developing in utero, is already exploring space, shape, perimeter, forces and rhythm as they experience the confines and sensations of the womb as their mother moves around and carries on her daily life. These early experiences are then built on once the baby is born and begins to take charge of their own movements in their surroundings.
Having an intuitive understanding of how the body fits within space and moves through it in relation to other things within that space, is essential for spatial reasoning. This is the mental capacity to think about objects in three dimensions and imagine the paths they take as they move or are rotated. It is the starting point for understanding higher mathematical concepts, such as geometry and physics, and helps with problem solving in number, measurement, algebra and data handling.
Understanding the world
First-hand experience is fundamental to this, as it is to all aspects of the curriculum. Children’s first explorations of forces and energy are inevitably through physical activity using their own bodies, as they push and pull, slide and fall and play with objects. Early spatial reasoning is also believed to be an important predictor of later achievement in Science and Technology subjects. (Uttal et al 2013)
Getting out and about for walks in their local area and community is essential for children’s experience of the world, allowing them to explore the familiar as well as venturing (when appropriate) into the unfamiliar.
Expressive arts and design
Young children are naturally expressive in their movements, showing delight with themselves, their world and their bodies through spontaneous movement and activity. As they grow and become more physically experienced, they also enjoy channelling and containing these movements into increasingly skilled action, for example through sport, dance and gymnastics.
Having lots of early experiences in their own personal ‘movement bank’ also helps them recognise and appreciate movement patterns in other art forms, for example, in stories, poetry, film, drama, sculpture and martial arts.
As well as all of the above, we need to remember that physical engagement with learning means that we are more likely to remember what we have learnt and that the first hand, whole body memories we gain through movement play provide us with firm experiences on which to build new learning. This has strong links with the characteristics of effective teaching and learning, in which ‘active learning’ is emphasised along with ‘playing and exploring’ and ‘creating and thinking critically’. (EYFS 2017, 1.9) The opportunity to make mistakes and take risks, to persevere and try new ideas and to make decisions for themselves is an important part of ‘active learning’ and strongly linked to children’s physical play, both indoors and out.
To make sure these skills have the best chance of developing, we need to provide children with all the opportunities for playful movement and physical activity that their bodies and their brains, require.
This is a free extract from Alliance publication Moving Right from the Start.
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