Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The National EYFS Conference and Tatty Bumpkin

The National EYFS Conference
Sue Heron, training co-ordinator and Paediatric Physiotherapist went to The National EYFS conference in London last week, some truly inspiring speakers, highlighting the three core areas of learning, emotional personal and social development, physical development and communication and language (see below). A strong theme was the importance of play both inside and outside and generally getting children moving to learn. Over a series of blogs I plan to discuss my highlights of the educational conference, how they relate to Tatty Bumpkin and my practice as a specialist paediatric physiotherapist. 

Naturally I was drawn to Jan White’s passionate talk on ‘Supporting Physical Development as A Prime Area of Learning’. Jan spoke of the joy of movement and how it underpins not only physical health but also mental health and wellbeing, the latter being a phrase very much in the public consciousness at the moment. For example see the Daily Mail of why  “Fit is the new Rich!” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2137023/Why-FIT-new-rich-Who-cares-earn-car-drive-Now-youre-youve-run-marathon-Sahara-.html Okay, maybe it takes the point a bit far, but it is interesting how the article discusses ‘fitness is the new status symbol’. Maybe in this increasingly material world we are starting to realise that we need more than possessions to define ourselves.
Physical development and movement, however, as Jan highlighted in her talk, mean so much more to a young child and current research is now demonstrating that being ‘on the move’ helps the learning process.
One theory suggests that movement in the early years helps the brain to initially develop new pathways or connections between brain cells and then to further organise them (1). In the developing foetus, these connections (synapses) are generally seen from the 23rd week after conception with their peak production being in the first year after birth (2). Crucially their proliferation seems to be especially high when children are engaged in active play (1). This early mass generation of synapses is then followed by a reduction of the connections into fewer favoured pathways. This pruning process is highly dependent on experience and serves as the basis of much of the learning (3).

Think of the emergence of sheep tracks in a pasture. In the first few days, on fresh pasture the sheep move around making many tracks, up and down the hills, to the water and feed troughs. As the summer wears on the shortest, or perhaps the most bounteous routes, are favoured, so that by the end of the summer a few well-worn tracks are left crossing the fields. Remember, these tracks were created and then organised into ‘highways’ by the sheep moving around - no movement no tracks! 

Another important effect of movement on learning, is through its role on shaping our ‘levels of alertness’ and hence our ability to pay attention. Studies have found that straight after active play, children are more attentive in the classroom. This could be due in part to having had a chance to ‘let off steam’ but it could also the result of movement helping the child to regulate or control their ‘state of alertness’ (1).
Our ‘state of alertness’ is critical for leaning; we all know that when we are  hyper-alert, maybe very anxious or excited, our minds are not open to learning a complex task, similarly when we are bored or drowsy we find it hard to tackle new problems. However, through moving, we have a strategy to either calm or energise ourselves, depending on our need at that time and the task we have to do. We make ourselves ‘ready to learn’.

Jan highlighted the importance of movement in our emotional and language development. Through a video clip she demonstrated how young child bonded with their key worker whilst they were running up a slope together, the child actually watching their carer’s legs and taking joy from the fact that his were moving in the same way! Apparently, boys especially bond through moving together. This highlights the importance not only of encouraging our children to move but also us moving with our children!                   

 Tatty Bumpkin & Sue & class meeting ‘dog’

Jan then demonstrated how movement relates to communication ‘Movement is our first and most enduring language’.  This was brought home to us though a game demonstrating how we use movement words to covey meaning. How many can you get? 
Tatty Bumpkin ‘skips a step’         

        Frog ‘jumps to conclusions'

In short: Movement not only ignites a child’s curiosity it builds their capacity to learn.
1   1. Center For For Early Childhood Education. Learning to Move and Moving to Learn http://www.aahperd.org/headstartbodystart/activityresources/upload/Learning-to-Move-brief-final.pdf
2   2. Molliver, Kostovic, & Van der Loos, (1973), in Brain Development and the Role
of Experience in the Early Years . A. Tierney, C. Nelson
3   3. Brain Development and the Role of Experience in the Early Years . A. Tierney, C. Nelson http://main.zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/30-2_Tierney.pdf?docID=10001

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