By Natasha Geyser
As a teacher and a mother, I must confess that despite my conscious efforts, this is still a very familiar phrase in my life. Not only in the classroom but also in church, the shops, restaurants, at the dinner table and even in front of the TV. These are just a few well known “be quiet” places.
How difficult can it be for a child to understand that in these places, it is appropriate to be still and quiet?
Children are my passion and earlier in the year I decided to do some research. My aim was to learn more about how we can help children develop, therefore enabling them to learn more easily in the classroom. You will probably fall off your chair when you hear what I found, but please listen to what I have to say:
Now I can already imagine what you are thinking. Our problem is they are always moving, always fidgeting, so how can you say they do not move enough? We want them to keep still, not move more!
As strange as it might seem, after reading Dr Melodie de Jager’s incredibly book, Play Learn Know, it all made perfect sense. In her book, she explains the importance of the child’s physical development and how it relates to their ability to learn and behave ‘appropriately’.
I had the opportunity to take my Grade 2 class outside and do some basic exercises with them, such as one-legged hops, standing on one leg with a bean bag on your head, walking on a low wall, throwing a ball to each other, jumping with a rope, as well as skipping and galloping.
To my surprise, these seemingly simple movement activities proved quite challenging for most of my Grade 2’s, particularly regarding balance and co-ordination.
The light went on for me.
Our kids don’t move enough!
If a child’s postural muscles are not developed enough or if he or she cannot maintain balance, it is impossible for that child to sit upright and still in the classroom. Much of their brainpower is channelled into keeping their bodies upright. This can be exhausting, especially when also trying to behave ‘appropriately’. The result is often seen in seemingly undesirable behaviours such as a slumped posture, sagging shoulders, lying on their arms, leaning on their hands while writing and reading, fidgeting, and swinging on their chairs.
Our children need to play outside… a lot! They need to climb, run, roll, skip, gallop, hop and jump. They need the freedom to explore and test their limits. They need to pull, push and lift objects. This is where they develop their large motor muscles.
According to Dr. De Jager, these large muscles need to develop first before the child can successfully develop their fine motor muscles, which are involved in skills such as painting, cutting, pasting, writing, reading and using a knife and fork at the dinner table.
Even doing small chores in and around the home can help to develop your child’s muscles. These tasks also give children a sense of responsibility and help to build, not inflate, their confidence.
In her book, Play Learn Know, Dr. De Jager gives advice that is worth its weight in gold for me as a mother and a teacher.
De Jager, M & Victor L. 2013. Play Learn Know. Welgemoed: Metz Press.