Sharing Creative Movement with Your Child
by Edwina Peterson Cross

Reprinted with permission of the author from Welcome Home, Volume 13, No. 12, December, 1996, a publication of the national nonprofit organization, Mothers At Home.

From the Editor: It's wonderful to be told, as parents of blind children, that our children are more like sighted children than not. And it's reassuring to hear that blind kids, given the opportunity and training, can participate in ordinary activities with little or no assistance and maybe a few adaptations here and there. But it's quite another thing to behave as if we really believe it. Especially when it comes to the most ordinary physical activities.

Parents are often stymied by the simplest things—teaching a child to tie shoes, bounce a ball, skip rope, climb a tree, use a knife to cut meat or spread peanut butter, walk quickly, climb steps gracefully, and so the list goes. It isn't hard for blind children to do these things—if given the opportunity to practice the basic body movements upon which these skills are based. And that practice should begin as soon as the child can move. It isn't work for the child—it's play, and it's fun. But these playful movements are building a foundation for very important physical and social skills which the child will need later in life.

Several articles in this issue, including this one, deal with various aspects of encouraging normal body movement. You will notice that the following article was written for the general public—not for blind children at all. But the information is basic to all children, and many of the suggested activities can be done with few if any adaptations for blind children. Here it is:

My mother says I began dancing before I was born. It certainly seems I have always known the joy of movement—movement that combines the physical body with the mind and spirit. It has often been my privilege to share that joy with children by teaching them creative dance.

Before birth, a child is constantly exposed to rhythm—the internal pattern created by its mother's heartbeat and its own. Very early in life, a baby will indicate a love of sound and movement in many ways. A two-year-old stops to listen to the stereo, and you can almost see her thinking, "The music is all very well, but it's not quite enough!" Her arms lift, something moves inside her, and she begins to dance.

My creative dance classes begin with three- and four-year-old children. At this age, children move instinctively, as they're still free of the inhibitions that can stifle movement in adults and older children. Dancing enhances their creativity and reinforces the idea that moving in their own way is right and good. Older children can experience the joy of movement and can go on to more and more advanced explorations, but sometimes they must shed inhibitions and shyness before they are able to let themselves move freely.

While a formal class in creative movement or creative dance can be a place for a child to experiment with different ways of moving, there are many activities a parent can do to nurture a child's instincts for creative movement.

Parents can help to develop that creative spirit by reinforcing a free, uninhibited style and movements that are unique and different. A child needs to understand that not all movement is competitive or goal-oriented. Like art, movement can be an expression of a child's inner self. Mom or Dad can even encourage while correcting in a time and place where movement isn't appropriate. "I see your beautiful butterfly wings. Right now you need to fold them up and be as quiet as a caterpillar. When we get home you can fly them all over the backyard, and I'll watch!"

Understanding the ten basic elements, or building blocks, of dance is helpful to parents, since all movement is based on these elements. The child uses them much as he uses different media for art (crayons, paint, clay). They are tools with which the body and mind work.

The building blocks are simple.

1. Size: Big movements, small movements, and everything in between.

2. Directions: Moving forward, backward, sideways, up and down.

3. Level: Movements close to the ground (low level), stretching, reaching, jumping (high level movements), and everything in between.

4. Shape: Body design in space.

5. Steps: Walk, run, hop, jump, leap, gallop, slide.

6. Body moves: Stretch, bend, twist, swing, sway, shake.

7. Body parts: head, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, back, feet, toes, etc.

8. Force: Sharp or smooth, tight or loose, strong or light.

9. Tempo: Fast or slow.

10. Pathway: The path in which the movement takes the dancer.

The atmosphere of movement should be one of exploration and experimentation—discovery by doing. As children learn the elements they begin to translate each one into movement, using the elements separately and in combination to produce interesting and creative movement. There is no right or wrong.

Readily available objects help children to "see" movement. A rubber band for "stretch," pipe cleaners for "bend," jar lids for "twist," a weight on a string for "swing," a top for "spin," a broom against the wall for "lean," trees blown by a high wind for "sway." There is no better way to understand "shake" than to watch a wet dog! After they have watched and digested, children can translate each new word into movements of their own.

As they begin to incorporate the elements, they can try combining them in different ways. A suggestion could be, "Can you make a very tiny shape and still swing something?" or "See if you can move forward at a low level." Questions work well, too—"What can your arms do while your feet are sliding?"—as do reinforcing statements like, "You're moving very, very slowly as you turn!" Verbal directions and reinforcements are better than an adult's physical demonstrations, because children learn early to imitate, and at this stage, imitation is the antithesis of creative movement. Children need to experiment and discover the wonderful things their own bodies can do. By developing these concepts, the children's vocabulary and verbal abilities develop along with their movement skills.

There are other ways to make movement ideas more concrete for children. Some items they can observe and translate into their own movements are: pinwheels, crepe paper streamers, balloons, lightweight brightly colored scarves, loops of tricot, yarn balls, Chinese jump ropes, bells strung on elastic to go on wrists and ankles, garbage bags filled with air and tied shut. A hot-air popper set in the center of a large sheet and allowed to pop the corn without the lid provides a memorable experience in movement (when watched from a safe distance!) Watching food color slowly dissolve in water, studying the cat, blowing bubbles—any movement that the child can analyze and transfer into her own movement vocabulary is valuable.

Language, music, literature, art, and poetry can be used as springboards to movement. A Rainbow of My Own by Don Freeman, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Bear Dance by Chris Riddel, Jamberry by Bruce Degan, Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger, and The Rainbow Giblins by Ulde Rico are picture books that can stimulate thought and feeling and help get movement ideas flowing. Children love to move to the poetry of Shel Silverstein, Christina Rossetti, and Myra Cohn Livingston, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson and William Shakespeare. Sing a Song of Popcorn, published by Scholastic, Inc. is a good collection of poems, many of which translate easily into movement.

Music is an invaluable companion of movement, and any kind of music works. Children respond well to a strong beat, but also love to move to all varieties of classical music, rock, and jazz. The flavor and the feeling of the music can be varied to provide different movement experiences. Children love to move to the beat of a drum or just the clapping of hands. Clapping out the syllables of their names or the name of foods: ap-ple, lem-on, ba-na-na, lime, is a good pre-reading exercise, too.

The more children move, the more they develop strength, flexibility, and awareness and control of their bodies. Movement as creative expression can be a pathway for building self-awareness, self-image, and self-direction—and it's fun!