This week we are discussing Chapter 10: The Myth of the Brain/Body Dichotomy, Chapter 14: The Body Matters Too, Chapter 15: Reading, Writing, Rithmetic, and Recess, and Chapter 16: Why Kids Need Gym. We have two guest experts this week to provide insight and lead our discussion: Lorie Barnes and Rich Rairigh. Just joining us? Get all the book study details HERE.
Some questions are easy to answer. Like, “Would you be interested in being a part of an innovative, online nationwide book study of Rae Pica’s newest title, ‘What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives’?” Answer: “Yes!” Other questions however require and inspire deeper pondering and reflection. Like the title of this book for example. In this week’s blog post, we are diving into Chapters 10 and 15 from Part II: Understanding the Mind/Body Connection. In Chapter 10: The Myth of the Brain/Body Dichotomy, we are equipped with resources and perspectives that can help us challenge long-held practices that do not adequately and intentionally educate the whole child. Chapter 15: Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic… and Recess, invites us to be defenders of recess and play as a means of supporting children’s positive experiences and outcomes.
Second verse same as the first
We educators are well-versed in the art of “singing to the choir” but we often struggle with helping those outside our field understand, embrace and reply upon important early childhood concepts as a foundation for their decision-making. Rae Pica’s book gives us the tools to help non-educators join us in understanding and to join together in doing what is best for children. Chocked full of resources to unpack and explore, “What If?” helps us strengthen family engagement and empower families as advocates for their child. There are resources here so we can challenge and support school and community leaders in examining local policies and practices and moving forward with bold, innovative educational leadership. We must invite and persist in having state and national policymakers join this conversation to ensure that funding and lawmaking decisions align with critical evidence-based and evidence-informed research. By helping others consider these “What if’s?”, educators will be better supported to create learning experiences that embrace and value the art and science that we, as professionals, bring to our work of helping children learn and grow. We must not only be leaders in our schools, but leaders in our communities and state. Rae Pica’s book helps us become strong, effective leaders.
Being an effective leader requires us toaddress challenges in optimistic, innovative ways. In preparing for the two chapters that I was invited to reflect upon, I faced somewhat of a personal dilemma. These chapters about the critical importance of holistic teaching that weaves together movement, learning, recess, and play conjured up a painful memory for me. When my youngest child (now 17) was in first grade (he was a young first grader), his teacher was given a class schedule in which their recess period was the very last twenty minute period of the day and began at 3:00 pm. Mind you now, that the twenty minutes included transition to outside, “playing” (had to have been more like one huge collective sigh of relief from both students and teacher) AND getting back inside to pack up for final bell to end the day. Nowadays, I have had folks say to me, well at least they got recess… it’s been completely eliminated from our daily schedule. THIS IS NOT OKAY FOLKS! And we have to ask leaders to consider with us the reasons why and to make direly-needed changes.
Another critical message we need to have with each other is this…. please, fellow educators, stop making kids “walk the track” when they get outside as punishment (okay, I’ll let you call it “consequences) for something that most-likely happened hours before and was most-likely an important missed cue about that child’s instructional and relationship needs. Children come to link “punishments/consequences” (ask kids how they view it) with both academic failure and dislike of physical activity. This is one we ourselves can fix with more effective teaching and behavior supports. So let’s make this one happen. Please.
Let’s answer the question “What if?” by employing our resources
Perhaps you have heard someone half-jokingly say, “We spend the first three years of children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk; then we spend the next fifteen years telling them to “sit down and be quiet.” In many of today’s educational settings this is no laughing matter. Chapters 10 and 15 can help shift to a richer “both/and” conversation instead of an “either/or” dichotomy.
Ignacio Estrada is credited with the quote: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” This somewhat simplistic statement is often elusive in educational reality. We can teach the way children learn by being intentional, reflective and responsive. We can teach the way children learn by grounding our practices in our expert knowledge, like NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice which tells us that child development occurs in predictable, sequential patterns. We can teach the way children learn by applying educational theory such as Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” and Daniel Goleman’s “Multiple Intelligences.”
Let’s consider a few examples of applying knowledge and theory. Activities grounded in the understanding that development occurs in predictable, sequential patterns provide relevant and meaningful experiences for young children. Fine motor development is supported when children are provided with robust gross motor experiences. Walking, skipping, tiptoeing, jumping and twirling on large patterns taped on the floor or drawn with sidewalk chalk provide a whole body experience for children that can later translate into a paper and pencil experience. Similarly, the ability to traverse across a long straight line on the ground supports the later ability to draw a straight line on paper. The same applies to curvy lines, squiggly lines and zigzag lines. Writing intersecting lines such as the letter “t” on paper becomes much more relevant when children have had prior experience with intersecting lines in ways like riding a tricycle or scooter on an intersecting pathway. Children develop visual/spatial acuity when they get to experience “personal space” during gross motor activities which leads to refined skills like properly spacing letters and words on paper.
Daniel Goleman’s “Multiple Intelligences” theory promotes that there are many ways to learn and many ways to show what is known. Years ago, my very “body/kinesthetic” son was struggling with learning his “spelling” homework consisting of writing each word ten times. When we shifted to practicing his spelling words by having him put his whole body into the shape of each letter, not only did he have more fun, but his success on spelling tests skyrocketed! I’ll never forget him excitedly bringing home that first improved test score and saying, “Mom, I did better because I just remembered in my mind the way I moved for each word and then I put that on my paper!”
Check out how this innovative teacher uses singing and dancing to help kids learn mathematical and reading skills: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-music-of-math/. This powerful, playful approach to learning simultaneously stimulates multiple parts of the brain, thus creating strong neural pathways. Excitement, joy, confidence, increased knowledge, and stronger brain connections result from simple shifts in how we provide children with learning experiences.
This TED Talk, “ The Best Kindergarten You’ve Ever Seen” not only shows us a huge “what if?” related to innovative learning environments but also reminds us that children need practice taking “safe risks” that help them develop impulse control and higher order cognition.
This TED Talk, “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley” by Sir Ken Robinson (TED Talks’ most viewed speaker) exemplifies the main point of Chapter 10: The Myth of the Brain/Body Dichotomy. In particular, his comments at the 4:40-5:40 minute mark capture the critical importance of holistic teaching. He explains that he is not bashing the important focus on science and math. In fact, he says they are very necessary; but they are not sufficient. He goes on to say that for a proper education, children need the arts, humanities, and physical education.
“Defenders of Play”
Chapter 15 of Rae Pica’s book challenges us to be defenders of recess and play. I’ve shared one of my own personal stories. I’m certain there are so many others. Recess, Rae explains, provides opportunities for stress relief, increases oxygen and glucose flow to the brain and provides important physical activity for overall health and well-being. An additional benefit of affording children unstructured play experiences is what we can learn as we observe and engage with children during recess. When children play, they naturally go into their “Zone of Proximal Development.” This concept given to us by theorist Lev Vygotsky helps us understand that true learning occurs when experiences for children are challenging enough to motivate/interest them and easy enough for them to experience success. When activities are too hard, children get frustrated. When activities are too easy, children get bored. And you may have noticed that the negative behaviors resulting from either frustration or boredom look much the same! And negative behaviors and learning do not go hand in hand. When allowed to explore, investigate, construct, inquire, move, engage with others… PLAY… we get a wonderful view of a child’s current developmental skill set and a glimpse into the challenges they are ready for next so that we can intentionally plan for their more structured experiences in a classroom setting. As we are engaged with, observant and reflective of children during recess, we are actually lesson planning.
A recent interview from “Inspiration 4 Teachers” podcast, Episode 35: Connecting the Mind and Body for Learning provides the opportunity for us to hear directly from Rae Pica herself. Listen as Rae Pica shares her knowledge, insights and commitment to leading an educational revolution that will help ensure children receive the high quality, multi-faceted learning experiences they both need and deserve.
Expand your own capacity to be a more intentional educator and to increase your impact by sharing these concepts and resources with others so that you can help answer the question, “What If Everybody Understood Child Development?”
In Chapter 10, Rae set the stage for the connection between the mind and the body but now in Chapter 14 there is more focus on the importance of children’s movement. Spending two decades working with children and teachers on being physically active, not much has really changed within the education system. Over the last 10-15 years, we’ve really seen a heightened focus on children’s health as it is related to overweight and obesity but I am shocked that most of the attention is focused on nutrition and weight versus physical activity and health-related fitness. In my current work, I have found it essential to focus on the fitness and not the fatness. Although the stats related to children’s health and sedentary behaviors are outrageous, it seems to be common knowledge that being physically active has specific positive benefits and being sedentary has clear consequences, but we still hesitate to be active. The biggest things I have noticed is that adults, and a growing number of children, are hesitant to focus on physical activity in the classroom and at home for a few key reasons: 1) a lack of knowledge about what physical activity is and/or includes, 2) a lack of ability or confidence to be physically active, and 3) a lack of motivation and interest to be physically active. I will talk more about what makes up physical activity in the Chapter 16 blog.
With societal changes we have seen the increase in technology, the decrease in children’s connection to nature, and a generation of “helicopter” parents and educators that have limited the movement opportunities for children. The really scary thing about this is that the behaviors and habits we are seeing in very young children transcend into adolescence and adulthood (which then continues to repeat in this cycle until a desired change is needed/wanted). I remember back to my childhood and the opportunities that I had playing outside after school with neighborhood friends until the lights came on in the streets (this included games like Kick the Can and Hide and Seek, climbing trees, building forts, playing in creeks, and riding bikes). Rollerskating at the elementary school on Saturday afternoons and continuing this into high school at the local Skateland. My fondest memories were of being active, usually outdoors, and usually without any adult supervision. Actually, now that I think about it, my mom really didn’t want me hanging around the house and usually insisted that I go out and play. Somewhere along the way I must have suppressed these memories as I stopped playing as much and became less active and focused more on being a productive educator. Now as I get older and have two young children, I have found my way back and am trying to pass on my passion, memories, and experiences to others so that they can gain some benefit.
It is essential for our children to have both structured (teacher-led) and unstructured (child-directed) movement opportunities so that they can build their movement vocabulary, movement schema (the more movement opportunities and experiences a child has, the more connections they will form within the brain and the quicker they will be able to access these for future movement opportunities), and movement competency. With this they will be more likely to be active adults. This doesn’t mean that classroom teachers need to become physical educators or parents to become fitness instructors. What it does mean is that we need to find better and more frequent opportunities to make learning active and integrate movement into our daily lives.
The biggest thing to take away from this blog is that we need to provide a wide variety of movement opportunities for children. Find fun and easy ways to engage our children and families in physical activity on a daily basis. This can range from family walks after dinner (which also help strengthen family bonds) to structured sports and fitness opportunities. Don’t think you need to over structure your children’s lives by specializing them in a sport or signing them up for tons of activities. Allowing them time to explore your homes, classrooms, and neighborhoods helps increase physical activity levels, improve motor skills and movement concepts, strengthen bonds and communication skills with others, develop responsibility, and so much more. The time is right for a major shift in thinking about what children should and can do. I’m dedicated to being a part of the movement (enjoy the pun), are you?
- Louv, R. (2006). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
- Sax, L. (2007). Boys adrift: The five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. New York: Basic Books.
- Tomporowski, P., McCullick, B., & Pesce, C. (2015). Enhancing children’s cognition with physical activity games. Human Kinetics.
- Graham, G., Holt-Hale, S., & Parker, M. (2006). Children moving. A Reflective Approach to Teach Physical Education.
- Are you providing enough movement opportunities in your daily lessons?
- How are you engaging your kinesthetic learners?
- Are you providing a variety of free play opportunities for your children? If so, are you providing a variety of loose parts and portable equipment for them to use in active ways?
- When you talk about being outside or being physically active, do you say negative things or have a not so positive attitude?
- If you don’t know much about children’s movement and physical activity, who can you go to for help?
- What might you be doing to limit or inhibit children’s physical activity and movement opportunities?
Chapter 16: Why Kids Need Gym
Rae Pica does a really good job throughout the book making a strong statement for why children need to be moving and why teachers and parents need to find ways to connect movement with learning and life. In Chapter 16, we move from talking about what parents and classroom teachers can/should do to what physical education and a physical educator can/should do.
After spending several years in quality Physical Education Teacher Education programs (WVU and USC), I was blessed to start my career as an elementary physical education teacher in Prince Georges County, Maryland. I took my job very seriously and would always have teachers, parents, and children tell me that I taught “gym” and my response was always, “I don’t teach a building, I teach Physical Education.” Even to this day, my children (ages 12 and 10) correct anyone that refers to Physical Education as “gym”. It has always felt that society viewed a classroom teacher and a physical education teacher differently and in many cases, the physical educator was seen as a coach, recess facilitator, or general game player. The first few years at a new school were always the toughest as many parents weren’t used to accountability in PE and would come in after the first report card and wonder why there child got a C in “gym.” It’s important to understand the content of physical education in order for us to understand why children need it.
Just as other core academic subject areas have specific standards, curriculum indicators, and performance outcomes, so does physical education. Our goal as parents and educators should be on developing children into physically educated and physically literate adults. Let’s take a look at the national physical education standards:
- Standard 1 – The physically literate individual demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.
- Standard 2 – The physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies and tactics related to movement and performance.
- Standard 3 – The physically literate individual demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.
- Standard 4 – The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.
- Standard 5 – The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and/or social interaction.
The standards focus on physical literacy, the mastering of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing them to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity situations. Sounds great, right? The more we know and are able to do, the more likely we are to be and stay active through our lifetime. The only problem with this is that as Rae mentioned early on in Chapter 16, if physical education instruction and content is delivered in an inappropriate way, children will be turned off and ill-prepared at an early age. It’s important for us to move away from those games and activities that might eliminate children from physical activity (tag), harm them (dodgeball), or have them waiting and sedentary (relays or Duck, Duck, Goose) and provide quality educational opportunities that focus on motor skills (verbs – like skipping, throwing, striking, rolling, twisting, etc) and movement concepts (adverbs – like pathways, space, effort, relationships, levels, etc). Think about when you were younger: Did your arms hurt after bumping a traditional volleyball (versus a soft volleyball)? Did you get confused and frustrated when being thrust into a full basketball game without knowing how to play? Did you avoid playing in a family badminton game because you hadn’t been taught or had the opportunities to develop competency in the skills needed to play? As you probably already know, all children are not the same (abilities, learning styles, interests, etc.) but typically the motor skills and movement milestone they exhibit are age-related so be sure to allow for variation and be patient.
A key takeaway from this blog is provided as many appropriate movement opportunities and movement equipment (can be traditional, homemade, and even nature-based) as possible. If educators are providing physical education to children in developmentally appropriate ways, it should be fun and desirable, leading to continued interest and involvement in the future. Also remember movement and physical activity are very visual in nature and unlike written work, people can easily see when you do not succeed. This can be very frustrating and embarrassing so it is important that we reduce comparing results and increase reinforcement on individual progress. Provide a variety of movement opportunities and experiences in and out of school is so important positive lifelong movement habits.
- American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. (2013). Grade-level outcomes for K-12 physical education on. Reston, VA: Author.
- National Association for Sport and Physical Education. (2009). Appropriate instructional practice guidelines for elementary school physical education (3rd ed.). Reston, Va.: Author.
- National Association for Sport and Physical Education. (2009). Appropriate practices in movement programs for children ages 3-5 (3rd ed.). Reston, Va.: Author.
- Do you have negative memories about your physical education experiences as a child? If so, what could you do to make sure that your children don’t have those same negative experiences and future memories?
- Are you utilizing the expertise of your physical education teacher? If you don’t have a physical education teacher or PE specialist, what can you do to ensure your children are getting what they need?
- In order to develop a physically educated and literate individual do you always need to provide direct, teacher-led opportunities? If not, how would you ensure that children are learning and getting the practice they need?
- There is so much attention on childhood obesity and the need for vigorous physical activity. How can you accomplish both motor skills instruction and health-related fitness (cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition)?
Please share/retweet this post! Let us know that you’re participating in this study. We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding Chapters 10, 14, 15, and 16 and about the commentary that Lorie and Rich have provided. Your voice matters – participate in the dialogue and share your ideas here! (Comment below) If you’ve chosen to blog about what you’ve read on your own site, link back and share your post with us here. Perhaps you have a burning question about something that you read in one of these chapters… we have a feature for that – Ask The Author! That’s right, Rae Pica will be available throughout this live study to answer your questions. #AskAuthor
What to read next: Chapter 11 Why Does Sitting Still Equal Learning? and Chapter 12 In Defense of Active Learning (10/19/15).
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