Spend a weekend with me, playing and integrating reflexes at Rowe Center in the Berkshires April 17-19. Change Your Movement, Change Your Life!
Last summer, I took a workshop at the International Edu-K Conference with psychologist O. Fred Donaldson called Original Play. It wasn’t your usual workshop, where you sit in chairs, listen, do discreet activities, take notes. All the furniture was pushed to the sides of the room, and we spent most of the time on all fours, playing.
We’ve forgotten how to play in that original way, and many little children never have the opportunity to do it any more. But according to Fred, we are animals and all animals instinctually play the same way. Puppies, dolphins, tigers, even spiders. Even gang members. Even us, when we let ourselves go. When we return to our original neurological program of what play is, we can all do it.
The rules are simple: stay down at floor level, don’t stand up. Keep your hands and body soft. No competition, no vengeance. That’s it. Get in there and roll. (Shoes off is a big plus – having full flexibility and awareness in the feet keeps everyone more in tune with their bodies, and less likely to kick someone by mistake).
Have you ever watched puppies play? They tumble together in a heap. They run and push into each other, play “grrr” and mouth each other with soft mouths. No one gets hurt. They can do it for hours.
It doesn’t look like anything we’ve been trained to recognize as learning. But when we – and our children – roll around like puppies, bumping into one another and pushing off, landing on each other’s backs and rolling off, or crawling under one another and pushing up, or just landing in a big “pig pile” of giggling bodies – we are actually learning a lot.
Original play is a fantastic all-purpose reflex integration activity. Any time we move joyfully, instinctually, together with others experiencing isometric pressure on different parts of our bodies from other “puppies” and the ground underneath us, we are integrating tons of reflexes. Here are some of the ways original play works to release the stress and fear held in “stuck” or inactive reflexes:
1. Fear Paralysis. The key to integrating Fear Paralysisis feeling that the environment is a safe, and that it is safe to move. It sometimes takes some work to get to a feeling of safety (I continue to recommend Wave Hello as a starter activity for almost anything) but eventually the rolling, giggling bodies create such an infectious atmosphere of fun that Fear Paralysis just evaporates.
2. Moro Reflex. The high energy of Moro gets played out in a series of little “startles” that turn into giggles and end up being not startling at all, just part of the flow of movement and breath. And part 3 of the Moro – the embrace – just happens all the time. Original play can feel like one long extended moving hug.
3. Spinal Galant can manifest as a prickly itchy “don’t touch me” feeling – or as a floppy “I can’t hold myself up” feeling. When “originally playing,” we are rubbing our bodies against one another’s all the time – takes that prickly feeling right away! and the isometric pressure, load-bearing movement is great for building the muscle tone that allows Spinal Galant to integrate.
4. Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. No more flopping over sideways or checking out into some mental never-never-land – original play requires moving side to side and every which way, using head, neck, shoulders, arms and hands in concert – rolling, pushing, pulling, lifting, watching listening, total attention!
5. Babkin Palmomental. That “soft mouth, soft hand” aspect of original play goes miles towards improving fine motor, speech, all kinds of communication – and reducing oral/motor issues like nail-biting, sleeve chewing, throwing things, tantrums, and all kinds of eating problems.
6. Babinski Reflex. This reflex, which is checked at birth by stroking the foot to see if it splays out – and confirms a neurological connection to the brain – is in constant play in original play. Pushing off with the feet is basic to all kinds of locomotion – with the added perk that every changed nuance of foot pressure activates a slightly different part of the brain. Using your feet makes you smarter.
7. Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. Didn’t crawl enough, or at all? Original play takes care of that! Our original program of diagonal locomotion, eye-teaming, depth focus gets exercised to the max.
It’s hard to describe! But check out the link above – or just search O. Fred Donaldson Original Play – and you’ll get the flavor of it.
In the next post, we’ll explore some ways to insert an original play element into circle time for young children.