Change Your Movement, Change Your Life! Spend a weekend playing with me and Libana dancer Linda Ugelow at Rowe Center in the Berkshires April 17-19.
In my last post, I talked about the magic of Original Play as practiced by psychologist Fred Donaldson. Crawling, rolling, tussling like puppies pulls all the reflexes together into one big mass of original fun.
Reflexes are like letters of the alphabet – abstractions we use so that we can break down movement into patterns, analyze them, talk about them, troubleshoot them. But the activity of the reflexes is like speech – words and sentences that we use to communicate. If we get out of our natural movement flow, and analyze what we are doing, we can talk about the reflexes one by one. But we don’t actually live the reflexes one by one, any more than we spell out our words when we speak. Reflex integration happens best in an atmosphere of flow.
Original play takes some training and experience to do in the clear. But there are ways to get some of the quality of original play into your day. Circle time, or music class, is a great opportunity, because the music can help organize the activity, giving it a structure and a story. And one of my favorite songs for this is Old MacDonald. I love Old MacDonald for a lot of reasons:
1. Everyone knows it already (or picks it up immediately); there’s nothing to learn.
2. It has a nonsense chorus on vowels that is really easy to sing and helps to release the breath.
3. It uses animal sounds.
4. The children can choose the animals they want to be (it’s a “zipper” song, where the same verse can be infinitely varied by just one or two words).
5. It has short verses that can be added on ad infinitum.
So, here’s the route! The children are sitting in a circle. (The neatness of the circle does not matter. It is much more important that the children form and reform the circle-like shape themselves because that way they are learning, in from an internal place, what a circle is and how to make one in a group).
Everybody sings, Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O! And on that farm he had a ____
Let’s say, a cow! At this point, during or after the next E-I-E-I-O, the children become cows. They get on hands and knees and while they are moo, mooing here and moo mooing there they get to move!
Sometimes kids are afraid to move out of the circumference of the circle. So you can say, “Cows, go into the pasture!” and lead them into the circle – where they will rub shoulders with some of the other cows. Perhaps they will move into “original play” mode, falling over, giggling, or just bumping into one another. You can extend the moo moo part of the song if you’d like more generalized cow movement time – but the rule is when they hear E-I-E-I-O it is back to their stalls, on the edges of the circle.
It usually isn’t a problem to get them back, because they know that another animal is coming, and maybe they get to choose it! And between the generalized movement of the animals and the return to the circle, they are organizing themselves as a group, breaking into chaos, and then finding the form of the circle once again.
I always try to vary the movements, suggesting animals that require some basic developmental locomotion skills. My farms always have snakes or worms on them, because that belly-crawl is fantastic for motor development. It is also very safe – no one falls over, and everyone is so far down to the ground that bumping into each other is fun. I also usually do pigs rolling in the mud – so they get to roll into and over one another. But it is always interesting to see what the children come up with. Kangaroos. Cheetahs. Frogs. You never know! And I always trust that the movements that they want to do are the movements that they need to do.
It can take some coaching, though. You can remind them that snakes crawl on their bellies, or demonstrate how a chick pecks for food. This part is not original play. It is a way of expanding the children’s movement repertoire, but keeping the basic rules of original play – stay down, soft hands and mouths, no competition, no vengeance, just fun!
Children who aren’t used to freedom of movement, freedom of touch, can sometimes get a little out of hand. All that pent up energy has to go somewhere, and they may not have yet had the experience of regulating themselves. So it helps to give them a structure and a story, a reason to move in a way that challenges their muscles, slows them down, makes them more aware of themselves and the other “animals” around them.
This whole game works much more safely without shoes. The children get to use all the muscles in their feet – which is necessary for integrating many of the reflexes. It’s harder to be aware of where another body is when you have shoes on – there’s too much rubber between you and the rest of the world, and your foot can’t really move. Children can’t feel anything outside the shoe, and if they are excited they are more likely to kick without knowing they are doing it. With socks or bare feet, they know.
Once in a while, someone might start to cry. Maybe they get bumped. Maybe the chaos is a little too much for them. That’s just life. Pick them up, rock them, make them safe again. But usually, the children organize themselves pretty well, especially the three and four year olds. They’re still young enough to remember original play.