Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

ECMMA: Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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Movement Matters

After many years of making music with children, Eve Kodiak, M.M., became interested in the brain/body processes that underlie the learning process. As an Educational Kinesiologist, she now works with people of all ages, using music and developmental movement to create positive change. Eve can be found in her office at The Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge, MA, or at home in New Hampshire, writing and recording. Her CD/book sets include Rappin' on the Reflexes and Feelin' Free, which combine developmental movements with songs, raps, and narrations with music. Eve also performs and records as an improvising classical pianist. More information and articles on music and developmental movement may be found at www.evekodiak.com.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.

Reality Check


I was walking down the aisle of a natural foods store near my office in Cambridge, MA. This city is home to Harvard, M.I.T., and a lot of high-expectation parents, but even so, this (one-way) interchange I heard as I passed a toddler in his grocery cart seat left me breathless. The little boy’s mother was lecturing him, “You were responsible for remembering that you wanted that yogurt . . .”

Responsible? The little boy wasn’t even three years old. The (extremely abstract) concept of responsibility is something that children don’t really begin to grasp until about the age of seven.

For remembering? A new study suggests that, between the ages of two and three, the hippocampus (important for new learning and memory) may be putting all of its energy into building infrastructure.

So two year olds can’t be counted on to remember a whole lot – especially concepts they are too young to understand! Here’s how Margot Peppers reports it from the Daily Mail: 

In his study, which was presented Friday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, Dr Frankland explained how the hippocampus's development is a factor in 'infantile amnesia'.

Biologically, the role of the hippocampus is to record each event, as well as 'file' them in the brain for long-term storage.

 But during the first three years of life, so much energy is spent forming new neurons in the hippocampus that the 'filing' task is never carried out.

So the problem, says Dr Frankland, is a simple case of overload.

While memories do exist within the brain before the age of three, they are stored in a random order, meaning that a toddler is unable to retrieve them.

I’ve noticed that something happens when children begin to talk in sentences. Up until that time, we seem to understand that these children are babies who do not think the way we do. But as soon as the words come, it is as if a switch turns on in our own brains. Words are kind of magical for us; we tend to assume that the same word or phrase means the same thing to everyone. The babies are suddenly, verbally speaking, adults! The words “Open Sesame” automatically opens the same wall in the same cave, no matter who utters them.

But do they mean the same thing to everyone? Children learn to speak by imitating sounds. They use the words we use, but children may have a completely different concept – or no concept – of what we actually mean by them. Expecting to have an adult conversation with a child just because we use the same words they do is courting communication disaster.

So the tables of responsibility are turned the other way. As parents and teachers, we are the ones responsible for remembering what expectations are developmentally appropriate for the children we live and work with.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Frankland designed his study of the hippocampus because he observed his own child’s developmentally different memory. Alex Consiglio reports in the Toronto Star on May 27, 2013

Inspired by his now 4-year-old daughter, Frankland began testing a theory that the inability to recall childhood memories is the result of aggressive development of the hippocampus in a child’s brain.

His daughter would remember events, such as visiting her grandparents, for a few months. Then he’d ask her about the event again a few months later, and she wouldn’t recall the visit, he said.

Frankland recently presented his completed study at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience.

He said while early memories still exist, the hippocampus, responsible for storing long-term memories, develops at such a speed that the memory gets lost in the shuffle.

“If you’re trying to store something, it not very helpful if the structure you’re storing it in is still developing,” said Frankland. “It’s going to be much tougher to retrieve that info later when all the connections have been changed.”

Memory is only one of our expectations, where young children are concerned. Developmental checklists are helpful ways to orient ourselves around what is reasonable to expect at different ages. These lists are easy to find on the web – just search “developmental checklist” and you will come up with a plethora of options. Here’s one from The Early Childhood Direction Center, Syracuse University, 2006, that goes from age zero to five.

Reading straight through it is a little like time-lapse photography – as you skim, you can actually see the child growing up, through all the stages in various arenas, from birth to age five. It’s good to read everything on the list, not to just go looking for the specific things a child “should” be able to do. As we begin to grasp the gestalt of the child at each age, we start to calibrate our own expectations in a more realistic way.

Here are some of the amazing things the little boy in the grocery cart was developmentally ready to do:

·      Recognize and identify common objects and pictures (26-32 months)

·      Match an object in hand or room to picture in a book (24 – 36 months)

·      Understand concept of “two” (26 – 32 months)

Think about it. Two. We take for granted what “two” is. But for a two year old, the idea of “two” is as radical as quantum mechanics.

So the next time we get frustrated with a young child, let’s take a moment to breathe and imagine the world he sees, looking out from his perch in the grocery cart. We may remember something – about living in the moment, about joy, about play, about connection - that we have forgotten! And that something is probably more important to remember than a yogurt flavor.


Brenda Ferrell Jun 16, 2013

What a wonderfully stated article!

Begabati Lennihan Jun 17, 2013

On the other hand, people are able to retrieve memories including of prenatal emotional trauma or birth trauma. How or where are those memories stored?

Loisanne Foster Jun 23, 2013

This clears a lot of fog for me. Thank you.

I am puzzled about one point, though. It seems that many toddlers express empathy which suggests a complex understanding: This is a person/creature like me, so this person/creature has feelings and sensations like mine.

Movement Matters Jun 26, 2013

Begabati - I will do my best to find this out for you! My GUESS is that these memories are also stored in the hippocampus, and that one reason we remember them is that a big trauma can temporarily make everything STOP. In the study I cite in the post, part of the experiment involves slowing down the growth of the hippocampus (in mice, not children!). When this growth slows, memories are retained. So, at the expense of a normal growth rate, memories seem to be able to be retained earlier in life.
Trauma can create a FREEZE response that stops development dead in its tracks, at least momentarily. It’s like an image caugt in a strobe light - it stays in your mind’s eye.
But, as I said, this is only a guess, and I will see if I can find it corroborated - or new information - elsewhere. Check back in in a couple of weeks!

Movement Matters Jun 26, 2013

Loisanne - I agree about the empathy that toddlers express! But for young children, the identity is so unformed (by adult, or even elementary age standards) that empathy is the normal M.O. There is so little difference between your mind and my mind that of course we feel the same!
I think that empathy is very simple. My dog seems to feel it in spades (here we go again with my dog!) He won’t even walk up the road if I am in a bad mood, he takes it on and is afraid that he has done something wrong! Babies try to feed us back as soon as they can feed themselves.
I think that mental or emotional complexity can actually be a hindrance to empathy - we can use our complex rational minds to justify our differences so that we don’t have to be kind to one another. Little children can teach us a lot in this regard.

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