Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

ECMMA: Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

login to enter member only site

Not a Member? Join Now

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.

Reflexes and Risky Play

1 Comment

I just read an interesting article called Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It by Peter Gray, published in Psychology Today. I highly recommend it! It brings up an important aspect of human development -  pushing your own envelope, developing your  instincts about what you can do successfully and safely.

I won't paraphrase the article here - just read it! The article does not mention infant reflexes, so I began to write a comment that grew to the size of a whole post. Here it is:

Thank you for this eloquent discussion on free play. There is so much to talk about here! I see a growing lack of movement ease among people in the modern world, and the causes are many. But what I’d like to talk about now is how movement actually grows the brain.

The first thing we ever do in physical form is move. The sperm moves to the egg, the egg moves to divide, and the fetus and then the embryo perform a ballet of programmed movements in utero even before we are born. These “infant reflexes” form a universal, instinctual language of movements that play two major roles in our development.

First, the movements themselves are necessary for our survival. If we can’t make our way out of the womb, breathe, suck, turn over, make eye contact, crawl, grasp, and so on, our ability to survive is severely compromised.

Secondly, these movements grow the brain we need for everything we do in life. The normal functioning of our brain/body system is predicated upon the normal “firing” and integration of the infant reflexes. As we “practice” these movements, in utero, infancy, early childhood, and beyond, we grow neural nets throughout the brain. We begin to have more choices about which muscles move when. We no longer have to turn our heads every time we move our eyes. We no longer have to extend our arms and bend our legs (to crawl) every time our head is raised. It is by doing normal movements in normal ways, over and over, that we grow the brain we need for all of our activities – reading, writing, ‘rithmatic, social skills, gross and fine motor, creative problem-solving . . .

We have Stone-Aged bodies. The lion’s share of human history happened even before the advent of agriculture. Our bodies are made for running around in the forest, hunting and gathering, climbing, jumping, throwing, carrying, shouting, singing. They are made to be upright, or squatting. So our physical brains are wired for the physical activities that human beings have done in a natural environment for tens of thousands of years.

Every adjustment to “modern” life has taken away a necessary movement. For instance, car seats. Babies are made to be carried around on bodies. As the mother moves, the baby moves, too – righting its head in a variety of positions, holding on with its muscles, experiencing the warmth and closeness of a body right next to it, as well as interactions with all of the life happening around up close and personal. Being carried around helps develop the vestibular system (where am I in space?) and the proprioceptive system (where is my body in relation to itself?), as well as fine motor (grasping), bonding (close to mom) and the social sense (being a full functioning part of society from the beginning).

In car seats, babies don’t move. The car seat is carried upstairs. The baby has no need to balance, to right its head. The baby is isolated from the mother’s touch and once removed from activities going on around. The amount of incoming information is severely restricted.

Information in is what grows the brain. In the car seat, the baby’s development is not, in terms of the expectations our bodies and brains  have had for tens of thousands of years, normal.

And this is just one example of developmental deprivation. What about tummy time (necessary for postural and locomotor development?) So many babies have compromised guts these days that they almost always have gas, and they cry when they are on their tummies. So they don’t develop the core muscles that make tummy time fun. The list of movement deprivations goes on and on . . .

It is a vicious cycle, because the less kids move, the less safe they are when they move – because, as your article so eloquently explains, they have not developed their own intuitive sense of movement rightness.

When the infant reflexes are not integrated, fear is present. Period. The reflexes are there to keep us alive. When a reflex has not moved through its complete developmental trajectory, there is an element of compulsion in how we react to life.

The description of the rats in the study cited in your article show two “textbook” reflexive reactions to stimuli perceived as traumatic. “Freezing in fear” suggests a reflex we call “Fear Paralysis,” which emerges in humans at around 7 ½ weeks in utero. “Lashing out with inappropriate aggression” suggests the “Moro Reflex” – fight or flight – which emerges in humans a little bit later. Looking at the rats’ behavior in developmental terms, we could say that the rats have not grown the necessary neural networks through appropriate movement (which includes movement with others, involving tactile, visual, olfactory, auditory – all the senses!) Because their reflexes have not developed to the point of integration, they are locked into a fear response. They do not have the brain/body systems to deal with the life their physiology and society has been built for.

Free play is so important! But because many children have been deprived of the developmental tools necessary to engage in it as safely as children once did, it is important to watch for inappropriate responses. When we see these, it is our role to help the children “move through” their fear in developmentally appropriate ways. Because the reflexes are instinctive and universal building blocks of development, it is never too late to go back and replace them. This may involve doing activities that seem “young” for a child’s calendar age, but in developmental terms, the child needs these activities to grow into his or her calendar age – and find the inherent wisdom that keeps us safe in “risky” play.

This watching requires a delicate balance, because children need to find their own boundaries, and develop their own instincts about what is safe for them and those around them. But once their instincts have been compromised – and for many of the children I work with, this is the case - it is important for us as adults to know that children can act in ways that actually are dangerous for themselves, and others.

Learning about the reflexes, and finding playful ways to integrate them, is an effective way to move through behavioral, emotional, and learning difficulties. This is because we are addressing one of the roots of the problem – the fear locked in frozen movement patterns. As we release these patterns into a more normal and flowing movement experience, the brain begins to receive the kinds of signals it needs to relax and grow.


Movement Matters Apr 13, 2014

I love your comments! But at present I can’t find them in the sea of spam . . . so please, if you comment in the box, email me as well and I will liberate your words for posterity!

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked with an *

Your email is never shared.

Remember my Name, Email, Location and URL

Notify me of follow-up comments?

ECMMA is grateful for the ongoing sponsorship of our Supporting Businesses and Organizations. Please be sure to thank them for their efforts in supporting Early Childhood Music and Movement. Learn more about ECMMA Supporting Businesses.