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.

The Empty Space of Imagination

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We used to have times that were empty in each day; a few minutes in line at the grocery store, or waiting in the car for children to pour out of a school building. We used to have to wait a week for the sequel to the last TV episode – so we had time to think about what might happen to the characters. If we didn’t know something – anything – we had time to wonder about the answer.

These natural empty spaces in our days and weeks – times for the mind to wander, wonder, dream, make up stuff – those times are mostly gone. And we are not teaching our children to explore the wild places in the mind – or to create space for them – or to even know that they exist.

The technology that has mushroomed in the past five years has effectively erased these empty spaces. There is always a ready, steady feed of information coming in from some outer authority available at the touch of a finger. When we don’t know a fact, we don’t wonder about it – we just pull out our smart phone. When we wait in line at the grocery store, we don’t talk to our kids in the shopping cart, or  observe the people around us - we check our messages and send texts. How many people have dinner table conversation anymore, uninterrupted by the cell phones that accompany us everywhere? The mother of a teenaged girl told me that she has learned to live with her daughter texting during the PBS series they watch together. “Can’t you ask her not to?” I asked. “She would just leave,” said the mother. “She says that everybody does it.”

And most young people do. Older people, as well.

I was recently talking to a preschool teacher. “We’ve seen the last creative generation,” she said. She talked about children in her class who don’t know how to take turns, or have the words to use for the most basic social interactions, or have the focus or even the concept of make-believe. It is not the first time I have heard this from early childhood professionals – that kids are coming in without the ability for imaginative play, and the extensive relationship skills that are fostered by it.

Play is what grows in the opportunity of the empty space. If we never have an empty space to fill with our imaginations, we do not develop the capacity for imagination. Those empty spaces are the fertile fields that grow the neural pathways that make us into creative thinkers.

An article in Parenting Science cites several studies, on both rats and children, that reinforce the common-sense notion that free play grows the brain. The rats raised in stimulating environments where there was stuff to play with had bigger brains, and found their way through mazes more easily, than their counterparts who had no manipulables in their cages. In another study, the brains of rats involved in rough-and-tumble play (the kind of stuff we used to do unsupervised outside after school) had more BDNF, or brain-derived-neurotrophic-factor. BDNF is particularly concentrated in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that regulates memory. (For more information on rats and BDNF and ADHD, check out the book Spark by Dr. John Ratey).

Why aren’t devices “stuff to play with?” First of all, they aren’t “stuff.” They are two-dimensional flat screens that give the illusion of movement, with flashing lights that lock the eyes and brain in a state of constant, low-level stress. The hands are not holding three-dimensional objects that have various textures and temperatures and a hundred other qualities. The eyes are not scanning the three-D world, developing depth perception, teaming, tracking and peripheral vision capacities. The ears are tuned in to electronically produced noises on a narrow frequency band coming from an unchanging location – not to the surround sound and variety of what we hear around in the world. The mind is being stuffed with information all the time. There is no time or space for wondering. And nobody you play with is even real.

When a child knows that he can move his finger across a screen and see little characters jumping around, that child has no need to create imaginary characters that jump around in his mind. If a child never has to have an empty moment, that child will not develop the neurological capacities to creatively address empty moments. She will whine that she is bored. And more often than not, her mother will pass her a phone.

So put the phone away. Get out the books, the silly endless songs about meatballs and holes in buckets, the games we used to play just looking out of the car windows, observing, looking for things going by in the real world outside. Most of the teenagers who are texting today at least grew up without cell phones attached to their bodies when they were small children. Their infant and toddler brains developed without constant presence of devices. The next generation doesn’t have even that advantage.

So while your children are young, be a Luddite. Emptiness is not boring, and boredom is an adventure, a wilderness to cross. And when we cross through it, we grow the imagination. We may find stories, songs, special moments, relationships, intelligence, creativity, joy. And all we have to do is to be there.

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