4 Mar 2021

Forget ABCs - get your preschoolers moving first

From Nine To Noon, 11:29 am on 4 March 2021

Educator, speaker and author Gill Connell says we shouldn’t stress about ABCs and instead focus on the importance of movement in getting young children ready for the classroom and learning.

She says kids are born to move, and in the early years it is the body teaching the brain how to accept, assimilate, process, and use information.

Little boy on a swing in the park.

Photo: 123RF

Connell’s books include A Moving Child Is a Learning Child and Move Play and Learn with Smart Steps

She explains to Kathryn Ryan that the child’s brain sets priorities in the development calendar and movement is one of the top ones.

“The young child, through play and through movement and through real experience is working really hard to automate the lower levels of brain development which are associated with movement and sensory play so that, by the time a child is ready developmentally and cognitively, for more abstract learning.”

Connell says anyone observing a baby or toddler will see how much they move their limbs and face, and that’s all part of the learning. While learning ABCs and 123s are still critical, she says they shouldn’t be prioritised over movement.

“The brain can only do one thinking task at a time. I know we think we can multi-task, but those are tasks we don’t think about. For a young child, when they start to try write or hold a crayon and do all those sorts of things, what the brain says [is] I need to figure out how to hold a pencil, I need to figure out the sensations that underpin having a pencil grip before I can think about what I’m writing about.

“Kids know this, they are wired to do this. This is why they hang on your towel rails, because big muscle movements help children to develop their fine motor manipulator skills. Big muscle movements come before fine, so kids hang off things, climb trees, they pull themselves along and they find things in your home wherever they can access to do these things.”

She says that by letting kids move and explore, these motor movements become automated.

“For young children, play and all of the movements that we sometimes get really frustrated by, are all setting kids up for pre-learning.”

Many of the things we find alarming about young children, hugging their friends too tightly and knocking them over, slamming doors, injuring themselves, are all ways of them learning how to adjust physical force for situations, she says.

“That, in turn, leads to learning how much force to use for writing.”