A recent article in Developmental Psychology and Committee for Children reports that children with higher levels of self-regulation achieve higher scores in reading, vocabulary and math. As any therapist, teacher or parent, who has knowledge of sensory integration issues, knows – deficits in self- regulation affect everything else – behaviors, social skills and motor responses. With pre-kindergarten and kindergarten curriculum changing its focus to reading, writing and math skills, young children who need time to play, explore and practice self-regulation during these early formative years are falling behind with “behavior problems”. This study provides significant evidence that they are actually a symptom of a developmentally inappropriate focus on academics.
- In early childhood, the primary developmental task is to fully inhabit one’s body and senses. It is through movement and playful sensory exploration that children grow their brains and healthy sense of self. Movement builds brain cells and grows the optimal functioning of every system in the body. As a child’s muscles and coordination grow, so does the density of the brain and its executive function, which is the source of higher level thinking and self-awareness.
As a teacher and parent who has spent years teaching children self-regulation, I can tell you that it happens in the body. Intentional movement, such as yoga, has such profound effects on children’s ability to focus, calm themselves, and filter sensory information. Yoga has become increasingly popular because it is a perfect playground for active fun that develops motor skills and fitness along with social-emotional awareness and self-regulation tools. As educators, we know from experience, that when children feel in control of their own bodies and can navigate their own stress and frustration from the inside out in a healthy way, they are learning able because they can sustain their own emotional stability through self-regulation.
- Researchers in ECE, Megan McClelland, Ph.D., Associate Professor Human Development and Family Sciences, and her student, ShaunaTominey, have designed games to help children practice paying attention, following directions, remembering rules, and demonstrating self-control. Games and movement practices, combined with appropriate mirroring, are what children need to develop self-awareness, emotional intelligence and self-control.
The lack of playful SEL curriculum activities is what inspired me to produce the Move with Me ™ resources that teach health and self-regulation skills to pre-K & K. Our video classes are designed to involve the whole child in social-emotional learning through stories and pretend play. In the process of acting out a narrative through movement, children have the fun of “being” everything in the story – the lion, the rocket, the tree. So, while they are having fun building fitness, focus, stamina and coordination, they are also improving early literacy and learning social-emotional skills, which are embedded into the action and called Adventure Skills. These simple exercises, with cool names such as Monkey Wisdom and Ocean Breath, empower kids to calm, center and redirect themselves when upset, angry, frustrated, sad, scared or over-whelmed. They give both care-giver and child a common vocabulary and a set of tools for SEL that can transform meltdowns into mindfulness and acting out to self-control.