Alive and Kicking: Part one
Growth and skills
In the beginning.......
actually well before the beginning, months before she has drawn her first breath, before she has sipped her first drop of milk, and before the little one has made her great exit into the bright lights of the outside world, she moves. Turning and tumbling, folding and stretching her new limbs, she floats around in the dim-lit, fluid-filled prenatal gym, that is her mothers womb. It is a fine medium to start her life-long journey into moving; all the while growing more body parts and developing new abilities. She is either moving and sensing her mother's movement or sleeping. Life is comprised of moving and sleeping. Only in the last weeks of her gestation, as her grown size is pressing against the walls of her mother's uterus, is her ability to move restrained.
before the little one
has made her great exit
into the bright lights
of the outside world,
The child's urge to move is innate. As she grows she is exploring and discovering her new parts and the skills these are capable of. It is this propensity to continue moving, once outside the womb that propels her to grow and develop in a way that is essential to her body, and her mental and emotional self.
In the first year of life the child grows significantly and teaches herself, through sheer practice and perseverance, a whole repertoire of new physical skills. Sooner or later, left to her own devices, she will achieve the balance and strength to stand on her own two feet and take her first steps, that unique human skill, walking on two legs.
Bipedal walking is not only an enormous achievement to be praised and video-ed, it also informs the child that her own body is a primary, fully-functioning means of transport, just as her arms are tools that can reach and wring, squeeze, pull, carry and so much more.
In order for the child to internalise the functional role of her developing body, she needs to be given frequent opportunities to apply these functions. Alternatively if electronic devices dominate most functional tasks in the life of the growing child, she will unconsciously understand that her body is not a very capable.
For example a child who is applauded for her first steps, but is consistently bundled into the back of a car, strapped tightly into a car seat and driven to close and distant destinations alike, is being given a double message.....
"well done for taking those steps, but a powerful machine does it better"
a child who is applauded for her first steps, but is consistently bundled into the back of a car, strapped tightly into a car seat and driven to close and distant destinations alike, is being given a
Her efforts are being implicitly invalidated, and she is being deprived of the chance to make the connection between her new skill and its application. In effect she will fail to perceive of and appreciate her body as her primary functional instrument.
I am in no way suggesting that the child should not be strapped into a secure car seat on car journeys. Neither am I suggesting that she should never be driven in a car. Cars are a part of modern life and very useful at times. However I am strongly recommending that parents and carers adopt a more conscious and discerning attitude towards the need for new skills to be given active expression; encouraging the use of her legs for walking and climbing to get to destinations, and similarly providing children with practical tasks in which they can use their arms and hands, like sweeping and tidying. These destinations and chores provide children with opportunities to test, apply and improve their new found functional skills. The small and moderate efforts made on an ongoing, everyday basis are essential for healthy growth and development.
In this respect I am with Freud; the first five years are key. Freud emphasised that these early years are crucial in the formation of the adult personality, and I would say the first fives years are crucial for the development of functional body awareness.
Freud emphasised that the first five years
of a child's life are crucial in forming
the adult personality.
I say the first fives years
are crucial in the development of
functional body awareness.
Later on these physical skills will be percieved of as effort rather than an achievement. In addition there will always be the nagging feeling,
"why bother when a machine could do it faster and better?"
I feel it is essential to snatch up this unique window of opportunity, to allow all the child's early enthusiasm and joy of moving to be channeled into practicing and learning the skills she is developing.
Posts to follow in the Alive and Kicking series:
Alive and kicking 2: The role of the role model
Alive and kicking 3: Growing up in the age of the screen:
the joy of moving versus the joy of not moving