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Alive and kicking - Part two

The Models and the Copy-cats

Standing at the corner

It is early morning. I am standing at the corner of a leafy suburb. There is a chill in the air and the sky is overcast. A car slows and a child emerges from the back door. She climbs out of the warmth of the car and then looks on as her parent drives off and disappears into the stream of traffic. Then another car pulls up and similarly a child appears from the back door.

Six children in all are dropped off at this corner. Each young child is met by an older pupil, and together they walk the remaining distance to the school, just under a kilometre away.

The project aims to promote and encourage school children to walk to school. But as I watch each one clamber out of the comfortably- controlled interior of the car, I wonder what sort of message the children are receiving at this drop-off/meeting point. Are they willing or reluctant participants in the scheme? And what factors are influencing their motivation?

are the children willing or

reluctant participants in the

walk-to-school scheme?

and what exactly influences

their motivation

Our active-transport NGO has offered this walk-to-school scheme to schools and number of schools have agreed to take part, parents have been notified and some have volunteered their off-spring to participate.

But what about the children themselves? Do they see the point? Do do they understand the value? And how do they understand the exchange that takes place at the drop-off/meeting point? in which the parent drives off in a powerful motorised vehicle and the child is left to reach her destination using her two young legs. How does she experience her body as a transporting tool in this situation?

So what influences the young child to move?

What motivates a child to develop a moving life or not? And what affects how she perceives of her moving body as she grows?

Well there is the innate drive to move, genes, climate, urban planning and the physical environment, social factors and the mimetic instinct; a predictable mix of nature-nurture. All these (and many more) affect how a child develops her moving life, but the mimetic instinct, i.e. the fact that children learn by imitation, is a very strong one. So if we are trying to encourage a healthy attitude to movement in a child, we should appreciate that those in her immediate circle are setting a significant example.

the mimetic instinct:

children learn by imitation

Before the beginning

Even before the child is able to see with her own eyes, as she waits and gestates in that uterine antechamber, she is feeling the impulses of her mother's movements and positions. She learns how physically active or sedentary her mother is. She feels how her mother holds herself and the quality of her movement.

How does the foetus feel in a body that often moves as opposed to one that is mostly sedentary? How does being being carried in a swinging pelvis compare to being contained in a sitting pelvis?

How does it feel being carried in a


as compared to

being contained in a sitting-pelvis?

The keen observer

Once her vision is able to focus in the first few weeks of life outside the womb, the child watches her parents very closely. She observes their body mechanics, their posture and their everyday physicality, and these movements and positions inform her understanding of how a human body moves. With time, as her mechanical skills develop, she will try to copy these.

Apart from that she gleans the attitudes and practices of her parents everyday physical functioning and the role the body plays.

The information she receives through observation, together with her own biological drive, will determine how she feels and uses her moving body as she grows.

Resorting to stereotypes to make a point - 2 cases

Case I

As she is growing the child routinely sees her parent leaving home, sounding an appliance that automatically opens a car door and driving off. Sometimes she will be bundled into a car seat, becomes a passenger and witnesses her parent driving to choice destinations.

Later she may associate seeing a parent leave the house wearing sports/gym gear, with the understanding that her mother/father is going to be moving energetically, somewhere out of eye-shot.

These practices with be implicitly perceived by the child to be 'the norm', the proper adult way of doing things, and she may well aspire to following that example when she grows up. In the meantime she may be encouraged by her predominantly-driving parent to walk to some destinations, as in the walk-to-school-scheme (in the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do tradition).

On a more detailed level the growing child is closely studying every move and position of those who orbit her; how those people sit and stand and generally manoeuvre themselves around, understanding 'that's what you do and that's how you do it.'

the growing child is studying every move and position,

"that's what you do and that's how you do it"

Case 2

In the first few months of her life she is often slung on a walking parent's body. Later she is pushed in a stroller by a walking parent, or alternatively sat in bike seat as the parent cycles goes about her daily chores.

The child is seeing her parents as physically-active participants in their lives, and she understands the role of the body according to this example. Within the first few years of life this child will acquire and develop physical skills and will aspire to adopt the same practices.

A physically-active parent in central London

The message communicated by example

is much stronger than

the one conveyed as verbal instruction.

She too is keenly observing the mechanics of those close to her, their posture and moving physicality, and is internalising these habits.

Of course many situations are pick-n-mix combinations of these two scenarios, but we cannot underestimate the impact of the primary role models on how a child develops her moving life.

We cannot underestimate the role and responsibility of those bringing up the child.

The practices of these primary role-models become the templates upon which the young child develops her movement.


Alive and Kicking - part three

Growing up in the age of the screen: the joy of moving versus the joy of not moving.

by Gabriela Cohen

registered osteopath

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