Meaningful Movement & Embodied Learning

By HANNAH KAHL

Overview

Our students have been through too much this year. Just as COVID is a living virus, so is racism. As students reenter the physical classroom movement is going to be critical in addressing anxiety and stress, creating a feeling of safety and belonging, and truly fulfilling an equitable return to in-person learning.

“We see a lot of antiracism initiatives flounder because they are highly cognitive. We can’t create trust and safety in our heads. These are body-based skills.

-Nkem Ndefo, founder of Lumos Transforms

Health is comprehensive: social, emotional, physical well-being.

Learning lasts longest when it is embodied.

“Embodiment: The practice and process of carrying ideas and emotions in the flesh, psyche, and movement. Embodied knowledge is information or wisdom that is carried in the flesh, psyche, and movement and informs one’s activities. Disembodiment is disconnection from one’s body, often experienced by Black people who face disproportionate physical violence.”
– Dr. Shamell Bell’s Street Dance Activism Vocabulary Guide

The solution seems simple: we need to incorporate more daily movement into the curricula for both students and teachers.

Or maybe it’s not that simple: children and adults have been more sedentary this year than ever before. Our society puts tremendous pressure on children and adults by equating health with a specific body type and specific sporting abilities. Access to movement and play is an equity issue. In our low-income communities people feel less safe using public parks and playgrounds, families are crowded into small living spaces, and yards are less common.

So the solution involves incorporating a specific type of movement into the daily curricula: Movement where everyone can be successful. Movement that allows expression and creativity. Movement that fosters collaboration rather than competition. Movement that allows you to feel joyful in your body just the way it is. Movement that is culturally relevant and empowering. Movement that inspires confidence.

 

Decolonizing curriculum by adding movement:

 

-Movement as celebration of the physical body.

-Movement as sport, exploration and play.

-Movement as the force that forms community.

-Movement as the foundation for empathy and acceptance.

-Movement as a way to experience embodiment.

-Movement as a reminder that life can feel joyful.

As we return to the classroom and seek re-connection with others, it’s important to remember that connection always begins with ourselves.

 

We are bringing our bodies together to share the same space. Sharing space is a normal part of the human experience but this year it had tremendous consequences. Fear of sharing space again is to be expected. How do we give all children the tools to deal with this fear? Movement.

 

Movement connects us back to our bodies. When we connect with our bodies, we create opportunities for processing and release. Only when we feel safe in our bodies can we feel safe connecting to the people and environment around us, only then can we learn deeply and meaningfully.

In summary:

  • School curricula needs to incorporate daily movement for students AND teachers

  • Schools need to contract with local nonprofits or consultants that are culturally relevant and approach movement from an equity/social-emotional lens to create this curricula

  • How much children move their bodies during the school day should become a public  data point and an area of pride for active schools that are providing embodied learning for their students

    Below are a few examples of how to add movement to academic classes. We encourage schools to add specific movement brain breaks and classes into their school day as well. A consultant could support both adding movement into current academic classes as well as adding in specialized movement classes.

    Morning Routine. We are all different learners. Adding simple, associative movements to new vocabulary words provides students with more opportunities to form stronger memory attachments. At Project Commotion, this looks like making a flower with our hands when we talk about springtime, or creating an ocean wave with our bodies when we discuss water and the ocean. Additionally, stories come alive when we act them out through movement, simple or complex! Any book can be explored through movement by having students become the characters, anything from the protagonist to the tree in the background of the page. One page opens endless possibilities for this kind of active, exploratory play.

    Afternoon Math and Science. It may seem daunting to try and make math and science more active. Dance, however, already utilizes essential math principles. Dances across cultures count out movements in various patterns to pair our moving bodies with the music. We learn to double, triple, or even half the amount of beats we can fit within the same time frame. And like anything in life, when we notice our body’s response, we have a better chance of remembering. When it’s time for science, your class may be studying the four seasons, different climates, or animals. Once we remember that we too are animals that rely on this earth, the movement opportunities are endless. As we learn to differentiate a turtle from a tortoise, we can practice this super slow-motion walking around the classroom. And then when we talk about the similarities between cheetahs and tigers, we can take our start-and-stop running to the playground (like a game of red-light-green-light).

    History. Let’s dance! Dance and music teaches us about the world. Every culture has their unique approach to rhythm and movement, and when we study these elements, we learn more about people and their places of origin. For example, the history that birthed dances like Bollywood from India, Capoeira from Brazil, Salsa from Cuba, Kabuki from Japan, Bhangra from the Punjab region, Hip-Hop from Black culture in the United States, teach us about cultural evolution, globalization, and the resilience of humanity…

    Recess. Outside of the classroom rules and regulations, children are already experts in play. Let them run, jump, twirl without structure during free time. Not only is recess important for children to strengthen their bodies and use their energy, but also for navigating social relationships and emotional processing.

Expected Impact

Project Commotion runs a bilingual English/Spanish preschool onsite. Movement is a huge part of the curriculum. Our staff, 100% teachers of color, approach movement as described above. On our most recent external assessment we received a perfect score in emotional support. This is the type of environment all students deserve coming back from this horrific year.

Adopt & Adapt

This is absolutely possible for school communities to adopt and adapt! Project Commotion has completed over 40 residencies with schools in the California Bay Area. If schools are not yet allowing specialists in the physical classroom, movement classes can continue to be taught through zoom, active brain “breaks” can be recorded content for teachers to use as needed, and consultants can work remotely with schools to create meaningful movement curriculum.

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