Linking Literacy and Movement

By Rae Pica (November 2010) - author of numerous books on movement in early childhood and is cofounder and host of “BAM! Body, Mind, and Child”

“There are many links between literacy and movement. Movement and language are both forms of communication and self-expression. Body language is a distinct method of communication, and it is believed that “ideas and feelings expressed in words actually begin in the body. Before you write or speak, there is a physical response” (Minton 2003, 37). We often hear that our bodies express more than our words during communication with others. (Stand in front of a group of people and say, “Put your hands over your eyes,” while actually placing your hands over your ears. Most people will mimic your actions and put their hands over their ears.) Rhythm is an essential component of both language and movement. While we may think of rhythm primarily in musical terms, there is a rhythm to words and sentences as well. We develop an internal rhythm when we read and write. Individuals also have personalized rhythms for thinking and moving.  For example, when a teacher asks children to get into small body shapes, the children respond at their own pace, some quickly and some slowly. Moreover, as children acquire and refine their motor skills, they learn subconscious lessons about rhythm. For instance, the rhythm of a gallop matches a 2/4 musical meter, a walk is similar to a 4/4 meter, and a skip has the feel of a 6/8 meter. According to neuroscience educator Dee Coulter, songs, movement, and musical games are “brilliant neurological exercises” vital to intellectual development (1995, 22). Combining rhythmic movement with speech and song gives young children an opportunity to further develop their minds. In particular, this combination affects the areas of inner speech and impulse control, which contribute to language development, self-management, and social skills (Coulter 1995, 22).

Spatial orientation is necessary for letter identification and the orientation of symbols on a page. A lowercase b and a lowercase d, for example, are the same, both composed of a line and a circle. The only difference is in their spatial orientation—which side of the line the circle is on. When children mimic the straight and curving lines of letters with their bodies rather than simply attempting to copy them onto paper, their sense of directionality and spatial orientation is greatly enhanced.

Likewise, sequencing movement accesses many learning modes giving children opportunities to listen to the rhythm of language and to actively participate in physical expressions of its rhythm. For example, tapping to the rhythm of poems and rhymes develops temporal awareness. Creating an awareness of the rhythm of literary works and helps children internalize the beat when they are being read to. Prepositions—those little words so critical to language and life—are very much a part of everyday physical experiences. As children move over, under, around, through, beside, and near objects, these words take on greater significance.  When children learn, create, or dance to songs, they experience flow and phrasing. When the songs have lyrics, children must think about the meaning of the words. And because those words are important to them, they have much more relevance than a vocabulary list or a spelling list. When children walk slowly or skip lightly, adjectives and adverbs become more than abstract concepts. Word comprehension is immediate and long lasting when children physically demonstrate action words such as stomp, pounce, stalk, or slither, or descriptive words such as smooth, strong, gentle, or enormous. Even suffixes become more relevant when children act out the difference between scared and scary.

This kind of active learning is called implicit learning, like learning to ride a bike.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is explicit learning, like being told the capital of Peru. Explicit learning may be quicker than learning through physical experience, but the latter has greater meaning for children and stays with them longer. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that implicit learning creates more neural networks in the brain and employs more senses (Jensen 2001). Another reason may be that implicit learning is simply more fun!”

Brought to you by: Angie Stone, Prima Dance Academy, Studio# 905.425.2828