Janelle is 6 months old, doing just what a baby her age should be doing—pushing up, kicking, not quite mobile yet but definitely getting the idea. Today she is lying near a low round basket with a few balls in it; as she haphazardly bumps it with one hand it rocks and balls inside roll around, making an interesting little sound. She pats it again, now more intentionally; it rocks again and the balls roll in the basket, making their little sound. Again she bumps it, again she hears the rolling sound. Resting now, she quietly studies the situation. She tries a new strategy, arching up and batting at the sides of the basket with both hands, the balls bounce and roll and make a new sound. Now, with more deliberate intent and a bit more vigorous thump, both hands rock the basket and the balls come rolling out in every direction. That’s a surprise! Balls quietly roll across the resilient surface on the porch, going here and there, bumping something and rolling off in another direction. With a startled look Janelle sees a ball rolling back at her. Uh-oh, the ball has rolled up under Janelle’s arched chest. She wiggles and rocks but the ball seems stuck right there under her chest. Now what? She looks around, and makes eye contact with the teacher smiling at her who asks “I wonder what you’ll do now? Is the ball stuck under you?” She stays nearby, keeping her eyes on the child and talking in a friendly way while giving Janelle a chance to try to figure how to dislodge the ball. Janelle scooches and wiggles but the ball doesn’t come out, clearly she doesn’t want the ball under her and yet she is not upset, frustrated or distressed. With that beautiful openness of a young baby she experiments with her body to solve her problem. Arching, wiggling, flopping around, shifting her weight—none of these strategies make the ball move. Finally she flings her arm, using is rather like a flipper, swatting the ball out from under her; off it rolls. Janelle’s feet kick as she wiggles in delight. She gives the teachers a big grin, so pleased with her new-found ability to make something happen.
‘Oh, the cleverness of me’ is such a delightful and expansive feeling!
This useful, intentional arm movement tells us that crawling won’t be long in coming for this girl! She is already able to shift her center of gravity and balance and, while doing this, use one hand with intention. These physical signs of brain and body maturation in a baby show us that mastery of the body and the mind will progress in a predictable way. The more Janelle moves her body, the more she is stimulating her brain growth and development; the more people support her actions with corresponding language, the more Janelle can structure and organize and eventually even manage her thoughts and feelings; the more time this baby has to freely move at her own pace in her own way, the more confidence she will develop in her own capacity to manage herself and the world she lives in.
This is the wholeness we speak of in early learning. Every experience is interrelated with other experiences, all of which ultimately expand understanding, growth and development. We really cannot silo the young child’s learning, as segregating out discrete teaching opportunities interferes with the natural way the brain and body grow. So we follow the babies’ lead, letting them start with learning to move as the first way of teaching the muscles and body systems to work together as they were originally intended to do.