Enclosure Schemas

You might recognize some of the play below if you had a chance to read the article we connected with last week explaining schemas in child development.  For the past week, we’ve noticed an increase in enclosure and containment play where the children are creating small worlds or rooms for themselves within non-traditional containment spots.  It does look like they are having great fun, but what are they actually learning? How does this help them grow?

Before you can begin to decide where to hide your body,
you must first know what size you are.

We watched the children navigate through many possible natural enclosures.  Some were too small, some too low, some were too squishy.  As they tried to fit their bodies into spaces between branches, they reassessed and redefined their ideas about their own body size in relation to what they can see.  Adjustments to preconceived ideas, concerning size and shape, had to be made.  When adding structure to an enclosure, angles and length must be taken into account.  Spacial relationships grew within their cognitive and muscle memories.

But can this information really help them?

You know that moment when you are packing up the left-over dinner and you realize you just started pouring the chili into a storage container that is never, ever going to be able to contain all of the remaining soup?  That moment. Right there. Spatial understanding is a part of our daily lives.  How can we organize the books on the shelf? How best to pack the moving van before we traipse across the country for our first real job?

Is that enough?

Not to worry. There’s more.  Now that they have spent lots and lots and lots of time squishing themselves into fun little spaces, they know exactly where their limbs and digits are.  We take it for granted that we know where our fingers and toes end.  When I spin in a circle, I can adequately judge whether or not my arms will strike something. When contemplating a leap across a stream, I can correctly deduce the speed and height I need to make it across.  It is not so for young children.  They honestly don’t know that doing a cart-wheel next to their friend is going to end in a bloody nose.  It takes practice to make the neural connections needed for body and spacial awareness.

Here we are witnessing multiple experiments of enclosure and containment.  Sometimes it involves small items and other times the whole body is involved.  Either way, we bask in the beauty of the human mind at work.

Your brain wants you to exercise.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Learning and the Brain: Executive Functions in Education in Washington, D.C.  I’ve returned energized and excited to share all of the new connections I’ve made to our grey matter and learning.  One of the most unexpected ah-ha moments came when Dr. John Ratey began speaking about the research behind his newest book, Spark.

Not being a rather athletic person (ok, I’m a couch potato) I wasn’t especially excited about the premise.  I settled in to listen to a speaker that I thought I wouldn’t have any connections with.  Oh, how wrong I was. Dr. Ratey explained with panache and humor how our brains are physically effected by exercise. He showed us results from numerous studies pointing to lower behavioral difficulties and raised academic scores  for children when frequent, heart-rate rising exercise was part of the day.

For those of you who are already in love with a heart-pumping past-time, this may not necessarily be news.  Yet, in the education community, this is monumental.  Imagine being able to help children with mild attention troubles or anxiety simply by setting a routine that adds more activity to their day.  Think about the revolution this could cause in states that have disbanded PE in favor of more prep time for high stakes testing.

Luckily, we already move a lot during the day in Pre-K, but I bet we could do more.  The best part about this research is that it simply gives us a very concrete reason to do something we’ve already decided was important.  Many people exercise for their health, for the summer swimsuit they want to fit into, for the joy of it.  Now, they can sweat with gusto knowing that they are improving their brain function as well.

These ideas inspired even this couch potato to get up and get movin’.