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Moving to literature

MS. TALBOT ASKS HER CLASS OF 3-YEAR-OLDS to gather on the rug for story time. “Today we are going to hear about Sasha the dog,” she says.
Nate jumps up and down, clapping his hands with glee. He has heard (Sharmat, 1984) many times and adores it.
Instead of requiring all the children to sit still, Ms. Talbot asks them to stand up and move along with the actions depicted in the book. As she begins reading, some children choose to be Sasha, and some assume the roles of Rolf the Rhino and Dracula Dog. Other children act out one character after another as they hear the words.
Nate, who has borrowed this book from the library several times, enacts the role of Sasha, a dog who wants to be fancy. He cocks his head, moves his feet, and at one point pretends his ears are on the top of his head like Sasha’s. When the story ends, he wraps his arms around his chest and spins around fully satisfied with himself.
Sasha is just one of the children’s favorite books. Others are (Carle, 1997), (Marzollo, 1990), and (Noll, 1987). The children also enjoy acting out simple folk tales like and Usually Ms. Talbot narrates while the children perform the actions. But sometimes with prompting, children try to speak the words their characters say.

MOVEMENT IS THE NATURAL WAY IN WHICH young children learn. As you watch children play indoors or outside, you probably won’t see them being still for very long. Healthy children move their bodies spontaneously—running, stretching, spinning, climbing, and jumping for the pure pleasure of motion. They curiously explore the world around them as they dig in the dirt, peek under rocks, and gaze out at their surroundings from a perch in a tree.
According to child psychology pioneer Jean Piaget (1962), children learn primarily by interacting physically with the environment, acting on objects, and observing the results of their actions. Through physical explorations, children seem to “…draw out a deeper understanding of the world in which [they] live” (Griss, 1998).
Exercise and fitness are significant not only for children’s bodies, but also for their minds, emotions, and social development (Benelli and Yongue, 1995). Children move to survive, to learn, and to find out about their own bodies and the outer world (Landalf and Gerke, 1996).
Movement builds muscles and strengthens the cardiovascular system. It lengthens attention span, supports social interaction, increases imaginative problem solving, and enhances self-confidence. In fact, movement and drama contribute to all areas of development: emotional, physical, social, cognitive, language, and creativity (Brown and Pleydell, 1999). See the “Benefits of moving to literature” chart on page 17.

Brain research on movement
Why is movement so important for children? Recent research on the brain may provide the answer. Scientists now know that various systems of the body are joined in a partnership of the brain and body (Caine and Caine, 1997). Whatever affects children’s physiology also affects their emotions and their learning capacity. In a comprehensive review of brain research and its applications to education, Caine and Caine state, “The body is the brain, and the brain is the body.” The findings of brain research build a strong case for including movement experiences throughout the early childhood curriculum.
The section of the brain that processes movement is actually the same part of the brain that is involved in learning (Jensen, 1998). There is an ongoing interplay between movement and cognition, with physical activity enhancing brain function. The cerebellum, the area that processes movement information before it is sent to the cerebral cortex, is also home to more than half the brain’s neurons (Jensen, 1998). This part of the brain controls attention and monitors incoming information as well as helps coordinate movement, maintain balance, and plan and carry out motion. For this reason, learning is usually less problematic for children who have opportunities for active movement.
Certain actions, such as swinging, rolling, jumping, and spinning, stimulate the inner ear and help children develop balance and coordination. Some spinning activities can also increase alertness, attention, and relaxation (Jensen, 1998). In addition, when we engage in aerobic exercise, which provides our bodies and brains with oxygen, our memory improves. Studies of Canadian school children show that when physical education time is increased, academic scores improve (Hannaford, 1995; Martens, 1982).
Howard Gardner (1993, 1999), in his theory of multiple intelligences, discusses eight different types of intelligence. One of those is bodily/kinesthetic, which refers to special awareness and learning through creative movement, dance, and physical behavior. Children whose primary mode of learning is bodily/kinesthetic benefit most from learning by movement.
However, including physical activities, music, and visual arts in the learning process can enrich the learning of all children. Western society has long separated the body and the mind, usually giving more importance to mental abilities. We now know that children’s learning begins with motor development and that movement and thinking go hand-in-hand throughout life (Pica, 1997).
To connect movement and literature, consider two primary approaches: 1) stories and poetry that directly focus on movement of animals, children, or objects, and 2) stories that lend themselves to dramatic enactment and imaginative play.

Poems and stories that highlight movement
JUMP! SPIN! TWIST! GIGGLE! SOME POEMS AND stories make us want to get up out of our seats and move. Whether it is gentle, yoga-like stretches, or more energetic moves like stomping and pounding, children love to be actively engaged with the literature they hear. Physical responses are not only enjoyable; they also help children associate words with feelings and movements. Using their bodies, their senses—seeing and hearing—as well as their emotions helps children increase their comprehension of stories or poems.
Many books written for young children lend themselves to active learning. Early childhood teachers might read a poem or book aloud first, talk about actions depicted in the illustrations, and invite the children to creatively interpret the movements. (Cauley, 1992) joyfully and energetically depicts children and animals expressing themselves through action. Children will be eager to try rubbing tummies while patting heads, tickling, wiggling toes, spreading feet to look upside down, and other contagious stunts. is also available in big book format, making it easier to use with a group of children.
Jump or Jiggle
Frogs jump
Caterpillars hump

Worms wiggle
Bugs jiggle

Rabbits hop
Horses clop

Snakes slide
Sea gulls glide

Mice creep
Deer leap

Puppies bounce
Kittens pounce

Lions stalk—
But—I walk!

—E. Beyer in

Those who work with infants and toddlers will enjoy (Wilmer, 2000). The book’s rhymes and games combine physical and language play. The author reminds us that complex movements such as ballet dancing and swinging a baseball bat have their roots in early childhood actions of clapping, bouncing, and swinging. Playing baby games—, and toe and finger games—also forms a positive bond between child and caregiver. As babies listen to the poems in this book, they will learn about body parts and the meaning of movement terms in a playful way.
One way children show their enthusiasm and excitement for life is by bouncing. (Hubbell, 2000) shows a toddler bouncing like different animals during daily activities and a trip to the zoo. This lively, rhythmic, and colorful book will persuade toddlers to bounce about on their own, and may show families that bouncing is a typical and healthy outlet for toddlers and 2-year-olds. Another energetic book is (Newcome, 1999). As they squat like frogs, snap like crocs, and hop like kangaroos, toddlers can explore the ways their bodies move and practice new skills. The colorful pictures of children from many cultures will delight all ages.
Poetry and rhyming books appeal to children’s growing delight in the sounds of language and to their emotions. To help children understand and respond appropriately to emotions, teachers and parents can read poems such as the following:

How to Be Angry
Scrunch your eyebrows
up to your hair
pull on your chin
and glare glare glare.

Puff out your cheeks,
puff puff puff,
then take a deep breath
and huff huff huff.

—Eve Merriam in

Children might begin to learn ways to convey and diffuse their anger by dramatizing the expressions described in the poem above. It shows them a method for sharing negative feelings without hitting, yelling, or throwing tantrums, as some 2- and 3-year-olds are prone to do.
At one Head Start center, the children run up to a reading volunteer each time she enters the classroom, checking to see if she has brought their favorite book— (Shannon, 1998). David is always getting into mischief by tracking mud onto the carpet, making too much noise, picking his nose, and running outside naked. As the volunteer turns each page, the children make facial expressions and gestures just like the main character and shout, “No, David!” (Most children can relate to hearing “No!”) On the last page children are reassured that David’s mother loves him even when he is naughty.
Other books that foster emotional development include the following: (Emberly and Miranda, 1997), (Wilson-Max, 1999), (Bang, 1999), and (Sendak, 1963). Children might act out parts of the story or make facial expressions to demonstrate their understanding of the feelings addressed in each book.