A Kinesthetic Keynote

This academic term MovementWorks began delivery of it’s Developmental Dance Movement Programme™ to Profound and Multiple Learning Disabled (PMLD) students in two specialist schools, so I was interested to read the recent article in Learning and Disability Today highlighting the significance of the senses for children with PMLD.

In the article Joanna Grace explains:

“Many developmental milestones follow from establishing links between the senses, such as with hand-eye co-ordination” – Joanna Grace

We generally tend to think of ourselves as having just 5 senses but there are at least 7 (possibly even more!).

Enjoying Dance
Enjoying Dance Together

Proprioception is the ability to perceive ourselves relative to space and the environment around us. Closely related is the vestibular sense, located in the inner ear, that provides us with the ability to balance, co-ordinate and generally establish an equilibrium which becomes the status quo in order to make sense of the world.

My own practice-based observations, in line with other practitioners and clinicians working in the field, suggest that where there are deficits in either or both of these senses, repetitive physical behaviors often manifest. Teachers will be familiar with some pupils’ persistent wiggling, rocking, and/or tapping which may be an intuitive response in attempt to feedback more information to the brain. Integrating all the senses is key to cognitive development and academic learning.

For optimal development sensory attunement is pertinent to children both with and without learning disabilities. The theory of sensory integration, developed by Dr A. Jean Ayres (1920-1988) continues to evolve and be modified by researchers and clinicians internationally (Kinnealey, M & Miller, L.J., 1993)*. Sensory integration is widely evidenced to be essential to cognitive development and academic achievement.

My professional interest as a dance researcher is relevant with the understanding that both the proprioceptive and vestibular senses can be categorized under the umbrella term of Kinesthetic – which can be considered to be the overarching ‘sense of movement’.

The importance of teaching and learning through movement and championing movement-based learning strategies within school curriculum is the domain of my guest blogger & author of The Kinesthetic Classroom Mike Kuczala.

I discovered Mike’s work when I set about reviewing the literature for my Master’s Thesis. In actively seeking out movement-based research focused on Early Years development, which is still significantly under researched/unpublished, at that time Mike was engaged as an adjunct professor of graduate education at Gratz College, Melrose Park, PA, involved in supervising practice-based projects evaluating kinesthetic strategies, including some with this age group.

Based on this shared common interest we began and have since maintained a professional dialogue.

As well as the sensory aspects I have just highlighted, Mike discusses the necessity of movement to learning from a variety of perspectives. As well as the sensory aspects I have already discussed, he focuses on:

  • how movement fulfills our basic needs (especially important in the development of the very young) & how it facilitates neural connectivity, multiple processing opportunities & cognition.
  • How repetition is essential in building efficient neural pathways and the notion of implicit (subconscious) learning.
  • How the three learning domains, intellectual, emotional & physical may all be simultaneously addressed through movement strategies.

Each one of these aspects relate to my original and current professional objectives; to highlight the potential for using dance to make a significant positive contribution to the early years curriculum, to evidence previous anecdotal advocacy of the value of dance in this domain, and in using Developmental Dance Movement as a route to enjoyable and active multi-sensory learning. Whatever the baseline of their ability, my students are guided in dance experiences designed specifically to improve sensory integration, to positively affect retention, to open up many more implicit learning & processing opportunities and in addition enhance the motivational climate in which they develop and learn.

I am most grateful to Mike for our continued professional association and to his contribution to this field. There is so much still to achieve and we are both in agreement that our working objectives are still very much in progress!

Click here to read Mike’s blog Building The Kinesthetic Classroom.

*Kinnealey, M., & Miller, L.J. (1993). Sensory Integration/Learning Disabilities. In H.L. Hopkins & H.D. Smith (Eds.), Willard & Spackman’s Occupational Therapy. Philadelphia: J.B. Lipincott Co. (8th Edition) p. 474-489.

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