A Discrete Discussion

Fun Palaces
Fun Palaces

Last month found me with megaphone in hand delivering the science of movement education on a public soapbox as part of the national Fun Palaces event.

MfEA Presentation
MfEA Presentation

In addition to my appearance at Fun Palaces last month, I also presented at the annual MEfA conference. As you can see I have a rather unusual presentation style. Here, I’m presenting an integral part of my discussion highlighting the educational benefits of floor based learning.

Later, during the panel discussion it occurred to me that in the EYFS music, movement and dance all seem to be lumped together. Ofsted also appear not to discriminate that each has its own discrete discipline. This leads to a significant lack of clarity and contributes to some confusion amongst practitioners. It makes them less able to make informed choices about the developmental benefits of each and hence choose optimal learning experiences.

I was asked by one practitioner if I could make suggestions as to how to improve on children’s attention to the regular visits from a pianist that they currently have in their setting. The value of exposure to high quality musical experiences is unquestionable and there are obviously a number of approaches by which this can be nurtured.

However, I wondered:

Why continue with a session that the children were not engaging with?

The response was:

“because the children need to have ‘music and movement’ as part of the curriculum.”

Along with Ofsted, we’re all able to recognise the undeniable synergy of the disciplines; music, movement and dance together can produce effects greater than the sum of their inherent natures but they do not from a developmental perspective, fulfil the same purpose! There was obviously no movement focus in the aforementioned session hence, of great concern to me is that this circumstance highlighted firstly the thinking that one discipline might somehow be a reasonable substitute for the other, and secondly in the early years sector there is a need to address the concept that these discrete disciplines should be considered in a more informed way.

Just a few weeks prior, whilst presenting an introductory session, another practitioner expressed disappointment that music making was not part of the content; MovementWorks clearly describes its programme as Developmental Dance Movement. The children thoroughly enjoyed the session and when I asked why the music making aspect was queried I was told because they wanted to comply with the requirements of Ofsted! Our approach certainly does this (read who’s on our executive team), however as we don’t use any instruments the process is less obvious to discern in a single session.

The musical component of Movementworks sessions is considered with as much pedagogical integrity as the movement content. It includes unaccompanied singing to develop discrimination of musical sound and gives the children opportunity to match sounds by call and response techniques, corresponding also to the pattern in human communication. A variety of musical genres are introduced through the programme, ranging from classical repertoire, traditional children’s songs, folk music, world music and original contemporary music all by recognized composers. Musical choices support the movement activity to it’s fullest in terms of exposure to timbre, rhythm, objective quality both compositional and emotional and may also contribute to the development of musical taste.

The lack of dance and movement research in early years education means that music research is more developed but some of this research is itself misleading, as much of the significant and long lasting benefits to cognitive development are associated with rhythmical awareness and the movement aspects associated with learning to play an instrument. Gerry and colleagues active music class study (2012) is an example.

The paper cites Schellenberg’s (2004) findings of increased IQ levels in six year olds following a year of music training; results relate to the physical aspects of learning to play. Gerry and colleagues (2012, p. 399) methodology also “emphasises movement”, therefore music and movement appear to be correlated by assumption but not distinguished in research terms.

Developing physical mastery is the very thing that the MovementWorks programme is specifically designed to do. The relevant theoretical underpinning is that physical development is the essential baseline for school readiness. Physical development also heavily influences the other prime areas of learning; rhythmical awareness is evidenced as important for speech and language development (Holliman, 2008).

Improving the strength, function and integration of all the senses is the uppermost prerogative for global understanding, it is literally how we make sense of the world ultimately how we develop focus self-control. We don’t need to use shakers, bells, drums or sticks to develop these skills, as our bodies are our first tools.

Conversely, the continual refinement of the senses will assist later if the child wishes to learn to play any instrument, take formal dance classes, ride a bike and most importantly learn to read, write and develop the capacity for higher order thinking.

I wish a more discrete understanding to be cultivated and that more curriculum time was given to these important developmental aspects. As a discipline focused on sensory integration Developmental Dance Movement has a fundamental part to play in improving attainment outcomes. MovementWorks aims to contribute significantly to the gaps in the curriculum and in the research.

We have publications and CPD opportunities already in next year’s diary so watch this space!

Fun Palaces Vido
Click here to watch the Fun Palaces video!


  • Gerry, D., Unrau, A. & Trainau, L. 2012. Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social development. Developmental Science, 15(3), 398-402.
  • Holliman et al, 2008. Sensitivity to speech rhythm explains individual differences in reading ability independently of phonological awareness. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 26 (3) 357-367.

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