What Moves Us?

From literally exploring movement across our program to being moved emotionally, and to reflecting on how movement during the spring of 2023 is very timely, this episode stretches the question “what moves us?” to its edges. The episode captures my interpretations of children and educators exploring movement and what led us to generating this question as the title for our art exhibit this year. A link to this episode was posted at the art exhibit for students, faculty, staff, and families to listen to and reflect upon. This episode is intended to model how we can seek out new understandings to everyday observations that then launch us into asking huge questions about how the world works. You might want to brace yourself for some abstract thinking to stay with me for this one, and when you do, I hope it launches you into new ways of thinking about your experiences that move you, too.


Welcome to the Playful Podcast, a podcast for those who are curious about cultivating an ethos towards mutual flourishing, learning, healing, playing, and living well. Here we linger at intersections of learning opportunities, reflections, and moments that transcend the boundaries of education, recreation, or occupation specific practices. I’m your host Kim Barton, a proud early childhood educator looking to harness the interdisciplinary wisdom of all early childhood educators. Welcome to the journey. I’m excited to play and learn along with you.

What moves us? This is a question I’ve been holding for the past few months that has taken me to some interesting places. And it’s caused me to rethink what the question even means and and what it could invite. And so let me just start by saying that wondering about movement is so timely. If we look around, it’s the time of year where the sky is blue again. For the first time in a while, the buds are opening on the trees, there are crocuses popping up, and human beings are outdoors just a little bit more than we were before. We’re catching the first of spring, beautiful sunrises that are happening earlier. There’s warmth in the air, the snow is melting and slipping away, and there’s not just local movement on our speed river. But the rivers of all across Ontario are absorbing all the melting snow, resulting in rivers rising and flowing and moving with such speed. And so it’s a time of year when I feel like there’s change in the air, and I cannot help but notice movement all around me. From children’s explorations to the metaphor of moving seasons. This question just feels like what we’re all experiencing right now. This episode shares several examples of what I’m noticing in terms of movement and how I’m interpreting these noticing things, and how I’m weaving these notice things into a story. And then, as a result of this story, I’m prompting further questions and hopes that as you hear this, you ask questions back. This episode will reveal what led me to generating the title, what moves us for a particular art show that the organization I work at is hosting? And in saying that, this episode is not only for those who typically listen to this podcast, but invites students at the university and faculty and family members to hear some of my reflections. So in saying this, I just want to. Honor that we move together. We stand still together we live, work, play, and love on indigenous land, the Treaty lands of Mississaugas of the credits, the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and Attawandaron Peoples. Guelph, also known as Two Rivers, resides within the dish with one spoon covenant, which has been teaching me to move in collaborative ways and with reciprocity, to be mindful of what it means to be moved. Who is moved, who is taken, which living beings are consumed and who needs to stay, grow and be nurtured or shared more generously? I’m so grateful to be able to continuously learn about what it means to share and move on this area of the world every day.

So with that, I want to start with a bit of a reflection about first noticing movement a few months ago when I was very new to my role. I remember one day I was conducting student observations in a classroom and I noticed that children in one of the classrooms were holding hands and spinning in circles when the song let it go comes on. There was nothing really extraordinary about this observation. The song let it go has been playing in early learning spaces since Frozen first came out, and children dancing in the form of spinning is well documented. Moving to music is a common developmental skill, likely because the inner ear is actually connected to our vestibular system, which many of us know, but it compels us to move to sound. So in these ways, dancing and movement to music is not necessarily what stood out to me initially, but it was the spinning in the circle, and I was just curious, like, was this circle sort of reflective of friendship and sort of social development? Was there something about the song that prompted spinning or circles in some form? I wasn’t really sure. What compelled children to explore rotation? Then one of the educators let me know that children always do that curious, I thought, and worthy of further thought. And then a few days later, an educator from another preschool classroom shared with me that she was noticing one child spinning in circles and was wondering how we could respond. And admittedly, while my initial reaction was to discuss safety and classroom design to limit the spinning. I paused because I remembered my observation from a few days before and was kind of wondering what could we do about spinning if we’re noticing it in multiple classrooms? I wondered what if instead of thinking about health and safety, we think about what is getting in the way of children exploring rotation as the curriculum could we explore rotation? Could we take this up as an invitation to explore rotation? And in what ways is spinning and rotation worthy of our attention and building curriculum around? What if, instead of doing this as a behavior to manage that right in front of us? Is what we could pursue. So I started to ask, what do we know about swimming or rotation or circularity and the effect of gravity on objects in motion? Only then did I start to notice rotation in one more way, through children running in circles in one of the other preschool projects I started to think. Clearly, there’s something about rotation worthy of building curriculum around. What if children are showing us they’re exploring rotation in an embodied way? How reflective of the real world is this rotation is all around us. Metaphorically we’re always experiencing rotation through the seasons, through how we revisit things we thought we knew to see deeper meanings, but also literally we are living on a spinning rock hurtling through space. So how fitting that we explore rotation through our bodies.

So once we became aware of spinning. As a possible concept and experience worthy of curriculum building, we realize that rotation and circularity are a commonplace schema that young children explore. Play schemas are patterns observed in children’s play across cultures and time frames, and it they really just reflect sort of these developmental urges to explore concepts or phenomenon over and over and over again. And this is so fitting because humans actually learn through repetition, as many of us know. So once we were connecting this spinning bodies to play schemas, we consulted a book that discussed play schemas and discovered some ideas that might help children expand exploration of rotation in some new forms. We were able to take the idea of exploring rotation with our bodies to thinking about it through sight, sound, and various materials. So one of the classrooms brought out some turntables and talked about spinning tops, and one of the students actually set up a pendulum experience with some paint in our art studio so that children could explore rotation through suspension. So these are just some of the ways that we were responding to children’s curiosities reflecting their sort of urges and interest to explore rotation, rather than limiting the idea of spinning in pursuit of some predetermined curriculum or other interests. This whole experience was very humbling for me. I was in awe of how the educators brought these ideas to life and instead of strategically thinking about reducing spinning. We embraced this concept together in such interesting ways.

And then I became even more compelled. Because as we were talking about spinning, several of the preschool classrooms were also discussing outer space and planets and how interesting the concept of rotation continues. This really shows me that we were on to something and being curious about spinning, so I chose to interpret the exploration of orbiting planets as an extension of the rotation interest. Could children be curious about how objects are suspended in space? How do planets move? And how do those moving planets defy our understanding of gravity? On Earth, children have learned over and over again by dropping materials or throwing objects that objects are supposed to fall and hit the ground. So outer space might be so compelling. And same with, you know, bubbles and feathers and birds and airplanes, because they defy gravity. So how interesting that children are trying to understand how our universe works in bigger ways than I could have predicted or planned for. Perhaps children are noticing the cycles and spirals that exist everywhere throughout the human experience, and that it is only through this careful attunement of the worlds that us as adults become aware of the questions that they could be asking. And it’s through continuous awareness and curiosity that helps us as adults remember that if it wasn’t for first noticing, spinning and being able to talk about it, that we wouldn’t have got asking such grand questions about the world. And this kind of just reminds me that the role of the educator, in my view lately has been to enact mentorship in the human experience such that we become willing to ask powerful questions and then pursue them with matched tenacity to a So I had noticed rotation, but then. I became not so sure about this rotation exploration because another one of the preschool classrooms that had initially been talking about spinning was now really interested in building towers as high as possible. They were asking educators to build them higher and higher. And they evolved their play from knocking the towers over, which is reflective of the deconstruction place schema, to protecting their stacked towers from falling, which is more reflective of construction, construction and connection place schemas. The children were attaching all kinds of materials, from Lego and clay to boxes, and they even started discussing the use of ladders and stairs to continue building the boxes as high as they could. So this got me wondering about how rotation actually involves movement. And it kind of opened me up a little bit because perhaps it’s not just rotation that’s so compelling, but could I instead expand my perception to start noticing other forms of movement as well? Thinking back on what I’d mentioned about play schemas, I started to realize that movement is actually involved in so many play schemas. Movement is involved in trajectory, throwing objects in, collecting materials, putting them up and placing them in baskets in transporting materials, moving them from one area to another, and combining materials like stacking blocks. And it’s also involved in transforming materials, such as mixing colours or mixing dirt and water. So could these broader concepts of movement be an act of demonstrating? How children are able to affect change on the world? If I start to think quite theoretically, I start wondering about if children really see themselves in the world through moving materials. If they start to have an understanding of their own bodies by being able to tangibly move materials, and if that is how they understand their self actualization and start to feel that sense of agency. What if children are really asking “How can I have an impact here”?

This proved to be such a helpful expansion of thinking because as some of the toddler classrooms were preparing for the art show, they had wanted to showcase months long explorations of colour mixing. And initially, while I had kind of assumed that exploring colour mixing was going to be so separate from movement, I started to reconsider that colour mixing could be part of how toddlers conceptualize physically moving and affecting changes in their worlds, but as one educator said to me, “colour mixing could also be what moves toddlers to explore their worlds”. And it could be more metaphorical ways of moving within the human experience. Toddlerhood is filled with discovery of the self and understanding their ability to say yes and say no, and to run and to figure out jumping. They’re kind of free from these, sort of. Being held so much in infanthood. And I guess there’s a lot of assumptions that I’m saying in that, but I just wonder about toddlerhood being all about understanding the self through movement. And so I started to wonder about mixing colours and stacking translucent colours blocks as a very tangible way to understand the effect of transforming and combining materials. And I think this expands from colour mixing into how we mix other materials as well. So whether we are combining paint colours with our hands, or we’re understanding the melting and mixing of snow and mud and water and ice into slush and all the natural ways that the earth melts and moves and mixes herself. This is such a timely noticing once again, and. And potentially just so reflective of how children are making sense of and asking powerful questions about their worlds.

At this point, I’d like to take a moment just to articulate what a timely realization or potential interpretation that this is. I’ve mentioned a few times that I feel the question of what moves us is being asked at a time of spring coming, and that feels really timely. But I just want to expand because I mentioned at the beginning about how asking the question of what moves us feels so relevant to it being springtime and there being a rush of movement to get outdoors more. And, and I do feel like movement is such an inherent part of the human experience, at least for a large majority of us. But here’s the thing. I think this is reflective of a bigger phenomenon. One study by Sarah Moore and colleagues, conducted in 2020, actually showed how children’s movement within their play was impacted during the showed how children were more sedentary during the time of the study. So I wonder if asking questions about movement can be part of an exploration about this time. We’ve experienced more movement in our program because families are now moving within the walls of the building, whereas before they were having to drop off at the doors. And I also think movement also happens not just all around us, but within our human bodies. I’m kind of running far with this metaphor, so bear with me. But if we think of if I think of my knowledge of how neurons fire, it is the movement of sodium and potassium across the cell walls. And the release of neurotransmitters that propels for their action. I hope I remembered that correctly, but feel free to correct me if I did not. And what if we are just bigger versions of neurons moving, flowing and exchanging energy and materials? Energy…being in motion reminds me of the word emotion. As one Indigenous elder spoke to me in the fall about emotions are just being propelled by energy, and so, perhaps not so surprisingly, I also learned that forward motion during experiences of agitation and stress has a calming effect because it completes the stress cycle. So forward movement, when we’re experiencing that fight, flight or freeze response facilitates our nervous systems to complete that stress response, which historically has been about us moving away from a predator of some kind. And so it’s through this movement that activates the systems to kind of cue our bodies that we have affected change and we have escaped the situation and so when I think about children running and spinning. How regulating might that be for their nervous systems? And if they think of us as adults and us emerging from winter, a time when many of us are more still than normal. Reduce our movements in response to the cold and the additional barriers to getting outdoors. Spring could be a time of exploring movement and building our relationship with movement in ways that not only are reflective of, you know, pandemic as well, but also that can be really life giving and so if you’re a student or a faculty member or a parent listening to this who is also managing many demands or looming deadlines. The idea of taking a walk when you’re able to, or engaging in other kinds of movement or forward motion might not be as toxic positivity-y as it sounds. It might actually really regulate our stress responses. And I guess I just want to add that. To me, this actually makes so much sense when I think of sort of our sensory experience, because I often think about how, you know, movement or how any phenomenon sort of is being processed by our different senses. So if we’re in forward motion, our eyes visually are watching the world go by, our ears are hearing the rush of the world go by. Our breath is moving through our nose and or mouths in different ways. Our breath might change. And we’re feeling the whoosh of the air on our skin as well. And if I expand upon the five senses to include the vestibular system, a proprioceptive systems and interoception, I also can understand how movement is regulating for those systems that help us understand our movement and position in space and our internal systems. And then if I expand one more time and add on sense of adventure, sense of time and sense of wonder. It’s no stretch of my imagination to see the time that move, that movement, is what allows us to take up micro adventures in spinning or running or climbing and that melt away the linear feeling of time and that allow us to engage and move in intuitive ways, compelled by wonder. The final way I’m advocating for movement right now is that movement of breath is also what is so regulating. I’ve just started reading the book Breath. And I’ve had many aha moments recently where I’ve realized that. You know, sometimes in mindfulness practices, we’re sort of told how to breathe or when to breathe, and I like those experiences, but I’ve learned that not everybody does. But often when you ask those individuals what they prefer to do, they might say like, oh, I’d rather run up and down the stairs, or I’d rather do a couple jumping jacks, or I’d rather sing, or I’d rather take a walk. And yet those are all experiences that involve the changing of breath, that taking bigger inhales and longer exhales, or changing breath to be a bit faster perhaps. And so I think it’s this breathwork that can also be the regulating part of movement. If you’ve stayed with me, thank you so much. I just have a few. I have a few additional thoughts on movement before I move to something else. No pun intended. Noticing movement and making decisions with movement in mind is what makes. All of these experiences and notice things pedagogical to me because we interpreted what we noticed and made decisions with our values and children’s interests in mind. We could have talked about reducing spinning. We could have designed the classroom differently. We could have replaced spinning with other behaviors, but that’s instead where we chose to pivot. Because that’s a moment in time where we could have either built curriculum here or we could have moved on and overseen the potential that that experience had for children. And who would have known that just by asking about spinning, we could have started to understand how movement is related to children’s regulation and adults regulation and started asking questions about exploring movement in very layered and complex ways, far beyond just spinning in the classroom. But pandemic restricted movement? The decision to not root ourselves in discipline or academic ideals or behavior guidance, but rather, build a relational knowledge about children and each other and ask what is worthy of being studied here is what allows us to form new knowledge and to consult knowledge from other disciplines to fully expand our own awareness of what could possibly be being explored here. So I talked a lot about movement there. But I just have to go one step further because the next thing I noticed really stumped me.

One of the toddler classrooms were exploring photography and I thought surely photography does not relate to movement.

Or could it? I started to ask myself what about photography involves movement? There was actually movement of the lens, of course, to capture the photo, movement of our hands to hold the camera. But photography seems more about stillness, doesn’t it? More about pausing a moment. What if photography was an exploration of the inverse of movement? Could photography be one way of capturing motion or movement and stopping time? Maybe it’s one way we actually understand movement is by stopping it. This caused me to wonder whether movement is always the answer. What about the pause? What about the stillness, silence, and the calm? What about rooting into the present moment rather than moving away from it? What about noticing what takes my breath away or causes me to stand back and be staggered with awe? I must be careful here, because it is easy to assume that a quiet, still obedient child is the ideal learner. But we cannot assume to know what learning and growing looks like for every human body. And I have to remind myself one more time that this idea of what moves us isn’t always just about physical, tangible, literal movement. It’s also what moves us to explore our world. It’s also about what moves us to experiment. What moves us to question what we think we know about the world, what moves us to try new experiences? What moves us to understand or negotiate our own boundaries, what moves us to express ourselves authentically. What moves us into our sense of wonder, imagination and marvel? What moves us into new possibilities? What moves us to generate new knowledge? What moves us away from misalignment or limitations? What moves us towards our hopes and dreams? What moves us to mobilize our resources and pursue through adversity?

Just some small questions for an average weekday morning. And at this point I really thought I was done interpreting. I had woven together rotation and movement and stopping movements. Only then to notice that printmaking was occurring in one of the classrooms.

Hmm. Printmaking often involves creating a print from a material by either designing the print or the shape from linoleum, or using some other kind of textured material and then adding colour to it like paint and then placing the print on a paper to leave a trace of the print behind. When I when I hear that back. I wonder if this is a blend of everything of motion, of movement, of mixing, of combining, of transforming, taking apart, being left behind. With an immobile snapshot of what the effect of movement had created. Oof. That was probably a stretch of the question what moves us probably more in the literal sense than metaphorical sense. But I just kind of want to explore some final questions and sort of potential avenues for ongoing lines of flight for this inquiry. I’m curious to keep thinking about what new skills and dispositions children are showing us through their movement choices. I’m curious to think about which moves are welcomed in our institutional spaces. Which movements are questions? How do we as a community want to move through spaces such as hallways or entrances or. Outdoor spaces. As students and faculty and parents, how are you experiencing movement? What does movement feel like to each of us? What do different types of movement feel like for each of us? It’s interesting to think that some of us love the thrill. Some of us love to move fast or in big grand gestures or with urgency, and some of us require. A large amount of stillness to really feel regulated. And then I want to play with two other questions. What moves us away from things and what moves us towards some things. When does movement feel empowering, and when does it feel disempowering? Movement without our choice can feel quite disempowering, and there are many groups of humans who’ve experienced movements against their will in strategic or political or oppressive ways. And yet we can also be moved against our will in quite positive ways, through things like profound poetry that catches us off guard, or art that is really compelling, or even powerful emotions. This experience us move move us in our thinking and understanding of the world.

Being moved away from something can signal to us that we are losing something and that grief is here. I’ve done some thinking on grief before, and I often think how it shows up in all its forms. And we can ask ourselves, what do we do with grief? What does it move us to do, and what does it stop us from doing? Grief, I often say, is love and often invites us to mark the move as we leave behind parts of our lives and relationships, or even just winter or phases of How can we mark this? Some children will be moving away from our program soon as they start big school, or they’ll be changing classrooms. And educators might feel this, too. And as students, you might leave behind courses, or a year of your program, or the first year of university. Or your last. How might you mark this move?

Somehow, in a parallel way, moving towards something feels just as interesting and complex. Sometimes moving towards something new can feel generating and exciting, but it can just as easily feel anxiety provoking. How do we mark moves into something new, like a new role or a a new classroom or a new summer job? What are we going to enter into? Some of us might move houses. What kind of welcoming rituals happen? Which which welcoming rituals don’t happen and which ones do we want to happen? Moving towards new things reminds me that as early childhood educators, we are inherently reflective practitioners. We work within a framework of emergent curriculum, so we are always co-learning. We are always evolving our practice as we meet every new group of children, but also every day because children learn and grow so fast that we are constantly learning just alongside them. And this makes me think about how movement is so inherent within our fields and it is one thing that we can actually claim. How can I change? How will I be moved by this? What can I do differently next time? What do I want to leave behind within my practice? What do I want to try that I have never done before? How can we move towards living in a world where we can talk to each other about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what impact it has on our community? Remaining curious about how movement impacts our community here and not assuming to know, I think is what will keep us grounded in this inherent movement and flux and change that comes with working not only in the field of education or the field of care, but specifically early childhood education, which is a interdisciplinary fields that is always learning from. Everything from you know. Astronomy and planets to you know the effect of gravity, colour mixing…like all the things I just named as part of the story of exploring movement, really reflects how we’re not just, you know, we’re not just teaching concepts or the alphabets or how to tie shoes. All of those things have places within our learning journeys as humans. But, in early learning, really we’re fostering children’s dispositions to be lifelong learners and to be able to do things like negotiate effectively across differences, advocate when things don’t feel right, and to take up inquiries in larger ways, like this one I’m attempting to do here. We’re not teaching children just to stand still and be quiet. Sometimes I hear the argument that, well, if we don’t teach children at some point to like, line up and be quiet, then how are they going to behave in the grocery store when they’re older? And I was actually thinking about this earlier today and I thought the point of early learning and childcare is not to prepare children to line up in grocery stores. And my goodness, if that is what we are being driven by. I think we really need to revisit what kind of world we want to live in. Because my hope is that children have a playful, joyful childhood and that they have the skills should they wish to design a world where it’s not lining up in the grocery store that is the most important skill, but it is those abilities to negotiate across differences and to think critically and design in ways that. Have never been designed before. So that was a bit of a tangent back to this idea of moving towards. Am I moving towards or away from what I really want to pursue here with young children and families and my colleagues and the university? And can I have a compass that guides me or that helps me navigate movements where I can move with intention? How do we want to be moved by what we experienced together as a pedagogical leader. My role, I’ve seen it written somewhere that my role is to move practice. So the essence of what I’m sharing here is all these reflections and interpretations and, you know, abstract stretches of this idea of movement to provoke further thought.

I talked a lot about what it means, what I think movement means to children, and what children might be exploring. But how do we bring this idea of exploring movement across the whole human experience? And I guess just to expand upon this too, like this whole episode really is to reflect that this question about spinning was worthy. I often ask myself when reflecting on these moments, why has what I’ve noticed here matter? Sometimes we catch these small glimpses or we have these small niggling inquiries like spinning that openness up to new ways of thinking about it or that, you know, really tug at our curiosity. And that tugging is what can propel us into what I’ve just sort of attempted to describe here. That movement can be explored in so many ways and expanded upon and. You know, woven together with other ideas and whether my interpretations are correct or not is not the point. Bringing this idea of exploring movement to your attention is what was worthy, and you might be moved by this in ways that I never could have intended for or predicted. And perhaps this episode won’t speak to you at all. And that’s really valuable information that might tell you that what is shared here is actually moving you away to what you are pursuing, which is very valuable intel. Perhaps what you’ve heard here feels enlightening, and that’s great too. If it moves you towards something that you’re pursuing, that’s also amazing Intel and I don’t claim to know how this might move you towards whatever big questions you have about the world. But it is within the capturing of what is happening here that I declare something here is worthy. And then it’s through sharing these observations and interpretations and broad theoretical questions that this becomes a provocation for something else to transpire. I’m not the answer holder, I’m just a walking nervous system attempting to interpret what I notice and share it back for all of us to continue to reflect upon and grow from.


A final question for another day might be what is the role of movement in multi species flourishing? But for now that is all the metaphorical power I can harness on this Saturday morning when I’m doing this recording. So thank you for listening. If you’ve made it to this, I don’t know, I’m going to guess it’s a 45 minute mark. I’m so curious to know what moves you. What is it about the world that has you physically moving and traveling to places or? Expanding what you physically do, but also what moves you, what moves you emotionally, what moves you to explore your worlds and to, you know, try on different ideas and you know, allow yourself to generate new possibilities and new ways of being. If you’d like to share any of those with me, please do feel invited to reach out to me on social media. Hey handle is at playful pedagogies. You can also feel kem@playfulpedagogies.ca. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to stay playful and stay curious about something as simple as movement.

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