Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence in the Early Childhood Classroom
An early childhood curriculum that truly understands and respects bodily/kinesthetic intelligence follows four guiding principles for integrating the intelligence into the classroom.
- Bodily/kinesthetic intelligence deserves the same curricular attention that other intelligences receive (Gardner, 1993).
- The curriculum must address the various modalities that bodily/kinesthetic intelligence presents.
- Research about the brain confirms the importance and significance of bodily/kinesthetic development (Jensen, 2001).
- Bodily/kinesthetic intelligence develops in stages.
Traditionally, schools have addressed bodily intelligence through recess, physical education, and participation in sports programs (Gardner, 1993). The Council on Physical Education for Children (COPEC) strongly supports daily physical education and recess. Unfortunately daily participation in these activities is quite limited in contemporary American school life and many schools are not following the COPEC guidelines. In some programs, recess has been eliminated to provide more instructional time. Physical education might only occur once a week. In addition, organized sports have become very stressful and demanding for children. In many programs there is little time, if any, provided for creative use of the body, for children to create games or projects, or engage in movement without the intervention or direction of an adult. While schools have addressed the purely physical aspects of movement, the bodily realm also includes emotional expression, role-play, games, and bodily expression of thoughts, ideas, and information.
Preschool programs have traditionally shown a little more respect for bodily intelligence. Many preschool teachers realize there is a need for children to move and they provide for this need. However, there are many half-day programs that do not provide for physical experiences. These programs claim to focus on the academic life of the preschooler and claim to prepare him for school life. Many times though, physical movement in early childhood programs is provided for children in order to prevent restlessness, to give teachers a break, and for children to blow off steam (Gallahue, 1999).
There are programs that justify their choice to withdraw recess and limit physical education because of curricular constraints. Some programs choose to focus on academics and provide more time for such experiences as reading and math. That leads to a debatable issue: Is it even necessary to address recess and physical education in school? The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion states that physical education reduces the chance of dying from heart disease, decreases colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It maintains healthy development of muscles, bones, and joints. Physical education reduces anxiety and relieves some symptoms of depression. Physical exercise is helpful in maintaining a healthy weight. Movement also has been shown to be an effective treatment in ADHD (Hannaford, 1995). These reasons support physical movement.
Early childhood and elementary programs that address physical movement and development generally approach bodily intelligence through recess, outdoor play, and physical education.
Recess/Outdoor Play Schools have traditionally provided recess after lunch, consisting of approximately twenty to thirty minutes of supervised free play outdoors. Children usually engage in motor tasks, movement games, or pick-up sports. Adults supervise but usually do not interfere in children’s play during recess. Preschool programs typically provided outdoor play, which is similar to recess. Preschool children engage in motor tasks and movement games during this time. Adults supervise and facilitate, but generally try not to interfere.
To maximize the benefits of recess/outdoor play, there needs to be ample time available. Recess should be long enough for children to be able to choose an activity, make up the rules for it, and fully participate in it. At least forty-five minutes would be needed in order for children to do this. Preschool children benefit from thirty to forty-five minutes of outdoor play daily. Preschool children need time to choose outdoor play experiences, take care of animals and insects, observe, and engage in games. By providing ample time, bodily/kinesthetic intelligence can develop; recess should not be limited to physical exercise and movement.
Children have less and less time to engage in child-directed play outdoors. Schools have the responsibility of addressing this time of the day and providing for it fully. Schools will benefit by having children who: have improved brain function; are better able to attend to tasks and teacher-directed experiences; are able to negotiate conflicts and socialize; and simply feel better. Recess should take place daily and occur outside except in extreme weather conditions. If recess cannot be taken outside, it must be accommodated for inside.
Physical Education Physical education must be offered daily. Physical education can take place in a gym, outside, in the classroom, or other areas of the school. In preschools, preschool teachers generally take responsibility for physical education. In elementary schools, physical education is usually conducted by a physical education teacher in a gym. For children in the early childhood period of development, education and care are best provided by one teacher or a pair of teachers with whom the child forms a relationship. Young children generally do not have the opportunity to form a relationship with a physical education teacher; therefore, physical education is best provided by the child’s teacher. This is not intended to downplay the role of a physical education teacher. A physical education teacher can work with the child’s teacher, explaining safety and instructing teachers on specific skills and physical experiences. It is important to have a physical education specialist on staff or to consult with one to plan appropriate bodily experiences. The physical education specialist can demonstrate safe ways for children to exercise and move. Physical education teachers can also be brought into the classroom as “masters” to show children physical skills that relate to the content of the classroom. Other masters such as dancers, gymnasts, athletes, and carpenters can be brought in as well to share their talents, skills, and to do demonstrations. Teachers and/or parents may also have bodily strengths they wish to share and help children develop. Children can explore music, poetry, dance, stories, and community roles through physical movement.
In addition to the attention that bodily/kinesthetic intelligence deserves in recess and physical education, bodily/kinesthetic deserves attention and awareness in all other aspects of the curriculum. There are a number of ways to address and recognize bodily/kinesthetic intelligence in the classroom: through a designated gross-motor room or gym, outdoor play, activities, and rest time.
Gross-Motor Room/Gym Preschools may have a room dedicated to gross-motor play. Schools often have a gym available for gross-motor play. If a space is not available, it is important to create a space large enough for gross-motor play indoors. Shelves can be put on wheels so they can quickly be pushed aside. Tables and chairs can also be moved to one side of the room. Young children should have access to materials and equipment that allow them to engage in gross-motor play. Slides, climbing equipment, tricycles, streamers, large hollow blocks, balls, basketball hoops, jump ropes, and hopscotch areas allow children to engage in gross-motor play. The number of choices available for gross-motor play will depend upon the space available. When space is limited, the choices should be limited as well. The materials and focus of the gross-motor/gym room can be changed and can vary between child-initiated, adult-initiated, and collaborative experiences. Children can use the gross-motor room for interpretative dance, storytelling, creative movement, whole-group or small-group games, sports play, role-play, or free choice play.
Outdoor Play During outdoor play, children can develop bodily intelligence. The outdoors provides a larger area for gross-motor movements and an opportunity to interact with nature on a physical level. Children can respond physically to the wind, weather changes, animals, and insects. They can imitate animal and insect movements, run with the wind, and use their body to respond to changing weather cues.
Kinesthetic intelligence can be developed through the manipulation of tools used to investigate the natural world and through the manipulation, physical classification, and investigation of natural objects. The tools may include magnifying glasses, microscopes, tweezers, bug containers, shovels, and telescopes.
Adult-Directed Activities Each day children should participate in adult-directed learning activities. The learning activities can involve any of the intelligences. A teacher can choose to do specific activities that work on bodily/kinesthetic development. He might teach the children a physical game, involve them in a sport, or encourage the children to jump rope. The teacher might have another adult come in to the classroom to teach dance steps, art techniques, or specific physical skills. The children can participate in interpretative or cultural dance. Young children can be encouraged to move and respond physically to music, color, light, and sound. Music can be played and children can move their bodies any way they like (while respecting their body boundaries and the body boundaries of others). The teacher may take the children on a hike or walk around the neighborhood or invite them to interpret the weather physically. Children can float like a snowflake, pretend to shovel, or march around in deep snow. There are a variety of activities that can specifically address bodily/kinesthetic intelligence that would be appropriate during activity time.
Rest Time Rest time does not seem as if it would provide any type of physical benefit. However, managing impulses is a critical skill in bodily/kinesthetic development. Rest time and relaxation allows children to calm their bodies, become aware of their body boundaries, and helps them to develop impulse control.
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