Have you ever had that feeling where you just have to get up and move around? Maybe you have been at your desk all day or driving in your car, perhaps just sitting in a chair too long. All of these can restrict your movement. And after a while of this even the most passive of us begin to feel a little confined and a bit frustrated. Children can experience that same frustration.
For some of us, our earliest memories as children were of being confined to a playpen. When everything and everyone around us was moving freely about, we were restrained from participating by those four meshed walls. And as adults we may now find ourselves unwittingly restricting the movement and growth of our own children in a similar manner. We may not realize that it is through movement and interaction with his environment that a child develops his view of his surroundings, his relationships with others, indeed, his own personality. That is, a child constructs his outlook of his world through his interaction within it. Therefore, by restricting a child’s access to his surroundings, by whatever means available, we are actually slowing his development.
Movement and vision are two of the primary components of early learning. Through observation and physical interaction infants and toddlers learn about themselves, their environment, and the relationship between the two. To foster this development, a room or corner can be prepared for the child in which he can move about freely, yet safely. This environment should be one in which he can see and get to all things. It is also one in which everything he has access to is appropriate and safe for his development level.
The importance of being able to move about freely is seen early in a child’s development. Consider the process of learning to walk. Infants learn to walk partly as a natural process of their development and partly as a result of their seeing other children and adults walking around them. They learn purposeful movement (and language) by imitating the actions of other people. They do so because they have a genuine desire to be like them. That is, the younger child wants to be like the older child who, in turn, wants to be like the adult.
Freedom of movement, then, is vital in early growth because it allows the child the opportunity not only to copy the actions of others but also to discover and interact with his surroundings. Therefore, a child should be exposed to activities that are appropriate to his level of development and that are designed to promote purposeful movement. As with an older child, an infant or toddler is stimulated by the activity and the result that can be achieved from this activity.
It is, then, the satisfaction that the child receives from meeting an inner desire to accomplish a goal, be it walking, crawling, or picking up a ball that drives his activity. By restraining his movement, through restrictive clothing or confining furniture, a child at a very young age learns that movement, or activity, is bad. He may become overly passive, learning from experience that his environment does not respond to his movement. Or, he may learn to be overly aggressive, when he is free to move about, as he compensates for inactivity and attempts to interact with the world around him. By allowing a child to learn about his environment first hand, we enable him to foster a positive sense of self and develop a constructive outlook on life from the very earliest years.