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Embodied Learning for Young People

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Q. How do we learn about ourselves and connect to each other through movement?

Q. When we move in different ways does this create different ways of thinking and feeling too?

We have been exploring these questions in a local primary school.

What we have discovered is that hunching over our shoulders, dragging our feet and collapsing in our centre can make us feel: sad, bored and depressed. But when we put a bounce in our step, make eye contact with each other and smile we can feel: happy, energetic and funny.

Photo credit: Graeme Roger.

It is the start of a session and we have just gone round the circle sharing a word and gesture for how we are feeling this morning. Tired, energetic, fuzzy, fidgety and many more tireds are shared.

“Why is everyone so tired?”  One group member asks.

Late night texting, screens and bedtime routines are reported.

“It takes me an hour to get to sleep” one young person shares. After we do the 5-finger breathing technique she says she will try it before she goes to bed this week to see if it can help.

When I wrote my application to Findhorn Bay Arts for a Youth Arts Small Grant (YSAG) I imagined I would work with a local primary school to explore a creative movement approach to learning topics and themes with a P6 year group (10–11-year-olds).

Another piece of the programme would be to create a safe space for these young people to share their experiences of the pandemic.

Initial conversations with the Head Teacher indicated that what the young people would further benefit from would be to expand their emotional literacy and learn tools for self-regulation.

Working with a colleague Mhari Baxter, also a Dance Movement Therapist, we evolved the programme design as we went, paying close attention to the voices of the young people to determine how best to engage their interest, energy and invite in their experiences.

Within the sessions we asked the young people to reflect on the usefulness of breathing techniques, yoga poses and other mindfulness exercises in their daily lives.

We became movement researchers exploring how different ways of moving made us feel, see and imagine.

We connected to ourselves and each other through shape-making, trying on power poses and mirroring each other’s movements.

We explored props, parachutes, ribbon sticks, bamboo canes to connect us together.

Photo credit: Graeme Roger

We shared how we were feeling, made talking sticks, offered stories of the pandemic and hopes for the future.

We discovered that everyone liked the lights going off and relaxing on their yoga mats in the darkness listening to music.

There were many discoveries.

Overall, there were significant shifts observed in the young people who participated in the Embodied Learning Programme (ELP).

Their teacher noted a growth in the children’s confidence, emotional vocabulary, and a capacity to apply different regulation strategies, including to calm themselves and transition easier into new activities in the classroom.

From the young people’s perspective in a written evaluation top scores were given to skills building in Being Creative, Relaxation, and Having Fun. Next up were Learning About Each Other, Focusing, Listening, Breathing, Dance and Being Yourself and Just As You Are.

Invited to consider the impact of ELP in their daily lives the young people wrote about its usefulness in supporting sleep, listening and focus in the classroom, and how to become aware of their breath when they are upset.

They further spoke to finding peace, energy, enjoyment in resting and, one of my favourite comments from a young person was….

“I can be who I am, as I am”.

I feel honoured to have had this opportunity to get to know and work with this group of young people. I am grateful to the head teacher, the class teacher and teaching assistants for their willingness to host this pilot programme. Also, to my colleague Mhari Baxter for evolving and shaping ELP with me. To Rosalyn Carruthers of Active Schools for assisting me to find the school. To Findhorn Bay Arts/Creative Scotland and the Common Thread Group for funding.

I am in the process of identifying a new school/s to work with as part of a Combine to Create Residency. What I am interested in exploring within this residency is how an approach of creativity and embodied learning, would be of further benefit and useful to young people, teachers, and the community of a school.

To further this conversation, on any level, please email ruby.worth@gmail.com.

About the Author

Ruby Worth is a creative practitioner who works across the forms of dance, movement, theatre, education and therapy.

Ruby is also a teacher and a registered dance movement psychotherapist, graduating from Dartington College of Arts and holding an MSc in Dance Movement Psychotherapy with Distinction from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

She has practiced in community/professional arts settings and within the health/social care and education sectors for almost thirty years.

Ruby is also a member of the Combine to Create Collective.

You can find out more about the Youth Arts Small Grants Scheme for Moray on the project page.

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