When teaching children I sometimes need everyone to be still.
Being still, “freezing,” or not moving is a skill. I am sure I have said to a child at some point while teaching, “Stop moving” or “don’t move.” And I am equally certain that a majority of the requests were met with more wiggling. How can we as teachers or parents encourage stillness in another way?
Not moving requires action
When a person “freezes,” he or she is using a great amount of muscle and brain power. I tell my students that they are in charge of their bodies. Their brain has the power to tell their bodies what to do, and their muscles have the ability to make this happen. Instead of NOT doing, I ask them to DO.
“Do something amazing while you stop moving, have superpower control over your body. Connect your mind and body together to “freeze” and become as still as a statue.”
Explore what it means to not move
I confide in them that this is a very difficult task. When you stop moving, gravity wants to take over. Your muscles have to fight gravity in order to keep still. This means your muscles are working just as hard as if you were doing jumping jacks or push-ups.
To illustrate this, I ask my students to become aware of how their body FEELS as it works against gravity. I ask them to put their hands above their heads and then to be still. I remind them, “you are in charge of your body,” “your brain tells your body what to do,” and then we wait. I commend them on how hard their body and mind is working to keep their body still. Then I ask “how do your arms feel?” Their arms will feel tired, and might even feel sore from working so hard. I tell them the muscles in their arms are fighting gravity; gravity wants to pull them down. The longer their arm muscles resist gravity, the stronger they become! Adults might call this an isometric exercise.
Show them they have the power to not move
I ask my students “What is the muscles job?” I ask them to tap on their upper arm or bicep muscle and then I direct them to bend their arm at the elbow a few times. “The muscle made the arm move by contracting and lengthening. Muscles are in charge of moving bones and keeping bones still. The more we activate our muscles the stronger they get!”
I encourage my students to use their brain as well as their muscles, and ask them to stand very still on one foot. At first the kids get very silly and fall down a lot. They might even say that they have a hard time balancing. Then I give them control. I tell them, “You are in charge of your body. If you feel you are falling, tell your brain to tell your body to put your foot down.” The result is amazing. Not only do the kids balance longer but they quietly put their foot down if they are falling and try again. Permission and personal control are powerful things.
Your brain tells the muscles in your body to hold your bones very still. Your body fights gravity using your muscles. With each second that you are still, your body is working. And the longer you hold your body still the stronger your muscles will become. All of this is ultimately controlled by your brain, giving the command. The ownership and control is up to the child.
Engage Body & Mind
Children are not in charge of many aspects of their lives. The power of controlling their bodies is a very important one. And instead of telling a child “don’t move,” try something empowering and fun that will help them develop important body skills. Give them permission to use all the muscles in their body at once to accomplish stillness. Explain to the children in your life how hard this actually is, how much brain and muscle power this takes, and how much they are doing by not doing. They’ll want to impress you with their amazing not moving abilities!
How do you encourage your students to be still?
Can you think of other ways to reinforce the idea of having control over one’s own body?
Stacey Pepper Schwartz is the Founder and Director of Leaping Legs Creative Movement Programs. The focus of Leaping Legs is to help people regardless of age, experience or ability, become educated about their movement potential, develop kinesthetic awareness, and become more physically fit and healthy together as a family, and community. Leaping Legs promotes its goal through its original Up Down & All Around DVD, teacher training, and school and community workshops. The Up Down & All Around DVD received Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products 2009 Award and 10 Best Active Products 2009 Award. The DVD has also been featured in many magazines including Dance Teacher and Dance Retailer News. In its August 2009 issue, Dance Teacher called the DVD “an essential tool for teaching the fundamentals of movement with daily adult-child interactions.” Come visit www.leapinglegs.com to learn more about Stacey and her programs.