Author: Katrina Pratt
Movement and Games Teacher and StoryCamp Director
I teach Movement and Games at Shepherd Valley Waldorf School. This has been an incredible privilege and an amazing opportunity. I went to school for anthropology with an emphasis in evolutionary biology. I also studied dance and circus art. Often, steeped in heady academic rhetoric, it was the movement that helped me understand complicated theories.
During February break, I attended a movement conference hosted by Edmund Knight and Valerie Baadh. One of the most valuable elements of having gone to the movement conference was the opportunity to look in depth and detail at how a child’s mind and emotions are reflected and held in his or her body.
Now a similar process has become formative as I teach. The exercise in California – embodying the gesture of a student – leads to a deeper understanding of that child and what she needs. A vignette from the conference:
Sun pours in through the open door along with the smell of afternoon ocean. Orlando stands before me, tightens his body and purses his lips. His chest comes forward and his elbows bend. Feet are slightly pigeon- toed, head cocked to one side.
I mimic the gesture, imitating the way Orlando embodies his third-grade student. I feel attitude arise as I assume the posture – body rigid, rebellious. I have built up a physical defense. Deep down, I feel a fear about learning something new.
The conference helped us focus on what gesture could soften the rigidity of this third grader, help invite her out of this defiance? Often it is through the felt experience of movement, that real understanding is shared. Teaching is not unilateral. It is dynamic and dialectic. In a physical education class, we are speaking and listening through the language of movement. When I first began here, the question I would ask myself is what can I teach them? As I grow into this position, there has been a humble shift: what do I want them to learn?
The games we play during our movement classes, in addition to being fun and physical, are chosen to reflect that last question.
1. A game becomes the chance to listen, observe and assess. The movement does not lie. When a child is running or catching or learning a handstand, she is not hiding.
2. A game can encourage a breaking through of fixed patterns, it can be the chance for the rigid 9-year old who is afraid to learn something new, to find courage and become the hero. It is a metaphorical tool to move through archetypal experiences.
3. A game is a place for healthy risk-taking. Children are exposed to conscious risks. This experience is one that that they will inevitably seek out. Children want to grow and they do this through pushing boundaries – both their own as well as social boundaries. Games create a safe structure for this kind of experimentation.
So as much as I am teaching, I am learning and listening. I am embodying the child’s gesture to better understand him or her. As I develop the curriculum for our summer camp, I incorporate the same richness of movement and physicality. We learn through playing games and building tree houses, through obstacle courses, circus skills, observing the movement of stars and through creating collaborative performances. It is in offering children skill-building activities, listening to their stories – both in their bodies and from their experiences – that we help them to discover and express themselves in new ways. “The long journey to reveal or discover ourselves and our life’s tasks, is our life story; we can look upon games as the spaces or punctuation in this story, that give the text meaning.” – Kim Brooking- Payne
Whether it is in a PE class, in a game, in the crafting of a summer performance, Waldorf offers this to children: the opportunity to learn through movement, through play and risk-taking. What do we want them to learn? A loving belonging in their bodies, to their environment, and within their community.