Why can’t you just sit still?

Maria Lyons

Her answer, in the simplest of terms, is that moving is the child’s natural way of being and without it there can be no learning and no development. Too often in modern life efforts are made to restrict children’s playful movement, when what they need is the encouragement and guidance to be active in appropriate ways.

What is appropriate movement? This is where things get complicated. According to van Dort, selecting suitable games and activities depends on paying close attention to the age, the stage of development and the individual abilities of each child. Drawing on her thirty years’ experience as a child physiotherapist, van Dort offers a combination of theory, illustrative case studies, problem solving advice and general tips for parents wishing to support their children’s healthy development in what she acknowledges can be a challenging social and educational environment.

Divided into three parts, the book introduces some basic concepts in sensorimotor development, covering the developmental milestones in infancy, learning to write, the senses, and the significance of the connection between movement and learning at all stages from babyhood to adolescence and beyond. The longest section is devoted to presenting the anthroposophical understanding of the 12 senses. In particular, van Dort discusses the four bodily senses of touch, life, movement and balance and how they relate to practical life decisions we make for and with our children, for instance what toys they are given, what sports they take up or what musical instruments they play. In this context she also touches on the themes of sensory overstimulation and hyperactivity, two major concerns for both families and professionals in a world of pervasive digital technology and ever-increasing screen addiction.

Van Dort’s book is informative and pragmatic and the tone is warm and calmly reassuring. Above all she emphasizes that unconditional love must be the foundation of all parent-child interaction and that each child develops at their own pace and time. While movement is essential, so is rest and the task is to nurture harmony and rhythm in everyday life. Van Dort is careful in her criticism of conventional wisdom and norms, gently pointing out some common parenting mistakes and providing insights into the child’s experience as a key to both understanding their behavior and modifying our own. One senses that she has a great deal more to say on this subject and it is a shame that the volume is so slim. As an accessible parenting guide ‘bite-size’ tips and anecdotes woven together with some primary concepts is perfectly fitting, yet the book introduces rather too many complex and diverse theories and terminologies for its style and length. I look forward to a follow-on publication in which the author’s clearly extensive knowledge and valuable experience is presented in a more in-depth and comprehensive way.

Evelien van Dort, Why don’t children sit still? A Parent’s Guide to Healthy Movement and Play in Child Development, Floris Books 2018, ISBN 978-178250-514-3, Pb, 120pp, £7.99