Do you know what physical experiences babies & young children need?

Catherine Wilks from the JABADAO team is coming to the Baby Bird Café in Oswestry this Thursday evening to chat about why physical experiences are so important for 0-5 year olds. Here she writes about being a Jabadao Practitioner and a mum.....

Putting the body first

Over the last ten years I have been delivering JABADAO Developmental Movement Play courses, designed to create a sea change in the way early years educators think about, support and develop physical play opportunities for 0-5 year olds. Developmental Movement Play is a child-led and play based approach that develops not only the body but the brain.

Since becoming a mum I started to look at this work through new eyes and it was a challenge as so much of what the JABADAO Developmental Movement Play approach offers goes against the current culture for parenting. I found it quite a challenge to support Ruby, my daughter, to live in her body and be as physical as she needs because there is so much out there to stop her.

When I was pregnant I felt very alone planning for a life of physical play as the choices we make as parents get judged. I found it difficult to join in conversations about how to set up a babies room and what things to buy as my values were very different. The emphasis from parenting media, classes and books is to buy stuff, lots and lots of equipment and to contain babies.

My perspective was that Ruby needed to move and it was my responsibility to create that environment. I didn’t want anything to stop her.

We moved house just before Ruby was born and my nesting instinct kicked in to overdrive. When all around me the norm was to buy baby furniture- changing tables, cots, wardrobes and chairs- I set about decorating the ceiling as that was the space Ruby was going to see the most. I put a mirror along the skirting board- the right height for her to look in to as ‘seeing me’ and ‘mirroring movement’ is such a vital part of how our brains develop. And then I put a mattress on the floor. Ruby spent the first 5 months in bed with me, and then she was crawling, so she moved in to her room and on to the mattress.

Containment was not an option when my primary value was that Ruby needed to move. She was free to sleep and move and play when her body needed to.

Getting ready to play

When all around me people were buying bumbos, rockers, bouncers and walkers (resources that keep babies upright and limit movement to one type) I bought rugs, blankets, body balls and a body roll. I bought resources that would support Ruby to get whole body physical play, not just hands. The resources would entice her on to her back and on her tummy, which is where babies need to spend their time- so their bodies can do what it is biologically driven to do.

My sister painted animals around the skirting boards, so Ruby had lots to look at from her perspective on the floor and things to crawl to. I kept the floor clutter free, with enough space for me to lie down with her, so that the world wasn’t going on above her head, it was there with her.

And we’re playing

From day one Ruby was upside down and on her tummy.  Hanging forward over my hand or knee is her position of choice. She sleeps, she starts lip smacking and head bobbing, she gurgles, and opens her eyes to watch the world go by. She is calm and content. Her body goes limp and hangs.

Holding Ruby in this way, and playing with her upside down, from day one, I was often met with ‘watch her little neck’, ‘You’ll make her sick’, ‘I wouldn’t do that, I’d drop them.’

Even though I knew ‘the theory’, I was doing the same as every new parent and muddling through, finding the ways to be with Ruby. Following her lead, and ignoring the voices around me led us to being upside down- so that is where we wallowed.

Most parents will naturally rock babies and children- which is working with the same sensations as being upside down & playing with gravity. Some babies will always indulge in going further than you might think.

When I think about it she has been upside down for the last few months so being up-right all the time must seem strange, why wouldn’t she be happy there!


I think when you are a parent it is so easy to feel bombarded by the feeling that there is a right or wrong way. But our babies and children move- they wriggle and roll and push and pull, they kick and hit and jump and climb. Understanding why and what they are getting out of their physical play experiences stops me worrying about right and wrong- and I focus on what Ruby is telling me.

So I am delivering some open workshops to introduce this approach and I hope you will find the theory interesting, you will recognise stories, it will spark experiences you have had and you will want to look at things differently- maybe even do things differently when you get home.

And then coming soon there will be…

  • A course starting with expectant parents; Theory about the stages of development, how physical play supports sleeping, eating and pooing. Ideas to set up your house ready for physical play, and games to play with your baby.
  • Workshops for parents of 2-5 year olds about what children’s bodies need as their independence grows, they physicality changes and their readiness for school - how movement supports the ability to cope with the structure of a school day, reading, writing and communication
  • Movement and play sessions for parents and children together