Carla Hannaford’s Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not all in your Head


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A recent focus on mindfulness and meditative practices have shed light on the important connection between body and mind. Education researchers have explored further, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between physical activity and the learning process. A book that is at the forefront of these conversations is Carla Hannaford’s Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not all in Your Head. Her text explores research in neuroscience, education, and child development to understand how we learn and how movement can help us tap into our full potential.

How Moving Helps us Learn, According to Carla Hannaford

According to Hannaford, movement is essential for our brain’s development and our ability to learn. Learning and thinking occur when we experience new things, use our senses to investigate, and then use these our experiences to better understand our world. Hannaford explains that learning requires movement because the learning process is not fully complete until thoughts are connected to a physical, personal action (like speaking, writing or drawing) that can express the new knowledge. 

“Learning is not all in your head. The active, muscular expression of learning is an important ingredient” (p 99).  Movement also helps the heart and lungs to supply the brain with oxygen, which is essential to optimal brain function.  

Integrating Movement & Learning

Hannaford reminds readers that talking and writing are actually sensory-motor skills that help many people  “anchor thought.” Talking through ideas helps us to organize and further explore our thinking, and the movement of speaking actually helps to solidify thoughts into the brain’s nerve networks. Similarly, the physical movement of writing helps us to make connections among our thoughts. In the classroom, young children can be encouraged to verbally share their thoughts after learning a new idea, and older children can be encouraged to write their ideas down. 

Dramatic or pretend play is a good way for children to learn through talking and movement, as they act out social experiences. When children practice dramatic play as a group, they learn to work together in a team, take-turns, empathize, communicate, and compromise. In dramatic play, children try new approaches and ideas as they pretend to be someone other than themselves. Hannaford shares that “the time between ages two and five is a crucial stage for children’s cognitive development as they learn to process information and expand it into creativity” (p 72). 

About the Author 

Dr. Carla Hannaford is a biologist, author, and educator with more than forty years of classroom experience as both a teacher and a counselor. She has published several books, including Smart Moves, The Dominance Factor, Awakening the Child Heart, and more. To learn more about Hannaford, click here to visit her website. 

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