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Mind-Body Learning in Kids (Lisa Murphy) Transcript

Teacher Tom’s Podcast – Episode 6

Mind-Body Learning in Kids (Lisa Murphy)

Lisa Murphy: One of the best comebacks one time was from a four-year-old who had been in the program for a while and one of the new, I don’t know, I don’t even remember if she was a teacher there or just an observer. And she was like, “Oh my god, the kid’s painting his body.” The kid said, “Don’t worry, he’s washable.”

Teacher Tom Hobson: Hi, I’m Teacher Tom, and welcome to my podcast where we take play seriously. Today, we’re talking about the importance of sensory learning, which is to say learning with all of our senses. In this episode, I talk with the legendary Lisa Murphy, founder and CEO of Ooey Gooey, Inc. where her mission is to assist in the transformation of early childhood education, that is, getting back to play.

She’s the co-host of the Child Care Bar and Grill Podcast. She’s written five books and travels the world, offering workshops for early childhood educators. As the Ooey Gooey Lady, she’s well known for creating full body sensory learning experiences for young children that embrace their need to learn with their entire bodies.

Hi, Lisa. I’m glad you’re here.

Lisa: Nice to see you.

Teacher Tom: Yeah, though it’s been a little while. So you’re one of the world’s leading experts on play-based learning and early childhood and developmentally appropriate practices and all that kind of stuff. But I want to start with the most important question of all, because you’re called sometimes, especially in the past, but you’re often called the Ooey Gooey Lady. And I have a feeling that there’s a good story behind that. I’ve never heard you explain where that name came from.

Lisa: Oh, I thought for sure you knew that story. So the, the moniker of Ooey Gooey and Ooey Gooey Lady came directly out of when I attended the NAEYC conference for your listeners who are familiar, if not, the National Association for the Education of Young Children. And every year, they have an annual conference.

And back when I was a young pup and I saved my pennies and I was doing family childcare, closed my family childcare for a few days and went to Dallas for the NAEYC conference and got there and had no idea how to conference. Like I didn’t know the rules. And for your listeners who are a little older, like me and you, you know, the nineties, there were certain things at a conference that would just make people crazy. Any workshop that had activity ideas and handouts would just make the room go absolutely bonkers. Like you would sit through a bad workshop if you knew the session after it was activities and had handouts, right?

And our younger listeners, you might not get it because there was no internet. There was no QR code. You couldn’t download anything. Like if they didn’t give you a handout, that meant that you had to write everything down. So Thursday morning, there was a session offered that absolutely everybody wanted to get into. And the reason was because the description said that the presenter was going to give you a hundred and one new activity ideas for your sensory tub.

So I’m in line. There’s just teachers everywhere. And I was like, Oh my God; I’m in the back of this line. Clearly this is the session everybody wanted to be in. And I’m like, Oh my God, I got to get in. And they’re like, no, it’s full. I’m like, no, I got to get in. And the lady in front of me looked at me and she’s like, we all want to get in. I said, yeah, but I really got to get in. She looked at me square in the face and said, you’re really in the back. And I was like, this lady is not going to help me solve my problem.

So then I got a good idea. I tapped the lady in front of me on the shoulder again, and I was like, Hey, I got to get in. And I’m so sorry ‘cause my friend totally saved me a seat. She’s there in there waiting. I’m so sorry. I totally forgot. So I beep, beep, excuse me my way into this room that I’m looking for a seat ‘cause I didn’t know nobody in the room, right?

So I’m walking down the aisle, looking for a seat, looking for a seat. I don’t know anybody in the room. And in the front row, there was this lady doing what we used to call the personal space expansion. Like, she had all of her stuff piled up around her. And she said, “I’m saving it for a friend.” I said, “Well, I just got here,” and I sat down next to her. I did not know who she was. She was from Colorado.

And we’re sitting there and we’re chatting. Everybody’s all excited ‘cause we’re going to get a handout. We’re going to get activity ideas for Monday. And all at the same time, we were like, when does this start? And I kid you not, at that exact moment, the side door opened and somebody from NAEYC walked in, she got up on the stage, she stood behind the podium, she grabbed the microphone, looked at all of these people who were waiting for activity ideas. And she said, “Hi, good morning. We don’t know where your speaker is.”

And everybody in the room, like it went silent and the lady, no joke, Tom, from the back yelled, didn’t she ship the handouts? Like that’s all anybody cared about. And at that point, everybody starts getting a little antsy and nervous. And, me again, I don’t know how to conference. So I’m kind of trying to take cues from the environment. Like, what do we do? And the Colorado lady starts packing up her bag. And I was like, what are you doing? And she’s like, well, you know, pick something else, going through the book, what else are we going to do?

And then she’s packing up her bag. I looked at her and I said, you know, I think maybe I could do this. And she looked at me and she said, do what? And I was like, I could get up there and share ideas with everybody. I think that’d be kind of fun, actually. And she stopped packing up her bag and she looked me in the eye and all she said was, “I dare you.”

And so I got up in front of the room and 700 people are all in various stages of leaving, right, going to a second choice option for a seminar session. And I grabbed the microphone and I said, “Hello, good morning. I’m Lisa Murphy.” And I said, “Guys, I was expecting to receive a lot of new activity ideas today. Is that what you guys were expecting?” They’re all yelling, “Yes. Yes.”

I said, “So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to share with you some things that I’ve done and you can write them down. You can share things that you’ve done, holler them out. We’ll all write them down. You can leave, honestly, but if you want to stick around, we’re going to have a sharing session for the next hour.” And with no exaggeration, every single person sat back in their seat.

And for the next hour, I barfed out everything I, at that point, had memorized how to do; how to make clean mud, how to make play doh, how to make flubber and rainbow stew and coffee set. I’m just barfing them all out, and they’re frantically writing everything down. And at the end, they stood up and they clapped and it was pretty awesome.

And this one lady came running down the center aisle. Like she had just been the crazy winner on prices, right? She’s screaming and is rushing the stage screaming. This is the best workshop. I’ve ever been to in my life. And I’m like, “Oh my God, I just made this up, you know?” And in the middle of this beautiful, crazy, chaotic experience, I gave 700 strangers my mailing address.

I don’t know why I would have given them my address, but the only reason I know that I did is that I got letters for six months and every single letter was addressed to Lisa Murphy, the Ooey Gooey Lady.

Teacher Tom: Wow. You know, what you proved right there is something I’ve been saying for a while, is that those of us who work with young children, we are the best improv artists on earth because that’s what you need to do. Because if you’re going to make things relevant, if you’re going to make things meaningful, you’ve got to be ready to say yes and keep adding new stuff and making it better, including their concerns and ideas and then taking it one step further.

Lisa: Yes, yes, yes. It’s not my intention to be saying that everybody who works with young children should take an improv class. But I will say, if you have watched good improv, the reason it’s good is because they keep it going. It might be off the wall, it might be crazy, but the minute you say no, it stops the action.

And just circle it back to early childhood, there are times, let’s be honest, when the action needs to stop. And that’s what I reserve my no for. But a lot of times, if we’re honest with ourselves, we shut stuff down not because somebody is about to get hurt.

Teacher Tom: Right

Lisa: We shut stuff down because we don’t like it. And I think one of the places where you and I are very much on the same page is that we’re looking to get people to go beyond not liking it. I used to tell my staff, I don’t need you to like it. I don’t need you to get it. I don’t need you to understand it. I need you to respect it and make room for it and really start to figure out how to internalize the idea that kids wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t getting something from it.

Teacher Tom: This is why the 700 people went nuts in your very first thing. But I want to kind of like, ‘cause we could talk for hours, right? And we have talked for hours about just all things early childhood. But yeah, we can talk about all kinds of topics, but especially about play and early childhood. So I really wanted to try to kind of focus this a little bit on sensory learning or sensory play.

And you responded by saying, what does that mean to you, Tom? And I replied, okay, well, to me, that means we learn through all of our senses, not just the opposite of yes and the no, but kind of way of teaching the one where we kind of shut things down. And very often in standard schools, that’s the way it goes. And standard schools very often, at least it seems to me that most of the learning that we think of as traditional learning, or when people remember their school experience; they remember learning through their eyes and through their ears primarily.

And the rest of it was sort of secondary or accidental at best. So I guess what I’m kind of thinking is, what are the dangers of just focusing on such a limited array of sensory input in learning, especially for young children?

Lisa: Well, it completely leaves out our movers and our shakers. The reason that some kids were good at traditional elementary school was because they were visually-oriented kids. They like to read, they like to write, they like to look at all those posters. So they just kind of were good at or preferred what school valued, right?

And so the auditories also were able to respond to that didactic verbal, like lecture-based instruction, but they would get in trouble because they were chatty, right, ‘cause they wanted to hear themselves talk. And they wanted to talk with their neighbor and they were the kids in the back of the room who could be talking while the teacher was talking.

And, I mean, while now we think that little Mary Kate is a very good student, but if we really kind of played detective a little bit, maybe Mary Kate just really liked to read and write and like to do neat handwriting and like to fill in the ditto and the worksheets and like that kind of stuff. So was she really a good student or was she just really good at the system that she was already being subjected to.

And then not letting the kids work in small groups, depending on how old you are and where you went to school, that was often frowned upon because we were worried that kids were cheating or not paying attention to their own work. So the visuals and the auditories to some degree were kind of designed to be in that system. They still would get into trouble, whatever.

But when you look at like what we would or what we used to call like our kinesthetic learners who really worse that I got to stand up at my desk, I got to walk around the room; they’re not bad kids. And we know that. And I know you’ve unpacked that in many of your conferences and online summits. They don’t fit into that traditional rigid, controlling system. And unfortunately, we’re then only paying attention to what they’re not doing and our eyes tend to then move away from focusing on what those kids bring to the table.

So I think as anybody who is a self-professed whole children people, right? We’re not just focusing on their brains. We’re not just focusing on their bodies. We’re focusing on all of it. And it’s impossible to fragment and compartmentalize it.

And unfortunately, I think even pushing down into some childcare and preschool, you still get kind of that well, it’s learning time, right? It’s teaching time. It’s circle time. It’s like how do you expect a three year old to not also be using their body? And I just think it’s a very, would I dare say, lazy old school?

Teacher Tom: Well, I think it’s old school. I also think it’s this idea that all learning starts, I think, through some sensory input.

Lisa: Of course.

Teacher Tom: And we focus on our visual and our auditory, but you do a lot, like your workshops, they’re about hands-on learning and you actually put the adults in the position to be hands-on. You know, the clean mud and all that kind of stuff. That’s going to get messy. Is that why some people don’t want to do it? ‘Cause it can get messy.

Lisa: It does. This is a really like multi layered conversation. Does it get messy? Yes. However, when those hands-on opportunities like a sensory tub are available on a more regular basis, they don’t get messy. I think people who are against it, then they said, like, I don’t know. It just gets out of hand. It gets out of hand. A lot of times with all the love in my heart, the reason it gets out of hand is because you only do things like that once every quarter.

So yes, it can get messy. But the more often it’s happening, the less it gets crazy and messy and chaotic because the children trust that it’s going to be there, right? And I call it in my Being Child Centered book, I call it riding the wave, right? You got to ride the wave of novelty and newness.

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: And to kind of turn this a little bit to kind of current events now that we’re out of COVID or out of the main focus of COVID, the rules and the restrictions, of course, by this time have gone by the wayside. And what has come up in workshops over the last six months, in real time, in person session, is a lingering resistance from people who we’re glad that we weren’t using Play Doh and Flubber and the sensory bins during the pandemic.

And now there’s this recalibration, like a lot of the directors who are booking me for gigs and with many people who started working with young children for the very first time during the pandemic, now, all of a sudden, as the restrictions go away, it’s like, Oh, now there’s this whole other area that I have to kind of be mindful of. And if they did not have that kind of experience growing up, it can be tricky to understand why there is value.

But we know that everything starts with the hands. It starts with the touch. We know how important that is and how it reinforces the importance of relationship, especially like the touch piece, right?

Teacher Tom: Well, and it’s the part of what we lose when so much is happening online. I’ve never worked in a classroom that didn’t have a sensory table. And every day, there was something, there was water sometimes, but you know, we would put flaxseed in there. We would put rice in there. We’d put wheat berries in there, all kinds of things. And people would walk in the classroom, the first thing they’d say is, it smells good in here. And people don’t always say that about preschools.

Lisa: No, and what do we know about smell? Smells trigger memories. And so, you walk in and what does your classroom smell like? What does your family child care home smell at the minute you walk in the door? And what smells are ongoing because those smells, as those children grow up, are going to be the triggers that trigger memories of you. I mean, we do a whole deep dive in the playbook and in the play workshop of one of the seven things is make time every day to observe.

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: And what I tell them in the shorthand is go back and do a sensory audit. What do I mean by that? How much organic opportunity do the kids have on a daily basis? And when I say, just to be clarifying here, when I say organic, it means you didn’t plan it. How much organic opportunity do kids have to touch, smell, taste, see, and hear on a daily basis? And it’s not just my five senses week. No, every day.

Teacher Tom: Well, we know those senses all go together, too, right? The thing in your hand also has a fragrance, also has a sound, also has a taste. I mean, when we put– and flaxseed was one of the most popular things we ever put in our sentry table because it’s silky and it’s just beautiful and it’s very fluid.

And always, some child would make sure they put some in their mouth. Now, flaxseed’s not going to hurt you. They didn’t like how it tasted typically. But babies, you know, under three-year-olds, they put everything in their mouth, right? It’s just, it’s one of the most early ways of testing our world. Experience does not come just from our seeing or being told things.

Lisa: No, not at all. And then I want to go out and make sure to embrace our physical therapists and our OTs and our PTs there because of proprioception, right? The sense of where we are in space when they’re climbing; when children are climbing equipment, that sense of where my hand or my foot has to go in order to go up this climbing thing. And that sense of listening to what’s in your gut like the little bit of that spidey sense and becoming comfortable in listening.

Teacher Tom: Oh, yeah. Ed Wong wrote this book called An Immense World. It was a New York Times bestseller and it’s about animal senses; all the other senses in the animal kingdom and things like echolocation and ways to sense the world through vibration. That’s like a spider; an orb spider experiences its entire universe just through vibration. And these are things that maybe we can experience the world. We just don’t focus on those. I mean electromagnetism probably does influence us. We just don’t know about it yet or we don’t see it on a day-to-day basis.

Lisa: Well, yeah, but how do we know? Like some children who are diagnosed maybe with some sensory processing issues or disorders.

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: Who are we to say that maybe it’s not that; they’re just not doing it our way.

Teacher Tom: Exactly.

Lisa: And I think about that a lot, especially when you just said like the echolocation, I was like, how do we know that that’s not how David has experienced and everything?

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: You know, how do we know?

Teacher Tom: Well, in the book, in Ed’s book, he talks about that there are people who are blind who have taught themselves echolocation. They use clicks and they’ve taught themselves without anybody teaching them. So for all we know, when a child is born, they have a lot of these senses and we tend to shut them down and without expanding them without the opportunities and with the limitations we place on children for what is acceptable and what is not. I think about that all the time is that we may be born with a lot more than those five senses and capable.

Lisa: Right? What going to get used? What gets used? What doesn’t get used? Use it or lose it, use it or lose it. What is my environment reinforcing and supporting? And it’s like language. All kids are born, we know this, capable of speaking any language. But then the synapses and the neurons are going to connect in pure and do what needs to be done in order to be effective within that particular environment. So yeah, I would not disagree with that.

Teacher Tom: And art has a special place, kind of a special category of sensory play because we tend to think of it as creating something beautiful. And I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about that. I know that for some people, they may not have really thought about the process versus product and some of those kinds of things. We’d love you to talk about art as a sensory activity.

Lisa: Oh, definitely. I mean, paint has a texture. Finger painting probably is the first experience. And for clarification, in case anybody’s new to me, we were not doing projects with babies, right? No babies are doing an art project to send home. But we would put a bunch of sheets out and butcher paper, perhaps, but usually I would just use sheets and we just squirt it with temper paint and the babies would crawl through and have that sensory experience of feeling that different texture.

And they would put it on their face. There wasn’t enough. Nobody was going to die. It wasn’t like they were hunkering down with a spoon. But that was probably the first one that they got. And I think children have, I believe, reactions to the stuff that they make with their hands and their fingers. And we, you know, it’s a very creative open ended space. So children would be painting with their feet. They’d be painting with their elbows.

One of the best comebacks one time was from a four-year-old who had been in the program for a while. And one of the new, I don’t know, I don’t even remember if she was a teacher there or just an observer and she was like, “Oh my God, the kid’s painting his body.” The kid said, “Don’t worry. He’s washable.” And then just went about their business. They’re not hurting nobody. And look at all that energy that we use up trying to control the kid instead of the environment.

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: But it is the process, not the product. But what does that mean? It means that the process of even just unscrewing the paint and pouring some out and maybe mixing it, maybe using my hands, maybe just mixing it with a spoon, like that in and of itself is worthy. That in and of itself is, I’ve even gone so far lately as to say that it’s enough.

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: That is enough. You know, if that’s what the kid did today was mixed colors, awesome.

Teacher Tom: Yep.

Lisa: And that is not less than the child who then brought those colors to an easel and created something that was able to go home. And I think our profession might need to get a little bit better at articulating that in a more clearer fashion to the parents and the moms and the dads and the grownups and the others that kids go home to because we think that the thing on the fridge is somehow more important.

Teacher Tom: Yeah. One of the greatest inventions I think really is having the pocket cameras. You know, our phones all have cameras on them because– but what I realized is that when a child’s making a piece of art and you walk by and every piece of art seems to go through a period of great beauty. And if you walk by and say, “That’s beautiful,” they’ll look at you and say, “You think that’s beautiful? Wait, do you see this.” And they keep going and keep going until it’s all gray or all brown, until they’ve ripped through the paper, and that’s what you end up sending home.

So that’s why I always say, instead of saying, that’s beautiful, I take a picture. And so at least, those parents who want something on the refrigerator can have the picture to show people. At least their kid, at one point, had that great piece. Because it’s not, like you say, it’s about the process. It’s about getting to a moment of completion because the children often will walk away like satisfied, “I painted right through that piece of paper.”

Lisa: Oh, yeah. We don’t know what’s going on in their head, right? And again, so whatever the child needs it to be, the adults need to be okay with that. And that’s why one of the– this isn’t really off topic, but it’s a little bit more, more heady with the art workshop. So during COVID, I wasn’t able to do online, the hands on sessions, right?

So Ooey Gooey got a little bit of a reprieve for a couple of years and then it’s back out on the road. But during it, Ooey didn’t translate over Zoom is what I’m getting at. It just didn’t. What ended up happening with the creative art workshop was that we were doing now more conversation about what process not product really meant.

So while I wasn’t able to facilitate six tables of hands-on art with the participants, we were able to get to a place, content-wise, philosophically, more developmentally appropriate. We were able to talk about stuff that usually on the road, we skipped over that because everybody wanted to get their hands in the paint.

And what I love is that that has stuck with that workshop as it’s come back out on the road, because again, for 99 different reasons, there are certain conversations that our profession needs to continue having because the people who got it, retire, right? So now we got to go back and be like, okay, everybody, this might be new to you. Let’s unpack what it means. Let’s unpack your reactions to it.

Teacher Tom: And is this why it’s important for– ’cause you know, it’s not just the kids who need to get messy, is it? Isn’t it important for us to work with young children to get messy ourselves sometimes?

Lisa: Okay, I love that question because my initial response is no, because you’re the facilitator.

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: So your job is to be in service to their play and exploration.

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: You know, am I like a Grinch over in the corner, not getting involved? No. That is for them to fill up their own need. And for some of them, it’s, hey, this was awesome. 30 minutes of open ended. Nobody’s telling. I can do what I want with this paint and this glue and these bingo dollars and all that. But for others, it’s very healing because a lot of the younger didn’t get open ended process, oriented art, early childhood experiences. Many of them are reporting to me that they’re not getting creative art, music, finger play songs, classes in college.

So it’s not uncommon to have a 24-year-old, 26-year-old touching flubber for the first time or in clean mud for the first time. So they have to have their own beginning and middle and end before they’re going to be effective facilitators. Otherwise, they’re going to want to get in and have that same experience. And now we’ve got an interesting dynamic shift here. And I would say that then that even ends up hijacking the play experience because now the adult has become at the center and the kids have moved into the orbit and it needs to be the opposite in a preschool child care setting for sure.

Teacher Tom: Got it. That’s totally valid. I totally agree with you. You know, you’ve mentioned clean mud a couple of times. I just want to make sure everybody knows what that is.

Lisa: So clean mud is grated Ivory soap. So I’ll say the ingredients and then I’ll walk you through it really quick. It’ll take a second.

Teacher Tom:  Okay.

Lisa: Grated Ivory soap, toilet paper and warm water.

Teacher Tom:  Okay.

Lisa: So in essence, the way you make it is you grate like with a cheese, a box grater, you grate the Ivory soap and then you get some toilet paper and you mix it all together. There’s no real recipe. Just kind of throw it in until it starts to feel, I tell people it tends to feel like mashed potatoes, like a little bit runnier mashed potatoes. People often ask, does it have to be Ivory? It doesn’t have to be Ivory, but it has to be a softer soap because the children are the ones grading it or we’re giving them popsicle sticks so they’re like kind of carving it.

And to connect back real quick to the process piece, making clean mud is a very open ended process, playful activity. Like there are kids who will just spend all week carving Ivory soap, right? So even they’re celebrating the process like, yes, we’ll eventually make clean mud.

Teacher Tom:  Right.

Lisa: But maybe not through Wednesday, right?

Teacher Tom:  Exactly.

Lisa: And that’s okay.

Teacher Tom: Okay. I do have a question and people have said this to me before. It’s like what? You can’t use food; you’re wasting it. How do you talk to people about when they say that it’s wasteful to play this way?

Lisa: Okay. So I wrote a whole article on this topic. So here’s the reality check. Okay. First of all, it’s not wasting. It might be disrespectful. You want to talk about waste? Let’s look at corporate America, okay? So don’t be telling me that I have too much water and too much toilet paper. That’s a whole other conversation.

If you are truly in an environment where you know for a fact that there is food scarcity, right? Then it would go without saying that I’m not putting beans and rice in the sensory tub. Go without saying like common sense, not a policy would dictate that. But where it goes deeper, like everything does is, do you really know that or are you assuming it because of where your school is located, because of the name on the door?

You know, I’ve facilitated some really interesting conversations. I’m like, well, we’re headstart. And I’m like, but don’t you think that’s a little rude to just assume that because a family is a part of a headstart program that they’re experiencing food scarcity, right? Let’s have these conversations because if it is, then why are you doing it? Because it could be disrespectful and some of our families don’t have access to food. So then what are you doing about that other than just not putting beans and rice in your sensory tub,

Teacher Tom: Right.

Lisa: That’s why this is a very heated conversation. It’s not heated for me, but it will often divide a room. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you use food or not. Here is what I care about. I care very much that every single individual working with young children can clearly articulate the intention behind their decision to do it or not do it.

I’m going to bring all of these things back. All of it comes back to the three questions. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? And who is it for? And if you can’t answer those questions, you are not allowed to continue doing what you’re doing until you can. And that comes up quite a bit. I care that you can talk about why you do or why you don’t and that you’re consistent.

Teacher Tom: Right. Excellent. So, this has been a great conversation. I just wondered, where can people find you, Lisa?

Lisa: O-O-E-Y-G-O-O-E-Y dot com. There’s hundreds of articles up there. Not only can you access the articles there, but you can actually store your own binder right there on my website. I’m really excited about Porch Play Chats that are coming out of International Play Association where we’re spending time talking with play people from around the world. That’s been super exciting.

Teacher Tom: Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It’s been just an exciting conversation. Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa: Thanks, Tom.

Teacher Tom: Wow. What an amazing conversation. All thinking, all learning starts with a sensory experience. Before we can think, we must feel. We must see, smell, hear, or taste. Walt Whitman wrote, “Behold, the body includes and is the meaning, the main concern and includes and is the soul.” Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “We do not belong to those who only get their thought from books or at the prompting of books. It is our custom to think in the open air, walking, leaping, climbing, or dancing on lonesome mountains by preference, or close to the sea, where even the paths become thoughts.”

Educator and author Bell Hooks wrote, “Many of us have accepted the notion that there is a split between the body and the mind. Believing this, individuals enter the classroom to teach as though only the mind is present and not the body.” Hooks is right. In education, we tend to focus all of our attention on the brain. But as anyone who has studied human learning knows, this is a short sighted and ultimately misguided approach, especially when it comes to young children.

It’s quite clear that we learn best when we can move and engage all of our senses. There is plenty of evidence that movement enhances learning. But I expect that self-directed movement creates an exponentially greater enhancement. But it’s more than that. It’s not just the brain that learns. Indeed, our thinking and moving bodies are activated by our sensing body.

One of the world’s leading neuroscientists, Antonio Damasio, tells us that human consciousness does not come from appreciating the outside world, but rather appreciating what’s going on inside of our body. The outside world enters our bodies through our senses, which, in turn, become feelings, which then engaged the rest of our bodies in a two-way conversation with our brains. Several years ago, a fitness instructor approached me with an idea for a new program that he wanted to try out. He had noted that young children tend to move their bodies far more than adults. You know, running rather than walking, climbing, jumping, skipping, dancing.

When an adult walks along a sidewalk, for instance, we tend to, well, walk along the sidewalk. Whereas young children walk along the sidewalk by running up grassy slopes, balancing along curbs, and swinging on low hanging branches. The instructor felt that if he could devise a program of exercise based on the movement of young children, adults would become much fitter in a more natural way.

His ask of me was to allow him to spend an afternoon on the playground just moving with the kids. He was a fit young man, but after about an hour of racing around with the kids, he came to me with a red sweaty face to say he was done. He told me, “That would be too much for any of my clients.” Obviously, all that movement creates physical fitness, but it’s also driven by a child’s natural inclination towards sensory learning.

They are driven to experience the world with their whole bodies, with all of their senses. Academic approaches to learning, as today’s guest Lisa Murphy, the Ooey Gooey Lady, points out, tend to focus only on visual and auditory learning at the expense of, say, kinesthetic learning, or our sense of proprioception, which is the awareness of the body’s position in space while moving, or our sense of equilibrioception, which is our sense of balance, or even nociception, which is the sensory process by which we detect damage to our bodies. That’s a big one for young children.

Lisa Murphy is brilliant and funny. I hope you love our conversation as much as I did. That’s it for this episode of Teacher Tom’s Podcast. Thanks for playing with me. And a great thank you to Lisa Murphy for this amazing conversation. You’ll find out more about Lisa and her work at I should spell that for you. O-O-E-Y-G-O-O-E-Y dot C-O-M. Ad in the show notes, you’ll find out more about her and the link to her website.

I’m Tom Hobson, and you’ve listened to Teacher Tom’s Podcast, Taking Play Seriously. You can find out more about me at That’s T-E-A-C-H-E-R-T-O-M-S-W-O-R-L-D dot C-O-M. Teacher Tom’s Podcast is a part of the Mirasee FM podcast network, which also includes such shows as Course Lab and Just Between Coaches.

Stay tuned for more fun episodes by following us on the Mirasee FM YouTube channel, or your preferred podcast player. If you found today’s insights valuable, take a moment and leave us a starred review. It’ll help us reach more people like you. Again, thanks for playing with me, and I’ll catch you in the next episode.