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Speaking Through Body Language

Kathleen Tuite


Tuesday 02 July 2019

Early Childhood Ireland has been working in collaboration with universities in Spain, Italy, Denmark, UK and Croatia on the Horizon 2020 Child-Centred Diversity EU Project. We have developed three online modules which present and discuss child-centredness from a number of perspectives.  These modules are free, and are available to educators, students and those with an interest in early learning and care. You can access the modules by clicking here and then signing up to the Plymouth open learning platform. These modules are free and there is no commitment from users, other than checking them out and using them as a way to reflect on the concept of child-centredness.  

One of the modules from our Danish partners, discusses child-centredness from an embodied perspective. Psychologists are increasingly interested in embodiment as a perspective, based on the assumption that thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are grounded in bodily interaction with the environment. This module draws your attention to the implicit bodily communications that define the interactions between adults and children in ELC settings. The module facilitates reflections upon these interactions and how they may enable or constrain child-centredness.

Through videos and questions, the module encourages you to reflect upon your practice, it highlights that pedagogical practice is not only what you say, but also includes what you actually do, what you express with your body as you interact with children ‘embodiment’. One of the videos in this module uses the ‘still face experiment’ (you will see this video when you log on to the module platform), to show how the adult’s bodily expressions directly influence the way a child makes sense of the situation. You are asked to reflect on ‘what happened when the Mother didn’t respond to the child?  We can see that the ‘child started to reach for the mother’ and the child becomes frustrated with no response from the mother. In this module it highlights that studies show that babies become distressed when their previously very engaging mother suddenly sits very still and puts on an immobile, neutral face (Tronick et al. 1979). You can read more about this when you log on to the platform.

Research in this area, tells us that people can’t help 'speaking' to each other through body language such as gesticulations and expressions. However, we usually don’t pay much attention to this, even though it has a great influence on how we get along together. Children tend to be particularly sensitive and receptive to the body language of adults, because adults' expressions and actions hold a certain authority/power. Children learn a lot about what things, practices or events should be valued and desired by observing the way adults manage their world. This is really important to consider when we work with young children.

Furthermore, the affective strength and energy that adults invest in their activities seem crucial to whether children become attracted to these or not. This suggests that emotions should not primarily be localized within a single individual but should rather be conceived as a ‘phenomenon’, that emerge from the space of body-to-body transactions between interacting partners (Fuchs, 2016). Thus, influencing the affective dimension of the pedagogical environment through bodily expressions and actions seems to be an important practice by which educators create environments that comfort, engage and inspire children. This is further explained throughout the module.

For early learning and care educators, this module encourages you to reflect on your practice, to think about creating environments that comfort, engage and inspire children. How important it is to be aware of the way you meet the child, considering both the verbal and non-verbal interaction.

Please do visit Plymouth open learning platform and explore the module. We’d love to hear what you think!


Kathleen Tuite holds an MA in Early Childhood Studies and works for Early Childhood Ireland as an Early Childhood Specialist. Kathleen’s work includes offering advice, support and mentoring to Early Years Educators, teachers and students. Using the National Frameworks, Kathleen offers training across all areas of Early Years Practice and last year became a Marte Meo Colleague Trainer.

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