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Moving to Learn and Learning to Move: A Phenomenological Exploration of Children's Climbing with an Interdisciplinary Movement Consciousness

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A phenomenological study aimed at exploring the process of becoming physically educated with an interdisciplinary movement consciousness was conducted with the intention of understanding how basic motions, such as reaching and stretching, experienced in kinetic–kinaesthetic discovery may deepen a primordial, Merleau-Pontian connection to the world. A JungleSport climbing-based program with a series of vertical challenges framed the context of this inquiry informed by the overarching question of “What is it like to become physically educated in a way that invites an expanded movement consciousness, from the rudiments of movement function to the somatics of flow?” Implications of this inquiry support an animate curriculum and pedagogical model that purports a simple yet profound notion: that one must move to learn.
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Moving to Learn and Learning
to Move: A Phenomenological
Exploration of Children's Climbing
with an Interdisciplinary Movement
Consciousness
Rebecca J. Lloyd a
a University of Ottawa
Available online: 14 Feb 2012
To cite this article: Rebecca J. Lloyd (2012): Moving to Learn and Learning to Move: A
Phenomenological Exploration of Children's Climbing with an Interdisciplinary Movement
Consciousness, The Humanistic Psychologist, 40:1, 23-37
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08873267.2012.643683
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ARTICLES
Moving to Learn and Learning to Move
A Phenomenological Exploration of Children’s Climbing
with an Interdisciplinary Movement Consciousness
Rebecca J. Lloyd
University of Ottawa
A phenomenological study aimed at exploring the process of becoming physically educated with an
interdisciplinary movement consciousness was conducted with the intention of understanding how
basic motions, such as reaching and stretching, experienced in kinetic–kinaesthetic discovery may
deepen a primordial, Merleau-Pontian connection to the world. A JungleSport climbing-based
program with a series of vertical challenges framed the context of this inquiry informed by the over-
arching question of ‘‘What is it like to become physically educated in a way that invites an expanded
movement consciousness, from the rudiments of movement function to the somatics of flow?’’
Implications of this inquiry support an animate curriculum and pedagogical model that purports a
simple yet profound notion: that one must move to learn.
If I were a monkey I would climb higher and faster .... I wish I were a monkey so I wouldn’t be
afraid. (Grade 5 student)
Climbing rekindles the joyfulness, spontaneity and trust in the world which children first experience
on the climbing frame in the park. Experiencing the natural world through climbing is a child-like
reawakening to those now dim and distant feelings for one’s place in the world. (Smith, 2002,
pp. 7–8)
How natural is it for children to climb? Are they not born into the world with grip reflexes ready
to cling to their mothers for dear life should the need arise? An image of the primate within
surfaces, an infant monkey traversing the bounding landscape intertwined in soft filament
I would like to thank and acknowledge the funding support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
(SSHRC) for this research project.
Correspondence should be addressed to Rebecca J. Lloyd, University of Ottawa, 145 Jean-Jacques Lussier Street,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 6N5. E-mail: rlloyd@uottawa.ca
The Humanistic Psychologist, 40: 23–37, 2012
Copyright #Division 32 (Humanistic Psychology) of the American Psychological Association
ISSN: 0887-3267 print/1547-3333 online
DOI: 10.1080/08873267.2012.643683
Downloaded by [Rebecca Lloyd] at 09:12 16 February 2012
extensions of maternal flesh. Although my boys never experienced a cling without my reciprocal
embrace of support, they exuded what Stephen Smith (2002) described as the ‘‘joyfulness, spon-
taneity and trust in the world which children first experience’’ (p. 7) in their free climbs of the
diaper change table, a platform three times their height as they would take delight in reaching,
wiggling, and rolling their way to the top. The couch, kitchen chairs, and table were also sites for
athletic feats in which I would marvel. No fear existed in their motile explorations, just delight in
exploring the world through movement. My boys thus exuded a chiasmic connection to the
‘‘fundamental landscape ...the domain where the first affirmations of existence transpire’’
(Smith, 2002, p. 7) accessible through and within a primordial motility, what Sheets-Johnstone
(1999) articulated as the primacy of movement. But, alas, children are not always encouraged to
experience the world in such a way.
‘‘Get down from there. Time out!’’ my son’s teacher remarks with concern as she responds to
his natural inclination to stand, rather than sit, on his chair. Within the first two weeks of
kindergarten, Otis experienced more than Foucault’s disciplinary gaze (1973=1963), rather, a
complete synaesthetic disruption of the world as he knew it. Movement was now something
to be controlled by the ringing of bells, sequestered by space, organized by discipline, and, most
importantly, safe. No longer encouraged to explore, move, and be moved by the natural world
(Abram, 2010), a body–world dissonance takes hold in the way he and other students within the
school walls are educated physically. One can imagine then that the natural tendency for a child
to climb has the potential to be schooled out, as in forgotten. The ‘‘primordial world that the
child trusts’’ (Smith, 2002, p. 8), a world to be experienced through movement has a distinct
probability of becoming palpably out of reach, leading to perceptions of the Grade 5 student
who has disconnected from the primate that lives within the Merleau-Pontian (1964=1968) uni-
fied fold of elemental flesh. He, like many other students interviewed in this study, wished he
could be more like a monkey so that he could ‘‘climb faster and higher’’ without being ‘‘afraid.’’
What leads a child to feel that his movements lack in strength and agility when compared to a
monkey? Are we not born with the same disposition to swing and climb? Ingold (2004) provided
a convincing argument that we have not lost an anatomical endowment to climb, a ‘‘prehensile
power’’ that Darwin observed in the way ‘‘savages’’ use their feet for example ‘‘in their manner
of climbing trees, and of using them in other ways’’ (p. 77). Ingold (2004) theorized that our loss
of motility has more to do with the ‘‘onward march of civilization’’ (p. 318) in that we are pro-
gressively constraining the ways in which we chiasmically move and are moved by the world.
Something as simple as the invention of shoes, for example, ‘‘products of the ever more versatile
human hand, imprison the foot, constricting its freedom of movement and blunting its sense of
touch’’ (p. 319). Such a constraint has caused the foot to ‘‘progressively withdraw from the
sphere of operation of the intellect, [in] that it has regressed to the status of a merely mechanical
apparatus’’ (pp. 318–319).
The constraints of the shoe, the layers of cushion intended for protection and support, provide
an interesting metaphor, a microcosm if you will, for understanding the macrocosm for the ways
in which the socially constructed discipline of physical education limits mobility. David Kirk
(2010) provided critical context for the discipline of physical education and its artificiality where
movement is taught in ways that are abstracted from their natural contexts through an ‘‘authori-
tarian pedagogy of command–response’’ (p. 95). He traced present day decontextualized drills
and exercises to the initial curriculum model of physical-education-as gymnastics that reigned
from the mid-1800s to the 1930s. Although the model shifted to include games and sports in
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the 1940s with an attempt to be more child-centred with a ‘‘looser form of power over the body,
it nevertheless remains enmeshed in a process of schooling bodies’’ (p. 95).
Attempts to disrupt the isolated-drill approach to sport instruction emerged between the 1960s
and 1980s with recommendations to broaden the spectrum of teaching styles (Mosston, 1966)
and to teach skills within the context of a game (Bunker & Thorpe, 1986) to promote
divergent and strategic thinking, yet little more than a dent has been made despite recent links
that such approaches have to social constructivist (Butler & McCahan, 2005) and complexity
(Light, 2005) learning theories. Thus, a preference for teaching movement in a way that
diminishes problem solving and strategizing by decontextualizing the maturation of movement
has created a pedagogical paradigm of ‘‘physical education-as-sport-techniques’’ (Kirk, 2010,
p. 42). Within this paradigm, the body, like Ingold’s (2004) foot, has become a Descartian mech-
anical apparatus, one that can be best understood by the scientization of movement (Corbin &
McKenzie, 2008). The attention of a physical education teacher is thus directed to the mechan-
istic breakdown of movement the body performs where learning is narrowed to the process of
acquiring sport-specific techniques, that if perfected, may be applied to a game (Rink, 2006).
As debates that revolve around the nature of skill continue to rage, from its purposeful dimin-
ishment in the emergence of health-related fitness programming (Cheung, Chow, & Parfitt, 2008;
Harris, 2010; Kulinna, McCaughtry, Martin, Cothran, & Faust, 2008; Martin, McCaughtry,
Hodges-Kulinna, & Cothran, 2008; McCaughtry, Oliver, Dillon & Martin, 2008; Overdorf,
2005; Plowman, et al., 2006; Welk, 2006) or its abstraction from the game (Butler & Griffin,
2010), it seems to me that a broader, perhaps more relevant question has been overlooked.
Why, I wonder, are we not critically looking at the dissonance between body and world that
emerges from the artificiality of fitness programming or the contrived nature of games them-
selves? For the socially constructed learning environment for both fitness (Gintis, 2007) and
games pedagogy (Kirk, 2010) is both linear and perceptually flat. Such a constraint, Simone
de Beauvoir (1949=1952) theorized, is worth critiquing as the forming of movement through
‘‘specialization and obedience to artificial rules’’ in a gym or on a playing field does not encour-
age children ‘‘to venture, to extend the limits of the possible’’ (p. 330).
Recognizing that we cannot ever depart from our past (Kirk, 2010), an interdisciplinary
approach that extends conceptions of the dominant outer body focus of ‘‘physical education-as-
sport-techniques’’ (p. 42) to also include sensations (Lloyd, 2011) and emotional qualities of
movement (e.g., Lloyd & Smith, 2010) is worth exploring. Specifically, an inquiry that questions
what it might be like to be physically educated in a way that invites an expanded movement con-
sciousness informed by the disciplines of sport pedagogy, sport psychology and existential philo-
sophy (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Lloyd & Smith, 2009; Merleau-Ponty, 1964=1968) situated
within an activity such as climbing has the potential to loosen the laces of the socially constructed
shoe of physical education and thus ‘‘reawaken ...those now dim and distant feelings for one’s
[rightful] place’’ (Smith, 2002, pp. 7–8) as an animate being in an animate world (Abram, 2010).
A PHENOMENOLOGICAL APPROACH TO EXPLORING MOVEMENT
CONSCIOUSNESS IN CHILDREN’S CLIMBING
To explore the possibilities of reawakening a primacy of movement (Sheets-Johnstone, 1999)
through the act of climbing, it seems only fitting that a phenomenological approach is adopted,
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as it is a mode of inquiry based on ‘‘re-achieving a direct and primitive contact with the world’’
(Merleau-Ponty, 1945=1962, p. vii). Inspired by van Manen’s (1997) human science action
sensitive phenomenology, motion-sensitive phenomenology (Lloyd & Smith, 2006) best suits
the gathering and analysis of phenomenological data as it brings a purposeful attention to bodily
motility. Vivid textual descriptions of children climbing will thus be generated with the intention
of evoking an ‘‘attentiveness, wherein our bodily motility brings about a physical communion
with others’’ (Lloyd & Smith, 2006, p. 299) and a deeper understanding of what it might be like
to become physically active and educated with an expanded movement consciousness.
Context
The JungleSport program, designed with an intention to reacquaint school-aged children with
their natural tendency to experience the world beyond the horizontal constraints of a sport-
and game-based physical education pedagogy, provides a purposeful (van Manen, 1997) context
for exploring children’s climbing. The JungleSport program can simply be described as a series of
vertical challenges, obstacle courses, zip lines, and bouldering walls (see www.JungleSport.ca).
Framed as a transportable three to five program within the Canadian provinces of Ontario and
Quebec and in the cities of Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, standardized levels of perceived risks
and challenges have been developed for kindergarten to Grade 3; Grades 4 to 6; Grades 7 and 8; as
well as high school students.
Participants
Participants of this study include health and physical education (HPE) teachers and students
from five schools in the Ottawa-Gatineau region of Canada, who booked the JungleSport pro-
gram of their own accord. Within each school, a particular class was selected under the guidance
of the school principal to produce a sample that spans Grades 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9. Four of the five
teachers identified themselves as HPE specialists. The Head Instructor of the JungleSport
program also agreed to participate in the study. Due to page limitations, this article will hone
in on data gathered from the Grade 1 and Grade 9 classes.
Sources of Information
Several sources of information frame the gathering of phenomenological data, namely, (a)
researcher orientation to climbing by experiencing the phenomenon first hand (Finlay, 2009;
van Manen, 1997), (b) close phenomenological observation of children climbing (Abram,
2010; Smith, 1997; van Manen, 1997), (c) journal and creative writing gathered by students
who experienced climbing (Hourigan, 2009; Nilges, 2004; van Manen, 1997), and (d) individual
as well as group interviews with video recall (Ryba, 2007). Note that the group interview will be
included to explore more fully what will be gathered from observation and student journaling.
Thus, an opportunity to attune to the phenomenon from various perspectives (Davidson, 2004)
and ‘‘a vantage point to [better understand a child’s] being in the world’’ (Ryba, 2007, p. 345)
is afforded.
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MOTION-SENSITIVE DESCRIPTIONS OF CHILDREN CLIMBING
The Feat of Crisscrossing Feet
Today I watch Grade 1 students experience JungleSport for the first time. Two rope bridges
spanning the length of the rectangular climbing structure are set up two feet from the floor with
support offered by a chest height rope, encased by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping that spins if
not stabilized by an opposable grip. Each corner has a climbing wall with multicolored holds
above and below a red line, painted approximately six feet from the ground. As the children
enter the gym, their eyes glow. The sheer presence of a steel structure of this magnitude is cause
for excitement. Their teacher provides context for their reaction. She explains:
This is definitely an inner city school .... So for our kids this is pretty spectacular for them. They’ve
never done this before and may never [climb] outside of school .... We have students here who
[aren’t taken to playgrounds]. They don’t know how to swing on a swing, ...so having the exposure
to be able to do something like this is pretty exciting. (Grade 1 teacher)
Given the students’ mouth-dropping expressions of awe, I am taken aback by their com-
pliance in sitting quietly and listening to the instruction that is mostly to do with not passing
the red line. They put on their helmets in an orderly fashion and choose a place to begin the
rectangular circuit.
Kevin (pseudonym), a small-boned boy, somewhat shorter than his classmates, climbs beside
Amy (pseudonym). They don’t talk to each other. Rather, they just experience the equipment
side-by-side. Kevin makes his way across the rope bridge by side-stepping with precision and
caution. His eyes look to where he wants his hands and feet to go. His focus is steady. His mouth
is closed, not clenched, in a Mona Lisa like smile as he hugs himself toward the chest-height
PVC piping. One hand slides out to the side followed by one foot. They remain in place while
the trailing hand and foot close the gap. A predictable rhythm emerges: open, close, open close.
Feet and hands always meet together before the leading hand and foot traverse once more.
Amy, although right behind Kevin, experiences a very different motile pathway. Her trailing
foot crosses her lead leg, creating a spiral through her entire torso and upper body. Wondering if
it was a precarious moment of exploration, I prolong my phenomenological gaze. Within
moments she leans back and lets her head dangle. She pulls her torso toward and away from
the PVC piping and in no way seems to be constrained by the linearity of the rope bridge. When
the wake of Kevin’s lateral side-stepping creates enough space for her to take another step, her
arms cross this time adding yet another dimension to her fluid exploration. Not motivated by
speed in that she does not get off the structure to overtake Kevin, she seems to make the
most of hanging out as she hangs back and continues to move in various ways on and with
the structure.
Michael, the head instructor, provides context for Amy’s journey on the rope. When asked to
describe climbers of varying abilities he explains:
[If a child has] good coordination between hands and feet ...they’ll cross their hands or feet to get to
another hold and then uncross them to get to the next one. A lot of the time they’ll stay low, below
their arms; they’re not going to actually scrunch their arms in, using a lot of their weight on their
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arms and tiring their muscles out .... They’ll hang back or hang below the activity as they traverse
across. They’re always going to find a way to relax on the activity ...and they’re going to have a
blast. (Michael, head instructor)
If a child is struggling, by contrast, Michael says, ‘‘You’ll see them just scramble, hands and
feet everywhere. They’ll just try to grab, desperately grab something ...without looking, hoping
that it will hold.’’
Although Kevin’s climb is anything but a scramble, as he is very focused on where he places
his hands and feet, there is a remarkable difference in the motile and expressive quality of his
predictable, step-by-side-step climb when compared to Amy’s traverse. By the fourth lap, how-
ever, his controlled movements begin to loosen. I see his torso beginning to dangle slightly and
hang back. His soft smile progressively widens as his linear world opens to include back and
forth wave-like laps of a steadily surging enthusiasm. Then it happens, a moment of transform-
ation. One foot crosses the other. More than a fluke, he repeats this diagonal exploration two
more times before the whistle is blown.
Moving to Learn
Watching Kevin’s movements mature gives a sense of what it might be like to learn in and
through exploratory action. His transformation of crossing a foot has an organic, unfolding qual-
ity. The essence of lateral movement was there from the beginning but the tension in holding his
torso close to the chest-supportive piping was visible. There is something distinctly human in
holding on to an upright stance, one of composure, assurance but in maintaining such an orien-
tation of body in the world, the intention to remain upright becomes uptight. Such a tension,
passing from the opposable grip, to the forearms, biceps, back, and slight elevation of the
shoulders makes its way down to the controlled openings and closing of Kevin’s legs and feet.
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1999) described this tension as a vitality affect, an emotional quality
ever present within each and every one of our movements.
As Kevin continues to climb, however, a noticeable shift in the amplitude, tension, and
emotional projection of his movements becomes apparent. His jaw opens and widens in an
expanding smile and he begins to rock back and forth in wave-like laps of enthusiasm. Such
motions have nothing to do with efficiency or technique, rather they exude a monkey-like qual-
ity, what Merleau-Ponty (1964=1968) articulated as a ‘‘man-animality intertwining’’ (p. 274) of
consciousness, a more-than-human nature. And in experiencing such joyful action, his moment
of transformation happens, his feat of crossing feet, which morphs his upright–uptight linear
postural comportment to that of an animate, spiralling and what Emilie Conrad (2007) would
describe as a fluid being.
From Dancing on the Court to Dancing on the Wall
Chad is one of the first Grade 9 boys to leave the change room. He turns his back from the mass-
ive rectangular steel frame that has been set up in his gym that supports 60 fixed lines, a cargo
net, rock walls, and a tight rope bridge. No time for awe and wonder. Rather, he is drawn to a
stray basketball left by Adam (pseudonym), one of the JungleSport instructors who decided to
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shoot hoops during his lunch hour. Once his fingers touch the ball, a fluid dance of agility and
grace emerge. The ball passes under, between, and around his legs as he dribbles and dodges
Adam’s attempts to intercept and gain possession. His concave stance of protection extends
in a fluid jump shot. Swish. They play until the head instructor, Michael, blows the whistle
and commands full attention. The basketball jock not only stands still, he stands back in that
he detaches from the rest of the time he spends in the gym.
Had he not been recommended to me to closely observe by his physical education teacher, he
would have soon blended in with the other students who were walking around and self-selecting
their activity stations, such as fixed lines or rock walls. But in following his movements closely,
I see a boy who was described to me as an avid athlete, not physically engaged. His friends
climb. He watches. He does not take a turn.
My attention drifts to Kelsey, who instantly gravitates to the wall. She attaches her harness
to the top rope system and smiles at her friend who is ready to walk back and support her
weight. A curiosity for exploring hand and foot holds soon emerges. Far from linear, Kelsey
appears to be dancing on the wall as she finds moments of precarious balance. The inside edge
of her foot presses into the wall and it articulates in such a way that the ball of her foot is able
to push down into the hold, a push that also enables a propulsion upward. Her free leg opens
like a frog. Her hips stay close to the wall as her other foot delves into the next hold. Her arm
reaches up and slightly over to the side as her wrist circumducts so that her fingers are able to
feel their way into their next grip. Torso spirals, extensions and foot propulsion with outside
and inside edges morph from one graceful position into the next. Periodically, though, she
stops. She turns away from the wall and makes eye contact with her partner who is doing
her job of taking the slack and walking backward. Seemingly assured, Kelsey reestablishes
connection with the wall and continues to experience a variety of wall-hugging manoeuvres
in her ascent.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Chad shifting his stance from one of standing back to step-
ping toward. Chad attaches his harness to the carabiners on the top rope system. A friend who
seems to both worship and joke around with him gets ready to support his climb. Chad reaches
for a hold on the rock wall, then another and another. His feet slip and scramble to find a
balanced spot to support his weight. His profile gives the impression he is climbing a ladder.
His torso is strong, fixed. His hands reach and his feet power a linear ascent. Within moments
he is at the top.
Learning to Move
Although Kelsey tentatively paused every now and then, the finesse she exuded in her dance-like
movements as she purposefully propelled and stretched herself up the wall in an endless variety
of spiralling hip openings and crossings revealed a natural tendency to move in response to the
vertical terrain. Michael, the head instructor, categorizes climbers like Kelsey, as technical.
Climbers who simply power themselves up the wall, like Chad may be thought of as physical.
Michael further explains:
Physical climbers power their way up [and] rely on their physical strength to get up the [wall] ....
Technical climbers use their body to their best advantage ...keeping their hips close to the
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wall, turning their body sideways to have a better reach for the holes. Always extending. (Michael,
head instructor).
Kelsey, within the context of a group interview, describes how she was able to transfer the
bodily awareness she acquired from doing ballet to the extensions she made on the wall. She
was aware of the need to stretch out of her pauses as they afforded an opportunity for fear to
take hold. She bridged a somatic connection between dance and climbing by referring to a
specific example of how she feels in an arabesque, a one-legged balance with outstretched arms
and feet.
In an arabesque [a seemingly still balance] your leg is [always] reaching away from the core of your
body to [balance] so every part of your body is still moving and still flowing. But if you’re frozen on
the wall it’s more of a frozen fear type of thing and you’re not really moving; you’re just scared ....
If you’re on a wall and you keep thinking about stretching [like in an arabesque] you’ll get to the top
without even realizing it. (Grade 9 girl).
What Kelsey described, an ability to move oneself out of fear and into the flow of movement,
is quite profound. Lynn Hill, among the greatest rock climbers of all time, expands upon the
essence of experiencing mobility in the loom of morbidity:
Knowing that I could easily fall off at any moment, I had faith that I could make it if only I kept
moving. So instead of stopping in the middle of the roof to clip into a key piece of protection, I
risked it and kept climbing. (Hill & Child, 2002, p. 244)
What is it I wonder that cultivates a sense of knowing, a sense of trust in the primacy
of movement? Although Chad performed full body extensions as a basketball left his fingertips
in his jump shots, I wonder why his experience of a stretch did not transfer so readily from the
court to the wall as his limbs shortened in his scamper. Note that such an ability to move in fluid
extensions in the vertical world is not limited to those who have prior experience in dance.
Michael recalls the climb of a Grade 9 boy who moved with strength and flow.
I had one student, ...I saw him on the cave wall and he was a natural .... It was in him ....We
didn’t have to show him the moves; he actually went by how he felt. And this is a big thing in rock
climbing, ...how you feel creates how you move .... He would cross his arms over, which is one of
the technical moves that good rock climbers do but people who are not used to rock climbing place
their climb like a ladder. (Michael, head instructor)
Although climbing might be more accessible for some, rather than others, I would like to
think that a climb beyond the way one might linearly climb a ladder is ‘‘in’’ a student like Chad.
Perhaps in the repositioning of our stance we might wonder what might need loosening for a
primacy of movement living within a man-animality fold of worldly flesh (Merleau-Ponty,
1964=1968) to emerge? A first step might be to acknowledge the noose of the socially con-
structed constraints experienced in becoming physically educated. Chad’s physical education
teacher, Mr. Maxwell (pseudonym) provides context. For the most part, his physical education
class consists of traditional sports such as basketball, volleyball, or even dodgeball, where a few
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students dominate. The reason he introduces climbing is to appease students who do not excel in
team sports. He explains,
It [makes it] an even playing field .... It helps some of the kids who are less inclined to be athle-
tic ...to come out of their shell .... Some of them will look at it in the first couple of days and
[think], ‘‘I can never do that.’’ But then when they accomplish it, they feel better about [themselves].
(Grade 9 teacher)
I wonder though, if an athlete like Chad might also emerge from the same shell that protects
and perpetuates motions deemed athletic? Could a star athlete let go of his usual feelings of
domination and step on his turf on unfamiliar terms? Might he also develop a Merleau-Pontian
(1964=1968) sense of ‘‘I can?’’ One might postulate in a cautionary tone, ‘‘Perhaps.’’
Readiness to Move: The Realm of Movement Possibilities
To become proficient in climbing, one must intertwine more than technique and physical strength,
it involves a complex development of ‘‘skill’’ that Eric Ho¨rst (2003) described as ‘‘very sensitive
and specific to the infinite variations in our ‘playing field’ ’’ (p. 8). He went on to explain that
‘‘climbing movements may be similar from one climb to the next but the actual moves feel dif-
ferent due to variations in rock type, angle and frictional properties’’ (p. 8). Although indoor rock
climbing walls may give the impression that a climber should master a route through repetition,
Ho¨rst (2003) recommended that climbers engage in variable practice by ‘‘switching to another
section of wall and perform[ing ...] move[s] at different angle[s]’’ (p. 28).
What Ho¨rst (2003) was describing in relation to basketball is what it might be like to play on
an uneven field where the bounce of a ball results in an infinite array of possibilities in trajectory.
In such a natural world that includes undulations and protrusions, a preplanned play becomes
unpredictable. One might conclude that in climbing, one enters a realm of movement possibility
and with that a motile sense of freedom.
Simone de Beauvoir (1949=1952), critical of the sport physical education model that domi-
nated France in the 1940s, provided further contrast between the artificial way movement is con-
trived and formed by grounded, rule-bound games and what might be experienced in climbing. To
her, games exude a ‘‘marginal feature of life’’ (p. 330) compared to what might be experienced in
‘‘an unpremeditated climb [une escalade impre´vue]’’ (p. 330). By unpremeditated, one can infer
that de Beauvoir was referring to a motile experience indicative of Csikszentmihalyi’s (2000)
flow, a psychological theory that exudes a joyful, existential, somaesthetic
1
consciousness
(Shusterman, 2008; Lloyd, 2011; Lloyd & Smith, 2009) where thought is not separated from
movement but living within the primal nature of the movements themselves (Sheets-Johnstone,
1999).
1
Etymologically rooted to soma, a Greek term Hanna (1988) related to the ‘‘living body’’ and the ‘‘self-sensing,
internalized perception of oneself’’ (p. 20), a somaesthetic consciousness not only kinaesthetically senses movement from
an inner sense (Heller-Roazen, 2007), it is also aesthetically formed by a chiasmic intertwining with the flesh of the world
(Abram, 2010; Merleau-Ponty, 1964=1968). When experienced, a somaesthetic consciousness invokes an existential
feeling of oneness, what Csikszentmihalyi (1988, 2000) described as a flow experience that energetically intertwines
the person, the motion (Conrad, 2007; Sheets-Johnstone, 1999; Shusterman, 2008), others and the world at large
(Merleau-Ponty, 1964=1968).
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Lynn Hill, as she described one of her climbs in southern France, fleshed out a sense of flow
in an animate unfolding of each of her steps. Such moments kept her on her toes, so to speak, as
there is no opportunity to switch off and perform disconnected, repetitive machine-like motion.
She expressed how her
basic sequence was repeated foot after foot, yet, ...no two moves were alike. That is part of the
beauty of rock climbing: no two moves are ever the same. That rule applies to all climbs, whether
easy or hard, because the rock holds infinite variations and possibilities. (Hill & Child, 2002, pp. 5–6)
Dianna Chisholm (2008) expanded upon the ‘‘momentum of flow’’ (p. 25) that enables Hill
to climb in a way that appears as if she is dancing up extreme vertical terrain. Hill and Child
(2002) recalled from one of her free climbs on El Capitan, ‘‘I invented a wild tango of smears
with my feet, tenuous stems, back steps and cross steps, pay backs and arm bars, and pinches and
palming maneuvers’’ (p. 237). Chisholm (2008) noted that such a ‘‘flow entails choreographing
the push=pull forces of full-body torsion with agility, speed, and rhythm,’’ a quality Chisholm
described as a ‘‘technique’’ compared to a climber who ‘‘muscle[s] through’’ (p. 25).
Such variations of bodily position, effort, force, timing and overall quality are often experi-
enced within what Merleau-Ponty described (1964=1968) as a prereflective consciousness. To
engage in such a dance with and in the world is to ‘‘form movement spontaneously’’ in that
‘‘something which never before was, something which will never be again, thus something
that ...exists only in the here and now of its creation’’ (Sheets-Johnstone, 1999, pp. 484–485).
Perhaps, then, Kelsey’s ability to dance on the wall has less to do with a transfer of dance tech-
nique or skill, per se, and more to do with a receptivity to depart from that which is pre-rehearsed
and embrace the unknown, the possible, a readiness to move on and with the wall.
Heidegger (1927=1999a) described this readiness to apprehend movement in a way that
merges with equipment (such as a rock wall) as a ‘‘readiness-to-hand’’ (p. 98). Through the
example of learning to hammer and form a presence or a sense of life or being in the motion
of hammering, he asserted, ‘‘The less we stare at the hammer-Thing [in this case the wall],
and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it
become’’ (p. 98). Heidegger further unpacked the difference between standing back to learn
versus moving to learn by explaining,
No matter how sharply we just look [Nu-noch-hinsehen] at the ‘‘outward appearances’’
[‘‘Aussehen’’] of Things in whatever form this takes, we cannot discover anything ready-to-hand.
If we look at Things just ‘theoretically,’ we can get along without understanding readiness-to-hand.
But when we deal with them by using them and manipulating them, this activity is not a blind one; it
has its own kind of sight, by which manipulation is guided. (p. 98)
Although there is something palpably assessable in Heidegger’s theorizing, a sense of readi-
ness to form movement through a primordial relationship with an object or morsel of the world
in which one grasps, when one considers the action of climbing, it seems as if this readiness is
unfairly sequestered to the hand. From a human-centric position Heidegger (1927=1999b)
fleshed out a thinking that he asserts lives in the hands themselves:
‘Craft’ literally means the strength and skill in our hands .... The hand is part of our bodily organism.
But the hand’s essence can never be determined, or explained, by its being an organ which can grasp.
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Apes, too, have organs that can grasp, but they do not have hands. The hand is infinitely different from
all grasping organs—paws, claws, fangs—different by an abyss of essence. Only a being who can
speak, that is, think, can have hands and can be handy in achieving works of handicraft. (p. 112)
On the one hand, Heidegger’s notions of learning in and through movement, have worthy
transferability to the way we might encourage children to experience movement through the ges-
tures their hands perform. So rather than isolate a technique in the way a student might dribble or
shoot a ball, for example, and mechanistically separate the part from the whole in a Decartian
sense, one might interpret Heidegger’s words as letting children engage in bouncing and
swishing actions so that a motile presence and primordial connection to the object such as a ball,
emerges.
Heidegger’s assertions fall short, however, as we apply them to the act of climbing, parti-
cularly with reference to his hierarchical distinction of human consciousness, as well as his limi-
tation to such thinking to that of the hand. For, in the act of climbing, the monkey or ape moves
with an intelligence that has left our socially constructed grasp, an intelligence that arguably
extends to the feet. Consider the nature of a prehensile foot, flexible and open, ready to receive
and move in response to the world. In the act of climbing, expert educator Ho¨rst (2003) noted
that ‘‘the key to unlocking many [climbing] routes lies in effective use of the feet’’ (p. 122).
More than a development of a handicraft, we might equally consider notions of footicraft as
we extend etymological references to skill, the ‘‘sense of ability, cleverness’’ (Online Etymology
Dictionary, 2011) to the feet as they too engage in thoughtful action.
To be fair to Heidegger, his dismissal of the feet in the motile nature of thought, what might
be referred to as Fussenkraft, is not unlike other thinkers of his time. Most likely influenced by
Darwin and his depiction of intelligence as having something to do with an upright stance, one
might postulate as Ingold (2004) suggested that, ‘‘the descent of man in nature was also an
ascent out of it, in so far as it progressively released the powers of intellect from their bodily
bearings in the material world’’ (p. 318). Such a head-over-heels march,
half in nature, half out ...[limits the] the feet, impelled by biomechanical necessity, [to] undergird
and propel the body within the natural world, [so that] the hands are free to deliver the intelligent
designs or conceptions of the mind upon it. (p. 318)
Now what might happen, I wonder, to our assumptions about learning, particularly in relation
to the process of becoming physically educated, if we were to flip things around and think on or
with our feet?
CONCLUSION
Vivid phenomenological descriptions of children moving provide an opportunity to consider
what it might be like to become physically educated in a way that deviates from the norm,
where a head-over-feet mentality reigns. Within the dominant paradigm that Kirk (2010)
described as ‘‘physical education-as-sport-techniques’’ (p. 42) more than one abstraction exists.
The development of skill is not only removed from a game, a natural sense of movement is
abstracted from the learning process. For in the Descartian approach to breaking down move-
ments into parts to better understand the whole as well managed students stand, kneel, or sit
MOVING TO LEARN AND LEARNING TO MOVE 33
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to watch demonstrations given by teachers (Rink, 2006), we also limit and cease the flow of
movement possibilities. Thinking becomes a heady or in the case of most sports, a hand–eye
phenomenon, and the natural impulse to learn in and through full-bodied movement is
diminished as we stop to think.
If we consider that thinking can be done on and through the feet, we only have to revisit
Amy’s, Kevin’s, Chad’s, and Kelsey’s climbs with phenomenological motion-sensitivity to
consider the likelihood. From Amy’s crossings, Kevin’s side-stepping, Chad’s slips and
scrambles to Kelsey’s articulated propulsions, one can sense varying degrees of motile
consciousness.
Ingold (2004) suggested that such sensitivity and mobility as exuded in Kelsey’s feet is not
cultivated through well-intentioned cushions of foot support or scaffolded instruction. Rather,
the innate ability to experience the possibilities of movement emerge when the constrictive
layers are removed. A foot may only develop prehensile qualities and an accompanying thought-
fulness, then, if given the chance to sense and move in response to the surface of the world. Prac-
tically speaking, I am not suggesting that we simply remove all forms of footwear, as the best of
climbers and dancers alike would not be able to perform their movements as well as they do
without advances in such technology. But as we consider the metaphor, of physical education
constraining the natural development of movement as a shoe might, we might notice the com-
parative layers of cushioning between the ballet slipper, climbing shoe and basketball sneaker.
To some extent, we need to provide opportunities to move and to feel the sensations, both joy
and fear and everything that lives between, before we purposefully form movement from an
external, aesthetic register of consciousness (Lloyd, 2011). Hence, we might embrace the
possibilities to
discover ourselves in movement. [For] [w]e grow kinetically in our bodies .... In our spontaneity of
movement, we discover arms that extend, spines that bend, knees that flex .... We discover ourselves
as animate organisms. These kinetic–kinaesthetic self-discoveries constitute their own specific reper-
toire of ‘‘I cans.’’ ...We discover a realm of sheer kinetic ‘‘I cans:’’ I can stretch, I can twist, I can
reach, ...an open-ended realm of possibilities. (Sheets-Johnstone, 1999, p. 136, emphasis in original)
One might then postulate that to approach the cognitive apprehension of movement, the sense
of ‘‘I can’’ in the purposive shaping of movement, we might simply be encouraged to begin with
experiencing the primacy of movement. Sheets-Johnstone (1999) noted that Husserl said it best.
The ‘‘ ‘I move’, ‘‘I do’, precedes the ‘I can do’ ’’ (Husserl, 1952=1989, p. 273. Hence, as edu-
cators of children, we might develop an appreciation for a kinetic consciousness, a sense of
becoming animated in movement, as well as a kinaesthetic consciousness in feeling not only
the emotive possibilities of movements themselves and their various tensions but what it is like
to sense motions that are formed in a chiasmic relationship with others as we flow in and with
the world. In providing opportunities to simply move in the process of learning to move, we
loosen the laces and the constrictive rigidity of the physical education shoe and provide wiggle
room for a Merleau-Ponitan awareness of ‘‘I can’’ move. The process of becoming physically
educated might then begin within the ‘‘realm of our own discovery’’ (Gintis, 2007, p. 15).
Hence, we have the opportunity to transform what Kirk (2010) described as ‘‘little sense of a
pedagogy of the possible’’ (p. 60) to a pedagogy of movement possibilities that is within the
grasp of both our hands and feet.
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AUTHOR NOTE
Rebecca J. Lloyd is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education and the University of Ottawa. Her interdisci-
plinary research intertwines curriculum understanding, theories of embodiment, and sport psychology as she philosophi-
cally and practically researches movement consciousness across various disciplines in education, as well as in teacher
education. She is also a member of a research team dedicated to the promotion of Comprehensive School Health
(CSH) as well as the co-director of a CSH cohort of teacher candidates (see www.uOttawa-Comprehensive-School-
Health.ca). Her current program of research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
(SSHRC), explores the phenomenon of ‘‘moving to learn’’ within a JungleSport school-based program. Through
phenomenological observations, interviews, and analysis, she is in the process of refining a Merleau-Pontian inspired
‘‘Function to Flow Interdisciplinary Education Model’’ that details how one might become educated in an interdisciplin-
ary sense through experiencing an alternative activity such as climbing.
MOVING TO LEARN AND LEARNING TO MOVE 37
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... There are many ways teachers can enact pedagogies of meaning within a context of learning Lloyd, 2012;Thorburn and Stolz, 2017). Lloyd (2012) enacted an interdisciplinary approach that incorporated sensations and emotional qualities of movement through climbing. ...
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Note of acknowledgement: I would like to thank my research assistant, Michael Fairbrother, for his assistance with gathering the information that is complied and displayed in the three Tables featured in this article.
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