Dorothy Bridges bubbles with enthusiasm when she talks about the Nurturing Pathways Program and the upcoming class she plans to teach this summer.The Woodinville woman, a longtime educator, who currently teaches first grader at College Place Elementary in Edmonds, first learned about the program when she took a workshop at an early childhood education conference in Bellevue a few years ago. The session was taught by Christine Roberts, a Seattleite, who founded Nurturing Pathways in 2001. Roberts combined her passion for dance with the fields of brain development and early childhood. After a career teaching dance and performing professionally, she turned her attention to the formative years, infancy through school age, which constitute a key time for learning. The program she created is derived from scientific research on the brain-body connection and emphasizes the positive impacts of movement on a child’s development and school readiness.
"Young children need to move to learn and play and grow," explains Bridges. "We can improve learning by moving the body more and the earlier this starts, the better off we’ll be."
Bridges notes that movement is a catalyst for organizing early cognitive, emotional and physical development. As a child begins to get a sense of his/her body in space, he/she develops an internal system of balance, along with the all-important tactile, touch and sensory system.These are considered basic building blocks of learning, which help to establish kinesthesia, or a sense of body and movement," adds Bridges. "This leads to the formation of other building blocks, including motor patterns, motor planning and finally, body image."
Motor development is crucial in a baby’s first year and movement experiences carried out on the tummy are especially important, both physically and neurologically.
"It’s amazing what happens in terms of brain development that first year," comments Bridges. "The brain actually doubles in size during this period." She adds, "Time spent on the tummy not only strengthens the baby’s body, helping them to move independently, but it also develops the brain’s neural connections."
Bridges continues to explain that tummy time aids in the achievement of such cognitive milestones as a baby’s first words and leads to increased attention span, which helps in school readiness. Nurturing Pathways offers creative movement classes for a child’s first four years when development is at its prime. There are specific sessions for babies (3 months – pre walking), Waddlers (aimed at walkers through 24 months) and toddlers. The curriculum, which is tailored to meet the needs of each stage of development, provides enrichment in everything from motor coordination to music, language and social skills. All classes involve a series of dance explorations, use of musical instruments, rhyming exercises and a variety of sensory-rich props.
"We use things like scarves, parachutes, balls, streamers and foam noodles," says Bridges. "And for the walkers, we have an obstacle course that includes a tunnel, stepping stones, cones and other objects which require them to use motor planning."
Parents are an integral part of the classes, moving and dancing with their babies and young children, while learning how these activities stimulate brain growth and healthy development.
"During class, parents receive what we call ‘brain bites,’ or tidbits of information that help them understand what’s happening in terms of brain development," explains Bridges. She adds, "The activities are simple, yet have purpose. And they help to create a wonderful bonding experience for parent and child, while educating parents and empowering them to recognize the needs of their children ..."
She will be teaching two classes at the Sammamish Valley Grange during the month of July. Sessions run from July 8 – August 5 with classes on Friday mornings from 9:30 – 10:15 a.m. (Waddlers) and 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. (Babies)
Cost is $65 for five sessions plus a one-time materials fee of $35