Umbrella Therapies

Learning to read

Children learn to read before formal schooling even. Children learn their ABC and if the parents are that way inclined, they learn their phonemes, and learn to refer to curly cats and kicking kings.

This way, when reception class beckons, they can read instructions and access the curriculum. But how -and how many- kids learn to read their bodies. To be alive to the pulses, the signals that these vessels we live in send out, second by second.

I work with kids. In an alternative education setting, as well as in private practice as a play therapist. I also work in school. And in most of the schools I work there is a room for the SENCO and the pupils who need extra input for reasons emotional, cognitive, behavioural. In this room there is usually a poster which depicts Feelings. Which asks “How are you feeling?”

Generally, this poster is illustrated with faces and expressions.  If I can pause here for a second to play with these two words…

I think of ‘making faces’

Putting on a sad face

Two faced.

Expressions though, has a different feel. It suggests ‘to express’. And from the Latin: ‘to press out’. To give form. To bring something from inside to the outside. It comes from a deeper place within.

What if kids in their education were led to tap into this fountain of knowledge. Their own pulse, the rhythm of their heartbeat. The unique messages, encoded by their body. The language, phonemes, dialect unique to Me.

I think of Body Language. We learn by this language more than the audible language that come from speaking. When we learn 70% is through what we see.

It makes sense from infancy we learn through the signals we pick up from our carer’s bodies. For better or for worse. The well cared for infant thrives in the attention of the career, who leans towards the baby with interest. Not so for the infant whose carer turns away, or leans in with hostile intent.

The carer who puts words to bodily feelings helps the infant to realise that ‘the way I feel’ is called ‘hungry’ (and that food will soon follow!). Over time, the toddler will learn to use this word to communicate their bodily state, instead of using the same code – crying – for being hungry, tired or hurt.

So far so good.

And then, many shoe sizes later:

“Hi, how are you?”

“Fine.” Or:

“I’m good.” Or:

“I’m ok.”

“OK, Really?”

How often do we know how we are really feeling?

We go to dentists for ‘check ups’

We go to the GP for a ‘check up’


How often do we ‘check in’ with our own bodies.

I want to propose that we, as therapists, educators, parents do this often – or more often – so that we can bring this consciousness to our clients, pupils, children.

What is your heartbeat telling you.

What messages are your feet and the 7000 nerve endings sending you.

Can you sense every toe on your foot?

It can be a grounding exercise to just ‘sense your feet’ for twenty seconds…

Go ahead, try it.

I want to extend the invitation: next time you sense or see a body message, in yourself or in the children you work (or live) with, work with that. Yes, emojis are fun, but they don’t communicate the real feelings. For that, you don’t need a smartphone. You need a few minutes every day to tune out of the apps and tune into the unique language of your body.

And I am confident that if kids can ‘Keep in touch’ with their bodies as they grow up, they will get to know the messages and stay fluent in the language, the dialect, of their own body.

Yes, our faces can ‘make’ expressions.

But our body Talks.



Petro-Nelise Sollé

Play Therapist, educator and somatic movement teacher



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