Dancing Bodies, Moving Spaces: Revealing Children’s Movement Encounters in an Integrated Kindergarten Classroom


  • Coralee McLaren Ryerson University
  • Patricia McKeever University of Toronto


Contemporary neuroscientific evidence indicates that unrestricted movement and gesture enhance children’s physical, social, and cognitive development by engaging them with the external properties of their environments. Current understanding of children’s engagement with indoor environments is limited. This knowledge gap matters because children’s health, social abilities, and cognitive development may be compromised in physical environments that inhibit rather than enhance their movement capacities. This gap is especially problematic for physically disabled children. In this study, we describe and interpret the relationship between disabled and non-disabled children’s movement and a kindergarten classroom. The children’s bodies were conceptualized according to Deleuze’s philosophical premise that nothing can be known about bodies until they demonstrate what they can do (1987). The classroom was conceptualized according to Gibson’s theory of affordances, which posits that people and environments are inextricably related (1979). Returning to her dance roots, McLaren used a choreographic lens underpinned by Manning’s philosophy of relational movement (2009) to accentuate the dynamic reciprocity between children’s bodies and the classroom. This ethnographic “dance-in-the-making” led to deeper understandings of the relational and emergent properties of these interactions. Findings suggest that assemblages of bodies, objects, and features trigger dynamic movement, and indicate that disabled and non-disabled children alike discover and creatively assemble affordances to facilitate their movement. Overall, our findings recast children’s body-environment interactions and contribute to understandings about environmental features that enhance or inhibit movement capacities. This knowledge could be used to reframe design, rehabilitation and educational practices, and enhance opportunities for all children to move and thrive in their environments.

Author Biographies

Coralee McLaren, Ryerson University

Coralee McLaren is an assistant professor in the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, Ryerson University and Adjunct Scientist, Bloorview Research Institute, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. She completed her graduate studies in nursing at the University of Toronto and worked as a Registered Nurse at the Hospital for Sick Children. Her award-winning PhD dissertation focused on the relationship between children’s movement and the physical environment. During her postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. McLaren co-wrote and secured a CIHR funded grant aimed at developing synergies between dance, neuroscience, architecture and education. This work draws on her former career with the Toronto Dance Theatre and her teaching experience at TDT’s associated school, as well as in the dance departments at York University and Ryerson University.

Patricia McKeever, University of Toronto

Patricia McKeever is a professor emeritus in the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto and Adjunct Scientist, Bloorview Research Institute, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. From 2007 to 2012, she held the hospital foundation’s Chair in Childhood Disability Studies. Her areas of expertise include long-term care policies, chronic illness and disability, transdisciplinary scholarship and qualitative research methods. Her research focused on disabled children’s embodiment, assistive technologies, and the places where they live, attend school and/or receive care.