My working life ... Early years developmental movement practitioner


The world of 'neuro gyms' and sensory massage provides a rewarding way to help parents learn about child development, Gabriella Jozwiak discovers.

Ava Holt is a freelance early years developmental movement practitioner for Baby Moves in Greater Manchester and Lancashire. She delivers movement sessions for babies and toddlers aged up to three years.

'Baby Moves is a programme that uses movement to encourage physical and neurological development,' says Ms Holt. 'I've delivered sessions in early years settings separately for babies and toddlers since 2008 after qualifying as a Baby Moves practitioner.

'I run a franchise for the company in the north west. I hold three classes each week at different private nurseries. Each session lasts 45 minutes to an hour and the largest has 16 children. At the moment all the courses I run are located at early years settings, which parents attend for a fee. But in the past I've also delivered sessions at nurseries with their registered children and staff.

'I arrive before we begin to put out floor mats and create a comfortable environment. I get the mums to sit with their babies in a circle and we begin by doing some sensory massage. I guide and the mothers follow me. We encourage tummy time, as this is good for developing swallowing and neck and arm support.

'Next I put out a treasure basket of different textured and coloured items for the babies to explore, such as feathers. We do a few activities, and I explain how they aid the child's development and link into the Early Years Foundation Stage. For example, babies watching balls rolling is a tracking exercise for their eyes that can help with early reading skills. Or we blow through straws onto the babies' knees, which encourages body awareness and crawling.

'After this, the session is completely baby-led. We have a soft-play area the babies can explore, which includes tunnels and slides. We call this a neuro gym, as it's been specifically designed to aid brain development. Some of the soft shapes are decorated in black and white patterns that encourage visual perception skills. The babies stare at them for ages.

'The practice was developed in 2006 by the two Baby Moves founders - a professional ballet dancer and special educational needs teacher. It is based on the work of teacher and physiotherapist Veronica Sherborne who developed the Sherborne Developmental Movement approach with dance theorist Rudolf Laban. They encouraged body and spatial awareness and awareness of others.

'Baby Moves founder Sue Sutherland recently completed research that showed despite perceptions of toddlers being active, two-year-olds are mainly stationary in nurseries. Increasing babies' and toddlers' movement has an effect on their health and physical development, communication, language and social skills. 'Some mothers think there's nothing you can do with a baby, but they don't have to just sit there. I've had babies as young as two weeks old in a class. After a couple of sessions, the children are familiar with the equipment and start using it straightaway. The mums love the six-week course and often return for another. They also use the techniques they've learned at home.

'When a session is over, I pack up and usually head home to collect my five-year-old son from school. Being a Baby Moves practitioner works really well around having a family. I have some administration to do, but only basic things like my accounts, keeping registers, responding to emails and networking. All my business is generated through word of mouth.

'As well as delivering sessions, I'm in the quality assurance team for the company and help with training. I often give talks to trainee practitioners about my experience. A few times a month, I visit nurseries delivering Baby Moves themselves to check they're doing everything correctly. If not, I provide guidance. There are eight franchises across England and 500 trained practitioners delivering sessions in childcare settings.

'You don't have to have early years experience to do this job, but you need to be passionate about working with babies and children. You also have to be a good communicator, enthusiastic, and have a driver's licence and vehicle to move equipment around. It's a rewarding role and I love seeing the babies develop.'

Employment history
2005-2014: Part-time media makeup artist
2008-present: Part-time Baby Moves practitioner
Qualifications
2002: BTEC in Performing Arts, Bury College
2005: Private diploma in media makeup, hair and prosthetics, School of
Makeup, Manchester
2008: CACHE Baby Moves
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