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Rae Pica

is the founder of Moving & Learning and has been an educational consultant, specializing in children's physical activity, since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of many books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music, and the award-winning Great Games for Young Children and Jump into Literacy. Rae is known for her lively and informative workshop and keynote presentations and has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, and state health departments throughout the country. Rae also served on the task force of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) that created national guidelines for early childhood physical activity, is a member of several advisory boards, and blogs for Huffington Post. She is the recipient of the 2013 John P. McGovern Award, presented by Ball State University for contributions in the health field. In addition, Rae is cofounder of BAM Radio Network, the world's largest online education radio network, and host of three radio programs on the Educators Channel: Body, Mind and Child; Taboo; and Teacher's Aid, for which she interviews experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more.

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Chances are, you have probably read a book, article, or blog post written by Rae Pica. Maybe you’ve participated in one of her lively and informative keynote presentations. Or, you might know her more for her educational programs on the BAM Radio Network. Rae Pica is a force who puts many resources and lots of ideas out into the world so that early childhood professionals can nurture the whole child—body and mind. In fact, we’re releasing three titles from Rae this month: Toddlers Moving & Learning, Preschoolers & Kindergartners Moving & Learning, and Early Elementary Children Moving & Learning. Catch up with Rae and learn all about how she spends her time moving and learning in our latest Author Spotlight.

Tell us about the Moving and Learning series. Why is it so important for early childhood professionals to incorporate physical activity into the curriculum, and how do these books make it easier to do so?
Early childhood professionals are entrusted with the care of the whole child. Children don’t exist only from the neck up!

Movement, of course, addresses the physical domain; but it also has a significant impact on cognitive, social, and emotional development.

I realize that most early childhood professionals haven’t had training in movement/physical education experiences for children, so the idea of making it part of the curriculum can be overwhelming to them. The Moving & Learning Series gives them everything they need: detailed lesson plans in a developmental progression, and even music to go with many of the activities!

Out of all of the activities and lesson plans in the Moving & Learning series, which is your favorite to do with children?
Oh, well, they’re all my “children,” so I can’t favor one above the others! ☺ But I must say that I have an exceptionally fond memory of doing Statues with a group of toddlers in New Hampshire many years ago. I was videotaping the activity and one little boy, named Patrick, kept stopping in front of the camera to exclaim, “We’re doing Statues!” Absolutely delightful.

Now, I do have a favorite that I do with adults. I open almost all of my keynotes with “Shake It High/Shake It Low,” a song that gets the blood flowing and the participants smiling. Can’t beat that combination!
Can you share a brief timeline of your professional life?
Rae Pica at home in Washington, D.C.
I was doing my best to make a living as a dancer, when someone asked if I’d be interested in teaching dance to some preschoolers in the neighborhood. Having absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into, I agreed! But I soon discovered that they didn’t need “dance training” as much as they needed basic body and spatial awareness and the opportunity for creative self-expression. That’s when I started studying movement education and, using the little ones as “guinea pigs,” I developed a program that I began taking to local preschools and child care centers.

Eventually, in an attempt to be in more than one place at the same time, I began hiring and training instructors. And when that proved frustrating (finding good instructors was challenging), I asked Richard Gardzina if he’d be interested in writing original music for some of my activities, allowing me to package and market my program without need for instructors. (Of course, it didn’t occur to me at the time that not all of the songs could be instrumental. So that’s how, by default, I also became a lyricist and vocalist!)

I did my first workshop in December of 1981, when someone from the Strafford County Head Start contacted me, saying that they’d heard I did "movement stuff" and asked if I’d come in and work with their staff. It had never occurred to me that this could become part of my career path—and I did a not-quite-admirable job with that first workshop—but “spreading the movement message” has become one of my favorite things to do.

And the writing is in my blood. I had a great-uncle who was a Pulitzer-prize-winning writer, so I always expected to be a writer when I grew up. I’ve now come full-circle, writing several books and dozens of articles on movement and physical activity.

What sparked your interest in this aspect of children’s health?
In the beginning, I was really more interested in providing children with the creative aspects of movement. But as I studied and learned, I began to understand more of what it had to offer children. As the years went on (I’ve been at this for 34 years now!), children were moving less and less and childhood obesity became a real problem. All along—as we’ve had Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, brain research, and then the obesity crisis—I’ve hoped for the “revolution” that would help all parents, teachers, and administrators see the value of movement as I do. Sadly, not only has there been no revolution; but also children seem to be living increasingly sedentary lives.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you began your career?
Oh, there are probably a lot of things I should have known. But, mostly, I’m glad I didn’t know how much I didn’t know! If I’d realized what an enormous task I was taking on—and how unqualified I was to do it at the time!—I probably wouldn’t have dared venture forth! Although this wasn’t a passion I was born with (does anybody grow up saying, “I want to be a children’s physical activity specialist”?), it has certainly become a passion for me. So, yes, I’m really glad I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.

Where can we find you moving and learning on a typical day?
Ah. The truth is, unless I’m somewhere speaking, I spend far too much time sitting in front of my computer working! To practice what I preach, I do try to walk every weekday morning.

What’s on your bucket list, career-wise or personally?
Rae Pica's cats Freddy and MickeyIt’s a big list. It includes visiting Italy (the homeland of my ancestors) and driving the Pacific coast, among other adventures. My greatest desire is to do something significant for animals (that’s the passion I was born with).

What else do you spend your time doing?
Rae Pica's red carpet interview
Rae Pica and her partner on the red carpetMuch to my surprise, I’ve also become a radio host. In 2007 I was approached by a media company and asked if I wanted to co-create and host an Internet radio show. The show became Body, Mind and Child, on what has become BAM Radio Network, the world’s largest online education radio network! I’m now hosting Teacher’s Aid, interviewing experts in education, child development, the neurosciences, and much more. Among the early childhood experts I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege to interview have been the late Stanley Greenspan, Lillian Katz, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, and David Elkind. I also had the absolute joy (after the initial terror!) of interviewing my professional idol, Carla Hannaford, author of Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. I couldn’t have imagined any of this for myself . . . but I do feel as though I’ve been led down the path that I was meant to follow.

Where can we catch your internet radio program, and where else can we find you online?
You can find me on the BAM Radio Network, at my website, and on Twitter.