PUBLISHED: Wednesday, December 4, 2019 by JO

Mary Lynn Hafner

Published: December 4, 2019

Mary Lynn Hafner, PT, DPT, is a licensed physical therapist, and movement systems and mobility expert. She is the owner of My Neighborhood Physical Therapist, PLLC, a per diem physical therapist and a movement teacher at the Sammamish Community YMCA in Washington. Dr. Hafner has her clinical doctorate in physical therapy and over twenty years of physical therapy experience. She shares her expertise as an early movement education speaker and is the founder and volunteer coordinator for a story collection project at a local senior center. Her website is

Mary’s new book, The Joy of Movement, is a preschool movement activity book with a therapeutic perspective. The combination of old and new games creates a purpose driven physical motor curriculum. Each activity has been kid tested. This well-organized and easy-to-use book includes fun, developmentally appropriate activities that foster physical development and build self-esteem. The activities are built around developmental motor milestones and are flexible enough to encourage skill development for a variety of learners.

Mary took the time out of her busy schedule, which she details below, to talk to us about the necessity of movement, her professional journey, and her go-to movement game!

How does movement benefit young children?

Movement for our body is as necessary as breath for our lungs. It’s vital to your child’s motor development and all subsequent learning.

We move to learn and learn to move.

Think about a newborn baby. Life begins with a deep breath and then immediately stretching and flailing her small arms and legs to begin to explore her new world.

Our children can’t reach their full potential without opportunities to move their bodies. It’s simple.

How can parents encourage movement in their children?

First, I’ll ask you a question. Do your children have an opportunity to watch you move, or do they only see you on the sidelines of a field or playground, sitting on a folding chair, cheering them on?

Parents deserve rest time. The thing is, our children model our behaviors and the people around them.

In my movement class, I ask the children to take a small pool noodle and explore what they can do with it for a few minutes on their own. Then we return to the group circle and play copycat. Each child gets a turn to do a creative movement with the pool noodle and the rest of the group copies whatever they do. The first child takes the noodle and balances it on his hand. Each time after that at least 80% of the class picks the exact same movement that the first child did. After seeing this repeated in every class, I can’t deny that children learn by observation.

If your children see you having fun and prioritizing movement activities, they will too. You can swing on the playground, walk, run, play tennis together or stretch while watching tv. The best thing we can develop is the concept that movement is joyful and not a chore. So try to avoid any complaints about hating that aerobic class in front of your children.

The good news is that this advice benefits your whole family. Share what movements make you happy. Observing what you enjoy gives permission to your child to one day develop her own interests and enjoyment in movement.

Can you talk about your professional journey and how that contributed to the synthesis of a book on movement?

Shhhh. I have a secret. Writing a movement book was never on my to-do-list. However, it’s been a joyful pursuit and I hope my story inspires you to follow your own passions.

My career in health care started with wearing a red and white striped jumper, volunteering in the local hospital making beds and delivering magazines to patient rooms. In college I worked as a student athletic trainer while completing my undergraduate and later my doctorate degree in physical therapy.

Then on Coronado Beach, California, I met my spouse. He was in the Navy and we moved around for his job. I worked in hospitals, intensive care units, and rehabilitation centers across the country. I had some opportunities to work with infants and children in my physical therapy career. But it was my own children that inspired me to write a book about preschool movement activities.

While living in Virginia, I was a volunteer parent in a cooperative preschool with my twins. There was a job opening, so I began to teach their movement class. My goal was selfish and wanted to help my own girls have a positive experience. I had two older children who previously went to commercial movement classes. But I knew my background with kinesiology, neurology and motor development would be very helpful. It also didn’t hurt that I’m a nerd at heart and jumped into researching and learning everything I could about early childhood movement education.

I wanted my girls to have age appropriate and fun experiences with movement. As a physical therapist, my perspective looked beyond duck, duck, goose. As a mom, I wanted the best for my girls and carefully picked activities and stacked skills to develop specific motor milestones for every lesson.

Next thing I knew, years went by and I was still teaching weekly movement classes for their preschool along with my physical therapy work. When we had to move, my director asked me to leave behind my lessons. I looked at my binders of notes, research and lectures, and thought “ok”. But I’m going to summarize and bind this up for her. It’s that rough draft of a book that eventually became The Joy of Movement.

Do you have a go-to large motor activity for a group of preschoolers?

Red, stop; green, go; yellow, slow. These homemade signs are always in my movement bag!

You take each sign out and ask the children if they know what it says. “What would do if you saw that color on a traffic light.” Then, walk across the room and ask the children to walk towards you when they see the green go sign. Stop for the red stop sign and get down low and slow for the yellow sign.

This game teaches them how to stop and go in a movement class. This is pivotal in setting up the foundation for safe movement in a group and how to follow directions. I use it throughout the year when I have new students enter my class, or if they need a refresher on basic verbal and visual directions.

Does consistent movement impact a child’s mental, as well as physical, health?

I’d like you to ponder these two concepts before I answer.

  1. Still water has no flow, it's stagnant and not healthy. Flowing water is necessary for life.
  2. Imposed bedrest causes muscle weakness and loss. If you don't use it, you lose it.

A child who doesn’t get enough opportunities to use their arms for support by crawling and pushing up on their bellies, may not adequately develop the muscles necessary to support the fine motor skill of writing or holding a utensil well to eat without difficulty.

A child who is told to sit still and is bad for fidgeting, may not develop the confidence and self-esteem to understand what his body needs to sense and how to best move in his space.

Yes, consistent movement and living in a society that support a child’s movement practice directly impacts their mental and physical health.

What does your typical day look like?

On an average Thursday during the school year, I teach two movement classes at my local YMCA in the eastside of Seattle then head in to my clinic in a senior retirement community.

  1. Get up, get dressed and make four lunches for my children.
  2. Drink a cup of hot green tea with a light breakfast. I use specialty green tea leaves and add a bit of honey.
  3. Kids head off to the bus stop, and I head out with a roller bag and a box with supplies for my movement lesson plan theme.
  4. Using blue painters’ tape and yoga mat spots, I set up my planned lesson is for the day in a small classroom; the children and a co-teacher walk over to my room for their movement lessons from the Kidzone.
  5. After lessons are over, I pack up, and go eat lunch. Then head out to my full-time rehab director job at a retirement community where I provide outpatient onsite physical therapy for clients with Parkinson’s disease, orthopedic injuries, deconditioning, dementia and balance deficits.
  6. My day ends with patient charting, faxing careplans to doctors’ offices and performing caseload development.
  7. Home, hopefully in time for dinner with the family. Thank goodness for healthy leftovers!
  8. Evenings are usually off to an activity for at least one of my children, finishing up next week’s movement lesson plan, or printing out tip sheets for my patients.
  9. My day ends with a hot shower, dry brushing my arms and legs, and a brief rest and stretch with my legs up the wall.

What’s your favorite part about writing a book of movement lesson plans?

It took over 5 years to collect everything I needed to pull together this movement book, plus many years of physical therapy studies and work experiences. The book started off as notes and handwritten pages of ideas, trial and error lesson plans, and PowerPoint presentations.

I never really planned to publish and share my book with anyone other than my previous preschool, so my favorite part was the call from Redleaf Press asking me to become an author for them! It was quite the full circle moment, from being a volunteer co-op mom and physical therapist just wanting the best movement experience for my own children to being able to help many teachers and parents provide enriching movement experiences for their children too.