Mommy's experience; Montessori explanation
Why so active?
Ever wondered why your little baby, who overnight joined toddlerhood, (without even asking permission) suddenly started to move around like their lives’ depended on it? Sometimes I feel like my little man must be training for the Olympics, or want to be a magician, because if I look away, for even a moment, he’s gone. I often find him quite innocently exploring his surroundings, completely oblivious to the inner turmoil and panic his independent adventure has caused me. Actually, there is a good explanation for all this movement or as I like to call it, disorganised chaos that is unfolding before my eyes. Children have an inner guide that directs them towards their own self-development and the self-development that they crave between the ages of 0-6 years old is the development of their gross and fine motor skills (thats developing any skills that have to do with movement for those of you who aren’t familiar with the these terms). Not only do children want to learn how to move but they also want to learn through movement.
My Little Man’s great adventure
Let me explain, through an example of my Little Man’s actions. My little man is now one and recently he decided to embark on one of his greatest challenges yet. That was to master the art of climbing the stairs. First he started off quite unsure and unstable and boy, I really experienced a roller-coaster of emotions with this particular conquest. I flitted from proud mommy, who was somewhat in awe of his confidence and willingness to put in such an effort to climb the stairs, to a mommy whose anxiety levels were through the roof, with my nerves fried, and questioning Montessori’s words of allowing the child to choose their activity as they knew what they needed. But as he became more confident it was harder to deny that he was definitely growing from this experience.
Once my little man had reached the top of the stairs, he beamed at his achievement as though he had just climbed Mount Everest. Considering his age, the time, energy and effort expended must have been huge. Thinking he was done with his conquests for the day, I closed the safety gate. Wow, what a mistake that was!!! What goes up must come down, and in no uncertain terms did he make it clear to me that he was going down. Even though I was tired, which is my permanent state as a parent, I could see that my little man was so engrossed in what he was doing that I knew I had to leave him continue. I really didn’t want to break his concentration, so I geared myself up for a night on the stairs.
Interestingly, as my little man started crawling backwards down the stairs he never wanted to go further than the 4th or 5th step. Every time he reached this point he would simply stop and crawl back up the stairs. Strange right? Why did he keep stopping there? Didn’t he want to get to the bottom of the stairs? I won’t lie, it took me a while to figure out what he was doing but I started to realise, that I had mistakenly assumed that his goal was to reach the bottom of the stairs and also that his natural progression would be to climb down a little further each time. When I really took the time to look at what he was doing, and looked at it through a child's perspective, I began to realise that navigating the stairs was about so much more for him than it's completion.
What was really going on?
Looking at him with his gorgeous little face full of concentration (and yes I’m totally biassed but I’m allowed to be) and all the tiny little movements that he was making with such consideration, I started to realise the incredible feat of work he was undertaking. Not only was he developing his muscles, he was also developing his intellect. While going up and down the stairs he had to contemplate the width and height of the step and judge the distance between the steps. He had to learn how he was going to maintain his balance, how he would co-ordinate all his movements together so they were fluid and so he did not fall. He had to learn how to map out his movements so he knew what foot to put where and when. He repeated these actions over and over again so the process gradually became more effortless each time. By doing this, he was developing his knowledge of how to successfully crawl down the stairs and committing to memory his movements in order to move onto more complex movements at a later date. He was gaining muscle control in order to exercise discipline over his movements and gaining a knowledge of risk assessment. The decision making process he had to go through to decide what his next move would be and if it was the right one, developed his problem solving skills that are needed for critical thinking. Through all this external and internal development he was developing his inner being.
What a crazy amount of internal and external development he gained from just one single activity. Through his movement my little man learnt how to physically climb the stairs, but through the repetition, he gained the know-how to do so to perfection. To us, the goal is to get up and down the stairs, for my little man, it was to learn not only how to do this, but to learn so many other skills at the same time. As an adult and a parent, I saw his attempts of going up and down the stairs as learning to navigate them. In his eyes, it was simply learning.
How did Montessori cater for the child’s movement?
Montessori felt so strongly about the importance of movement that she incorporated it into the structure and methods of her classrooms. She ensured that everything was open plan, allowing children to have the maximum space possible to move about freely. Giving children the freedom to choose their movement gave them the opportunities they needed to satisfy their inner desire to move and develop their muscles, co-ordination and balance. They were free to learn through experiencing and analysing their own movements.
“Every complex action comprises a series of distinct movements; one act follows the other. The analysis of movements consists, in trying to recognise and to carry out exactly these separate and distinct acts.”
Montessori requested that everything in the classroom should be child sized. The tables and chairs, the sink and toilets and even the materials. This gave the children the opportunity to work and move about freely without having to rely on the adult to assist them. This meant that a child could walk into a Montessori classroom, take off their coat, hang it on a hook that was at their level and then pick up any material they wished to work with, without needing assistance. They could take the child sized material off the easily accessible shelves, sit down at a table and use a chair that was child sized. They could even choose to stand and paint at the child sized easel.The choice of movement and therefore development was theirs’.
The Montessori classroom and materials are also based on reality. Children learn how to do practical skills like fastening buttons or carrying a jug of water. Through these exercises the children learn dexterity by carrying out “sufficiently diverse and complicated manoeuvres.” (Maria Montessori). By completing a simple practical life task such as carrying a heavy jug without spilling one drop of water, children can learn about balance and co-ordination and the have opportunity to strengthen their muscles. Most importantly, because the movements and materials they learn from are based on real life, the skills they acquire are transferrable. They will therefore help to develop the skills the child needs for further complex learning.
“It is of no advantage to one to have reached the highest degree of refinement if it is not carried over in some way into daily life” (Maria Montessori)
Montessori believed that children had an inner guide for learning and an intrinsic need for self development. She saw that children were drawn to developing certain skills at certain times and that each child had their own timeline for when they would choose to develop these certain skills. “There are various things that ‘call’ the children at different ages.” (Maria Montessori). She believed in the uniqueness of every child and to allow for the child's individual needs to be respected. Montessori gave the children the freedom of choice within the classroom to allow children to choose the materials they were drawn to, that was in turn driven by their inner need for self-development.
Children were also allowed to work with the material for as long as they wished and to repeat the activity for as long as they liked.
“To have learnt something for the child is only the point of departure. When he has learnt the meaning of an exercise, then he begins to enjoy repeating it and he does repeat it the most infinite number of times, with the most evident satisfaction” (Maria Montessori)
This freedom is very important to the child as it is only through such sustained activity that children can develop their concentration. They also create the neurological connections needed to gain discipline over their muscles enabling, them to make controlled movements. These repetitive actions allow the child to acquire the skills that are required for advanced and abstract thought for future complex learning.
Whats your opinion?
Hey guys hope you liked reading about my little man’s experience of movement. How do you feel about movement? Do you think movement plays a vital role in a child’s development? Do you see it as an educational tool? Would you like to see more of this implemented in schools?
Please leave a comment below and let me know, I’d love to hear your views.
I used the following books for my main research of this piece.
-The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori.
-The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori
-The Discovery of the Child by Maria Montessori