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Movement Enhances Learning

Pattern Play

If you wish to give the means to the child for his development you must give them in such a way that the child can, and must move. ...In all her books, lectures, conversations, Montessori incessantly returns to this great theme of the importance of movement.
—E.M. Standing Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work

Of course, we all need to move to get through life, but how children learn is intimately connected to their movements. When movement is involved, the brain is stimulated differently than it is when one is passively watching and listening. Especially in the face of our sedentary lifestyles and our "addiction" to all types of screens, it's important to ask ourselves: What kinds of activity do children really need?

The brain depends on all types of movement to develop. Consider, for example, how the pathways in the brain control the movement of my fingers as I type this. When I learned to type as a teenager, it took conscious effort to move my fingers onto the correct keys. But, practice makes perfect. It takes practice to learn to hold a pencil, then to write letters, and finally to have them all mean something. Remember your child's first steps, and how he tumbled and stumbled until he could hold himself upright?

Joy and self-esteem are not measurable on an IQ or SAT test. Intelligence and creativity develop as children explore the world, figuring out on their own how things work.

The Montessori Way

Maria Montessori observed that movement enhances learning. In her book, The Discovery of the Child, she wrote: "One of the most important practical aspects of our method has been to make the training of the muscles enter into the very life of the children so that it is intimately connected with their daily activities."

The Prepared Environment allows children to move freely around the classroom. They do not have an assigned seat, nor are they expected to ask permission to move about. Children choose an activity - they walk to its place in the classroom, pick it up, and carry it to a table or mat. Much work is done on small rugs on the floor. A student from a Montessori school said it best: "I like school because you can walk around the classroom and not sit in desks all day. You make your own snack... . We can choose our own work."

Montessori based her method of education on the premise that learning is linked to movement. Children trace the Sandpaper Letters while they learn the sounds. They match the Color Tablets and find corresponding colors in the classroom. Children handle the Cylinder Blocks or Pink Tower, learning subtle differences in weight and size. Children discover themselves and the larger world by moving about.

Moving Around at Home

Dancing to music, playing catch, or going to the playground no doubt are already part of your child's daily schedule. While this large muscle activity is important, the emphasis here is on the less obvious movements which are essential to growth and learning.

    As much as possible avoid turning on those television and computer screens. Though they may quiet your child and be of an educational nature, they are hypnotic and your child is mostly passive. It is very different to learn how to build a tower of blocks in real life than it is to do it on a touch screen. An older child may learn some information from watching an informative program, but this information only becomes useful when it is coupled with his concrete experience.

    From the time a child begins to move, she is becoming independent. Prepare your home, or at least several rooms, so your young child can move about freely and safely. Make sure there are interesting activities or toys in view and within reach, so your child can play without your assistance.

    Involve children with household chores - setting the table, one piece at a time, for the youngest child; or chopping veggies, pouring the drinks, or washing the dishes for the older child. When you are busy, set your child up with an activity nearby, such as painting at an easel or building with blocks on a small rug.

    After a ride in the car, take a little walk up the street or around the block before you enter the house.

    Play a game with your child if he is demanding your attention: "I wonder if you can move that truck around the hallway and into the family room without it touching anything - just the way truck drivers do?" "Let's see how many blocks can be balanced on top of one another?" "I wonder if you can find all the red things in the room?"

Helping your child learn how to be in control of his movements will stimulate his physical and mental development. Placing the plate on the table without making a sound is a challenge, but when you demonstrate this and your own pleasure is obvious, your child will enjoy imitating.

No Substitute for Movement

The above suggestions will allow you the time and space to observe your child learning and experimenting - you will almost see his brain in action as he begins to understand how things work.

"The young child is very hand-minded, and the materials are geared to his need to learn through movement, because it is movement that starts the intellect working."
—Elizabeth Hainstock Teaching Montessori in the Home

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2014

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