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.