Movement – the physical activity - is the essential factor in intellectual growth. Through movements we come in contact with external reality and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas.
When mental development is under discussion there are many who say “How does movement come into it?” We are talking about the mind and when we think of intellectual activity we always imagine people sitting still, motionless, But mental development must be connected with movement and is dependent on it.
“Since it is through movement that the will realizes itself, we should assist a child in his attempts by his will to act,” emphasized Dr Maria Montessori.
Development of Movement
Movement and physical development have specific sensitive periods. Movement starts early in the womb beginning in the seventh week and peaking at fifteenth to seventeenth week when the neurological wiring is being developed. After birth, it takes up to two years for the neurons in the cerebellum (which controls movement) to fully mature. A child cannot simply sit, crawl, stand or walk until the cerebellum reaches a certain critical mass of development.
The development of co-ordination and locomotion is far more standardized and controlled by primary brain development and then the highly individualized uses of the hand. The hand can develop more varied activities and this development takes place under the direction of the conscious will. Every time the child moves an arm or a leg a signal goes to the cortex of the brain, the more such signals are sent to the brain the stronger the connections and more fluid the movement. General thumb rule is the more free movements the child has before crawling the greater the brain development.
Dr Montessori saw that children were always moving, exploring with hands, mouth, eyes and ears that she came to the conclusion that “Movement is the law of the child’s being and the way to his brain is through his hands.”
By 2.5 years children demonstrate what Montessori call “Laws of maximum effort” it means they can easily and joyfully take long walks. They develop the ability to walk and carry things at the same time. They display a need to flex their muscles of their new development.
By 3-6 years, the will passes through a more extended period of co-ordination of movement and its application to deliberate tasks. In this stage, the children will learn to button their own shirts and learn many things so as to become more independent and participate more fully in daily living and playing.
In Exercises of Practical Life, a key Montessori concept, children learn proper gymnastics in which they foster all movements. It is a continual displacing of objects under the direction of intelligence which sets before it an aim to be reached. Rolling up of mat, sweeping, shifting, carrying, lifting etc all these exercises in which the whole body is engaged. By means of habitual work the child learns to move his arms and hands and to strengthen its muscles in better ways than by the usual gymnastics.
When movement becomes a part of the learning activity, children are focused and engaged and their understanding deepens. That’s what happens in a Montessori environment.