Visitors to a Montessori classroom notice right away the importance of movement. The children are free and encouraged to move around, rather than sitting for long periods of time at one desk. As Maria Montessori said, “The task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.” She was talking about the “old-time discipline” (which still carries through today!) in which sitting still was rewarded as “good behavior” while moving around was often punished as “bad.” We understand that everyone has a different idea of the value of movement. In this article we will talk about the advantages of allowing children the freedom of movement. After you are finished, you will be able to decide whether movement is an important characteristic of your child's classroom setting.
Movement in the Classrom
I have to confess: I was a mover! I didn’t like staying in my seat when there were so many more interesting things to find and explore around the classroom. I felt like my brain worked better when I was moving around. Unfortunately, my teacher didn’t always agree with that sentiment. My mother still remembers the day (circa 1976) she came to pick me up from school and the teacher had taped me to my desk. Yes, I was taped to my desk. Can you imagine that happening today?
There is a growing trend in the education community to encourage movement in the classroom. Spearheaded by teachers and researchers from right here in Minnesota, people are beginning to envision “classrooms of the future” which allow students to stand up at workstations or bouncing on balls instead of sitting on chairs. Mayo Clinic Researcher James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., who led a project that explored the question “Do Children Really Need to Sit at Desks to Learn?” believes that the most significant advances come from giving the children the chance to move at school. “Children are so amazing,” he says. “They actually love to learn, we just have to let them move naturally.”
I do think it’s a little sad, though, that given the recognition of how important it is for children to be able to move and the proven benefits on both behavior and academic achievement, the most dramatic change traditional classroom are able to make is to have a longer recess, a bouncing ball for a chair, or standing desk. While these are steps in the right direction, at best they’re creating space that allows for movement, but doesn’t really embrace it.
Montessori's Philosophy on Freedom Of Movement
More than 100 years ago, Maria Montessori designed a method of education that not only respected the child’s drive for movement, but used and harnessed it to support academic learning. Movement is evident in every Montessori classroom: toddlers engage in block work and practice life activities; children in the Children’s House independently walk about, carefully avoiding floor mats that friends are working on, choosing to go to the toilet or have a snack without needing to ask permission. One child finishes off one last sum at a table, pushes in his chair and replaced the Addition Chart on the shelf, then rolls out the mat to begin counting the Thousand Chain on the floor. Another child starts pulling out the vases and table clothes so lunch set-up can begin. A third child makes 10 trips back and forth from the shelf to his mat to bring each cube of the Pink Tower before attempting to grade them in sequence.
Movement As Part Of Learning
Maria Montessori observed that when movement was part of the learning activity, children were more focused and engaged, and understanding deepened. “The hand is the instrument of the intelligence,” she said. And if you’ve ever watched an infant grab for and hold onto a brightly colored toy, especially if the toy has an interesting texture, you know what I’m talking about. You can almost see the wheels turning in their head as they move the toy around in their hand. From the very first moment a child sets foot in a Montessori school, he or she is taught to embrace movement as an essential aspect of the daily routine. This may not be important to you, but if this freedom sounds like a good fit for your child, schedule a visit to see first-hand the power of children using movement to enhance their learning and understanding.