“It is high time that movement came to be regarded from a new point of view in educational theory.” (Montessori, p. 136) Those words are as true today as they were when Maria Montessori first said them. What parent doesn’t dread the parent conference where they know that will hear “Johnny cannot sit in his seat”? What new teacher, who after dreaming of neat rows of desks filled with silent, attentive students, doesn’t find himself at a loss when he learns that the children know multiple ways of sitting in chairs and that the simple act of opening a textbook can cause a whole class to start talking?
In her article “What schools can do to help boys succeed,” Christina Hoff Sommers states that many people feel children need to sit still in class because “the ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school.” (Sommers, 2013) And in an article titled “Sitting still is important for kindergarten,” the Parent Institute claims that “Children who can’t sit still learn that being disruptive gets them attention. They learn to get ‘in trouble.’ And this can foster long-term discipline problems.” (Parent Institute, 2014) The article goes on to give ideas on how to teach kindergarten-age children to sit still so they can be successful in school. It seems as if movement has taken a back seat to intellectual development.
Studying the Works of Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 13: The Importance of Movement
Dr. Montessori, however, saw the relationship between the brain, senses, and muscles. A visionary in educational philosophy, she thought it a great error to separate movement from intellectual development, and she disagreed with the idea that movement was only for strengthening the cardiovascular system.
“Till now, almost all educators have thought of movement and the muscular system as aids to respiration, or to circulation, or as a means for building up physical strength. But in our new conception the view is taken that movement has great importance in mental development itself, provided that the action which occurs is connected with the mental activity going on.” (Montessori, p. 142)
Today, educators do not deny that movement is important to children and their development. However, many see movement as what happens outside of learning. They rely on recess or physical education classes to help get the “wiggles” out. When attempts are made to incorporate movement into the classrooms, often they are intended as breaks from learning. They are an effort to allow children to move about so they can go back and sit still for another extended time. With budget cuts and demands on test preparation cutting into these special times for movement, children are being asked to sit still and focus for longer periods of time. In some cases, recess and physical education are removed completely from content based learning.
What really is key to Montessori’s statement about movement is that it must be “connected with the mental activity going on.” (Montessori, p. 142) Montessori tells us that purposeful movement is what drives not only behavior but also learning. Children are free to move about the Montessori environment because movement is a sensory activity that has direct connections to the brain. When we ask a child to make ten trips back and forth to bring the Red Rods to the mat and then ten more trips back and forth to return the material to the shelf, we are not asking him to do so because it keeps him busy. We are helping him build the muscular memory of the concept of “ten.” He sees ten Red Rods; he picks up ten Red Rods; he physically carries ten Red Rods to and from the work area. He is learning the decimal system, not only with his mind but also with his whole body.
Montessori tells us that “Work is inseparable from movement.” (Montessori, p. 146) And since the child’s work is to learn, we must incorporate purposeful movement into his learning.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
Parent Institute. “Sitting still is important for kindergarten.” SchoolFamily.com. 2014. http://www.schoolfamily.com/school-family-articles/article/4308-sitting-still-is-important-for-kindergarten
Sommers, Christina Hoff. “What schools can do to help boys succeed.” Time. October 28, 2013. http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/28/what-schools-can-do-to-help-boys-succeed/
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, April 25, 2014.