The Absorbent Mind, p. 155
The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 14: Intelligence and the Hand
Newborns are weighed, measured, and compared against developmental milestones. While not all children develop at exactly the same rate, there are general guidelines and norms for development. Growth and mobility, such as when a child rolls over, sits, crawls, stands, and walks, are all duly recorded and noted for discrepancies in development. These are the exciting milestones of mobility. Montessori tells us that while these are important, it is the work of the hand that is “in direct connection with man’s soul.” (Montessori, 1964)
Mobility requires balance. Controlling one’s balance is a difficult skill that takes months of practice and years of refinement, with the main purpose being to transport oneself from one place to another. Only newborn babies are helpless. As they develop balance and control, their mobility turns them into mobile beings, until, when finally walking, they gain independence and begin to assert control over their lives.
The hand, Montessori says, is used to express one’s thoughts, emotions, and intellect. This can be supported by viewing the development of human intelligence. As early humans became upright, walking on two legs, their hands became tools used to work — to hunt, gather food, and make primitive weapons. (Wikipedia, 2014) Early humans were able to control and change their environment through the use of their hands. “All the changes in man’s environment are brought about by his hands. Really, it might seem as if the whole business of intelligences is to guide their work.” (Montessori, 1964)
The development of the hand is as important as the child’s developing mobility. It begins at 2–3 months with an instinctive prehensile grasping of objects. Between 3 and 4 months, the child can study his own hands, put them in his mouth, and hold a toy or rattle intentionally. At around 7 months, his hand movements take on purpose. He can grasp and pick up something he has selected and can pass it from one hand to another. He can also pick up small objects using a pincer grasp and put them in his mouth. Here, the hand begins moving towards purposeful work. Babies develop the ability to independently feed themselves. They also use their hands to help pull themselves up to a standing position. Once walking, children continue to use their hands to help climb as well as for lifting and carrying objects.
As movement becomes more coordinated, children need purposeful work to continue to grow and move toward independence.
Young children can help fold laundry, set the table, dust, wash dishes, and pick up their toys. They develop strength and confidence in their new skills. They imitate the adults around them in an effort to participate in the world that surrounds them. As their guides, adults must allow for these experiences and provide an environment in which children are free to develop.