• Gabriella Mendoza

Moving & Learning... Connecting the Dots

This morning, I was reading one of my favorite books, "Montessori the Science Behind the Genius" by Angeline Stoll Lillard. I have owned this book for a couple of years now and have not had the time to dive into it until now, but I am so glad I'm making the time to do so! If you haven't read this book, we would highly recommend it to anybody interested in learning about the development of children.

Briefly, I wanted to share an important lesson I learned from this book. Today, I read about movement and how it is believed to enhance learning by many psychologists, apart from Maria Montessori. One study the book mentions was done to give infants an artificially induced experience picking up objects with velcro mittens. This was conducted on infants who were just 3.5 months of age (definitely lacking the skills to grasp on their own). The idea of this study was to show if the interest in grasping objects on their own at a more mature age, was related to the experience they received with the velcro mittens earlier in life, or if it was just coincidental. Results of this study showed infants who had 10-12 brief play sessions with the mittens were far more interested in grasping objects, moving towards objects, and even putting objects near the mouth than infants who had not experienced the early grasping sensation.

Another study illustrated advances in infants' social cognition being closely entwined with manual movements. In this study, infants watched an adult grab one of two objects over and over again. After repeatedly watching this situation, many infants showed less interest in watching. But when the placement of the objects was switched up, or the chosen object was a different object than the original time, the infants regained interest. These results suggest that infants choosing to continue observing movements and outcomes such as these, display a correlation between people and having or pursuing goals. "Infants who by their movement generate an experience are inspired to continue to engage in that movement..." (Lillard, p.44). This philosophy is really so simple, and yet our society makes everything sound so complicated.

We do not need luxurious toys and tools to teach our children and let them grow... we only need to believe in them and let them figure it out. Montessori education encourages floor beds, for instance, to allow infants an ability to explore their environment freely. In this room, all dangerous items and areas are "baby-proofed" before allowing the infant to roam on his or her own. The environment is very controlled and carefully prepared in a way that is developmentally appropriate to the child and does not offer too much stimulation all at once.

One of the most important lessons expressed in this book is that children explore the world in various ways, but perhaps the most beneficial is movement because it allows them to connect the action to the outcome. For instance, if you have a box with a hole on the top and a ball that fits through the hole, the idea is to allow the child to determine what the hole is for and where the ball goes. Simply setting out the materials and showing the activity once allows the child freedom explore the activity and is ideal because the child briefly watches how to do it, and then determines how he or she will do it. Repetition allows for this to be a learning experience but take note that if the child is unable to accomplish the task or if it seems uninteresting to the child, it is beneficial to rotate materials in and out of their space. Introducing the activity at a later time might help the child if he or she feels overwhelmed at the task in front of them.

Tummy time IS essential as well. In fact, some studies have shown that even children who sleep on their stomachs reach many gross motor milestones like crawling, before those who sleep on their backs do. Once children are able to walk, Montessori theory suggests eliminating the use of strollers and other carriers in order to show the child that he or she can be mobile on their own (this does not mean eliminating such tools in times when they are needed for safety, such as walking on a busy road or hiking steep terrain). Also mentioned in this book is how parents have been advised to stop using walkers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2001. In addition to causing many accidents, research has shown that infants who use walkers, reach less motor milestones than those who have not used the walkers.

However, some modified tools are suggested for use in Montessori-like environments. To encourage depth perception and learning how to control one's own movements better, Montessori theory suggests having child-sized furniture in the space where he or she will be spending most of their time. The idea behind this is that larger furniture won't move if the child bumps into it, but may cause injuries; and on the other hand, child-sized furniture will budge with almost any impact due to how light it is. This effect is what children will be able to observe, which will then teach them about their personal space and how it relates to other surroundings.

So many people think way too hard when it comes to the little ones. Really, it is SO SIMPLE! Give them love, offer a calming environment, carefully situate each material and activity, observe them, and adjust what you're doing based off of how they respond to what you're doing. Each child is different, and traditional education doesn't necessarily understand this completely. As Lillard's book illustrates, "Behaviorists were not concerned with what goes on inside of the child's mind, only with the outcome... it is easier to pour things in empty vessels or to write on blank slates if they are still." And that, my friends, is why I chose to share this little snippet on the importance of movement! Stay tuned for more information on Teaching vs. Guiding and until next time, practice observing and encouraging movement in your little ones!


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