From fine to gross motor skills, a Montessori class is full of movement. Think of how manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination are practiced with the dressing frame.
Or how Walking on the Line accentuates body awareness and balance. Or let’s take the iconic Montessori lesson of the Pink Tower: Just to set up the material on the work space, the child makes 10 trips walking forth and back to the shelf, and then another 10 after the lesson is complete to put the material away.
Why is movement such an integral component of the Montessori method? In The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori wrote that “Movement is an essential factor in intellectual growth.” The rational goes that it is through movement that children explore the world around them and connect actions to concepts.
As we often discover, Dr. Montessori was right (and way ahead of her time). Today, neuroscience recognizes that movement and cognition are closely intertwined. An example: A study by a team from the University of Granada in Spain, published in the journal Neuroimage, found that children who exercise have more grey matter and improved academic performance.
Movement not only matters for brain development, but it is also translated into many health benefits, including a healthier heart, stronger muscles, better posture, improved confidence and self-esteem, and general physical and mental well-being.
Yet, despite the evidence underscoring the significance of movement for health, sedentarism is on the rise. Back in 2012, The Lancet called physical inactivity a “pandemic,” also placing it next to obesity and tobacco as a risk factor for chronic diseases. Likewise, the World Health Organization suggests that around 3.2 million deaths each year are attributable to insufficient physical activity.
During their early years, which set the basis for lifetime, children need to develop what is known as ‘physical literacy.’ This is the learning and mastering of fundamental movement and athletic skills, like running, jumping, balancing, skipping or throwing and catching a ball.
Against the backdrop of a progressively sedentary world, there is an ever-stronger need to offer children increased opportunities to practice physical skills, in school and beyond. Luckily, the Montessori method not only supports the concept of movement as an integral component of learning, but further offers the perfect setting for children to follow their natural drive to move.
In the Montessori classroom, a Movement Corner and related lessons can be easily incorporated to offer further opportunities for children to purposefully practice gross-motor skills. Beyond the classroom, physical education the Montessori way comes to life through the Montessori Gym: A prepared environment that prioritizes natural materials and where children can work on physical literacy with exercises that emphasize independence, active learning, purposeful action around sensitive periods, as well as cooperation and peer-learning.
In essence, it is about going back to the fundamental Montessori concept that movement matters for the development of the whole child. And doing so, we would be also helping the child set the foundation for a sustainably active lifestyle.
Written by Barbara Murphy of Montessori Gym.