Young Children & Movement
Young children are wired to move. If you force them to sit still, it takes all of their focus and energy to suppress the need for movement and they can’t learn effectively. One of the best ways to help young children acquire knowledge is to provide a safe and supervised environment in which they can move freely and make decisions for themselves.
Self-directed learning allows children to tinker, experiment and reflect on their engagement with their worlds. Role-play may seem like a benign activity but it is actually a form of self-directed learning that is crucial for developing empathy and problem-solving skills. When your child creates new, imaginary worlds, she exercises her imagination, develops her emotional faculties, fashions new tools and acquires new knowledge about herself and her environment. This kind of experiential learning—where children gain knowledge by reflecting on their experiences—occurs when they have freedom of movement.
At the Montessori School of Wellington, not only do we provide designated safe spaces for free play—such as a full-size indoor gymnasium and an outdoor courtyard—but we also provide educational activities in math, science and the arts that are designed specifically to teach new knowledge through movement.
One of the major areas of the Montessori classroom is the Sensorial Area. Because children have limited language abilities, most learning is done through their senses. Movement is a sensorial activity and what children learn about their world through their senses has a direct connection to their brains. You will lose their attention by trying to verbally explain concepts such as “numbers” and “colours,” but if you get them to learn through movement, this information gets encoded in the brain. Montessori materials and activities that incorporate movement include:
- The Colour Tablets: the child takes a coloured tablet (e.g. red), and has to find and retrieve something in the classroom that matches that colour.
- The Number Game: the child selects a number and finds and retrieves something in the classroom in that quantity (e.g. if the child gets the number six, s/he could retrieve six sheets of paper or six pencils).
- The Pink Tower: the child sets out a mat and then takes one cube at a time from the pink tower and sets it on the mat. This exercise is also used in other materials such as the Brown Stair, Number Rods, and Red Rods
- Practical Life activities: the classroom has empty jugs that the children can use at any time. When a child needs one, they fill it at the sink and practice balancing on the way back. If they make a spill, they learn to retrieve the proper cleaning tools and keep their environment in safe/clean condition.
It’s important to note that movement diminishes as children mature. When they first start at our school, their attention span is short, so we keep our initial activities brief and involve as much movement as possible. As children learn to control their impulses and develop longer attention spans, the need for movement becomes less crucial. You may notice that once you child learns to read books, they have a noticeably diminished need for movement.