Last week's contemplation of how geography is taught in the early childhood made me consider long and hard about why movement is so important to a child's education, both at home and at school. Of course, we all need to get through life and maps help us orient ourselves so that we can move in a direction of our choosing. However, for young children, this general movement is intimately connected to their actual cognitive growth. As an educator, I have been asked numerous times, "What kinds of activity do children really need?"
The brain depends on all types of movement to physically develop (i.e. corpus callosum, dendrites, neurons, etc.). Movements from crawling to walking to coloring to eating give the brain opportunities to grow through exploration of the child's environment. A child who is not allowed to move will not develop in a normative fashion (think orphanages in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union crumbled). Montessori spoke about this movement in her book,
The Discovery of the Child
, when she wrote, "One of the most important practical aspects of our method has been to make the training of the muscles enter into the very life of the children so that it is intimately connected with their daily activities."
Our classrooms allow children this freedom to move within the room. They sit and work in spaces of the child's choosing. I often reflect on my learning in elementary school and consider how much I sat in comparison to the students in our classrooms. The smaller kids like being on the floor, so their work is usually done on rugs, while the older kids like sitting at tables so they choose spaces up from the floor. This is what Montessori based her educational method on, movement. Children discover a lot about themselves and the larger world by moving about with as few restrictions placed on them as possible.
At home, your child's activities are probably similar to my children. They dance, play catch, ride bikes, skateboard, jump on trampolines, and on and on. This large muscle movement is important, however there are also less obvious movements which are just as important. Setting the table at dinner, or setting their own dishes out as a toddler is important to their sense of order and is allowing them the opportunity to become independent.
Household chores also give your students the opportunity to gain independence while developing a sense of order. This movement also helps them keep a mind-body connection occurring, which is something that can get lost in our society's drive to separate physical education from general education.
There really is no substitute for movement, when it comes to the developing minds of children (and youth). Movement stimulates learning, not the other way around. Exploration of your neighborhood after dinner for a small walk will not just help your food digest better, it will create opportunities for questions to be asked, curiosities shared, and comments made about anything and everything we see, smell, hear, touch, and taste in the world around us.