Recently, I did a presentation for parents regarding how important movement is for children. While doing so it reminded me how we are helping the children to become mindful. Mindfulness defined is being in the present moment with an awareness of oneself in relationship to others. When we practice movement, the children are purposefully made aware of other people and objects, so that they do not bump into them.
Movement is a critical part of the human experience. It begins in the womb as the baby is floating in a body of water in the uterus. It is very thrilling for the mother to begin feeling the life that lives within her. Upon leaving this sacred place and entering the world the baby encounters a wider place to move and begins his or her journey of exploration.
As the child continues to grow and experience the many forms of stimulation that he or she encounters, life opens up to them and the brain is capturing everything. The baby wishes to expand this awareness by taking in as much as he can. Awareness of the body and its parts brings much delight to a little one. As the child become increasingly mobile, movement in all directions is necessary and should always be encouraged. The role that the adult can play in this time period is to prepare the environment, provide activities and make time so that opportunities are available for the child to move.
When the child enters a Montessori primary classroom, (between the ages of two and three years old), the freedom to move is an imperative part of their development. It is always fun to watch a child on a playground, run, jump and go wild and use that energy which has been asking to be freed. But the freedom to move takes on new meaning inside the classroom. Movement brings knowledge. Movement supports brain development. Encouragement is given to develop the ability of purposeful, deliberate movement. We wish to foster this ability, in order for the child to bring his or her abundant physical energy under the control of the WILL. The impulse to move becomes a mind-guided action. The adults must follow the rhythm of the child to help create and atmosphere for mindfulness.
Dr. Montessori defined sensitive periods as a time when a child is able to take in the sensory impressions of the world and make the most out of them. The sensitive period for movement is ages birth to six years old. This is the time period when coordinated movements may develop optimally. The child learns to control their muscles with their minds.
The Montessori classroom has an area called Practical Life. These activities in this area are used for the child to gain control of their movements and promote their coordination. It allows opportunities for the child to become increasingly independent and also gives them tools to adapt to their society. There are basic activities available, which promote mindful movement such as carrying, folding and pouring. The child also learns how to become independent and care for their body. They learn how to dress and groom themselves. They also learn how to take care of their classroom environment, which gives meaning to what adults may find to be mundane tasks, but children find to be purposeful movements. These activities include cleaning, sweeping and mopping.
The lessons in Grace and Courtesy encourage quality interactions with their peers, their family members and all the people that they may meet. They are sensitive to these lessons, which also makes them confident in their abilities to be with other people in the world.
The Control of Movement activities include walking mindfully, as well as walking on a line to different types of music. The three-finger pincer grip is encouraged while they are doing their activities in order to strengthen the muscles that will be used for future writing activities. All of these activities are bringing the muscles under the control of the mind.
Mindfulness in Montessori is very important and is a great gift it is to give to young children during a critical period in their development. Children also love doing yoga asanas, which help to develop their large motor skills. Along with the Silence Game and short periods of meditation that are taught, we as Montessori teachers/guides become fulfilled in knowing that we are encouraging the optimal development of the children that we serve.