Monday, June 23, 2014

Locomotion and the hands: Gross and Fine Motor Skills in the Primary Classroom

For the development of motor skills in the child, Maria Montessori writes that the role of the adult is to ensure that the following conditions are met in the classroom:
  • Freedom of movement
  • Opportunities for participation in daily life-- in time, space, and tools
  • Provide necessary and sufficient help (and only what is necessary!)

According to Maria Montessori, the specific powers of the First Plane of Development were the absorbent mind and the sensitive periods. The role of movement in life satisfies certain spiritual needs, like the aesthetic need for music or ritual. Language itself is a form of movement within the vocal chords. All life is movement, within the universe, on earth, and on a cellular level. The whole of the universe is the harmony of movement, and harmony of movement exists in each thing. In Montessori's words, "Movement is a system of relationship."  

Movement manifests as an action, as a change in relation to the environment. Purposeful human movement is produced by the harmony of the intelligence and the will. Montessori calls the relationship between the brain, senses, and muscles which generate movement the system of relationship. To develop any aspect of the system, there must be a coordination of the body. She was passionate in her belief that thought cannot be separated from movements. She said, "Thought and action are two parts of the same occurrence," and again, "It is through movement that higher life expresses itself."

Therefore, we must break down the call for no movement in the classroom, as if the intellect were separated from the body. By treating the body and brain separately, we cannot develop independence.

Initially, the child is inert but taking in information. All of their movements are reflexive. Eventually, they will respond purposefully to their environment. The intelligence of the newborn child grows at a higher rate than at any other time to prepare the muscles for movement. And, with more capacity for movement, the infant's world expands, providing more avenues for the expansion of intelligence. As a rule, movement yields more sensory perception, increasing intelligence. [See Dr. Montessori's chart, The Development of Movement].

There are two aspects of motion in human beings:
(1) Locomotion - the gross motor skills of the lower body, and
(2) The hands - the fine motor skills of the upper body.

The focus of the development of the lower limbs is equilibrium, and balance. By 5-6 months, the control of the upper body is enough that the child can finally sit. At crawling, the child can chose between motion and being able to touch objects. Then they move to cruising, standing alone, and finally, when the child begins to walk, she has her hands free to explore the world while moving. The child who wants to pick up the biggest and heaviest objects in the environment are in the stage of maximum effort. They have a tremendous capacity for walking distances at this time, even a mile at the age of 18 months, but they do it much more slowly than adults. This is because they are in the stage of consolidating their development.

The Hands
Beginning with prehensile grasping, the child soon moves on to purposeful grasping. Then, around one year, one can observe a desire to help with the tools at hand. Around 1 1/2, the child's focus becomes strengthening the arms and climbing with the hands. As they get closer to two, more of the child's effort is directed toward independence. After age two, the controlled actions of the hands are now used in the context of daily life. For adults, it is utilitarian, but for the child, it is the consolidation of thought, will, and action. 

We always know what a child will do with their feet when they grow up, to a degree of certainty, but we never know what the child will do with their hands, whose work creates culture. The more the mind of ancient humans developed, through the course of their actions, we can observe finer and finer work from their hands, according to each time and place. Writing on the capacity of the humans hands, Dr. Montessori wrote, "Nothing is ordained, but everything is possible." Knowing that the brain develops through the acquisition of specific skills, we know that it is through movement that the brain develops. By age 3-4, we find that all organs of life are ready of exercise-- once the degree of independence is ready.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas.

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