Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Walking the Line: Developing coordination and control in Montessori preschool

There are fives areas of practical life in the Montessori classroom (1) elementary movements, (2) care of the environment, (3) care of self, (4) social behavior, and (5) control and coordination.

In all of these but the last, the outward focus is the task, but in the fifth group, the task is to willfully control one’s own movements. The focus is on willful, conscious control of the movement. Children are drawn to playing games that allow for conscious control of the body toward equilibrium. Dr. Montessori observed children across the world experiencing an irresistible urge to walk and balance on narrow, raised spaces. Rather than consider it children’s play, she looked at this behavior and assume that there was a purposeful developmental motive between the universal urge to create obstacles in walking. She theorized that just having developed the capacity for locomotion, they want to challenge and refine their abilities.

As educators, we have a responsibility to prepare the environment to practice with the freedom to use the materials in the class when they need it, in response to their needs. In every Montessori classroom, you will see an ellipse on the floor. You want a narrow strip ¾” to 1”, at least a couple feet from any furniture, as large as the space will allow. The materials should be outside the arms’ reach.

The direct aim of walking the line is to help consolidate the orientation of movement, leading to the integration of the personality—the focus itself is the coordinated movement. This was the indirect aim of each of the other practical life activities, but here it is the direct aim.

The indirect aim is to help the body be conscious of her movements, individually and as a member of a group. It is also to further the sense of being part of a group. The age is from the time the child enters the casa to the time they leave. They walk, walk heel to toe, and walk heel to toe with objects. We may add soft music, but do not add anything with a beat for dancing to movement.

Why is the line an ellipse? We want a closed line so that there is a sense of fluidity and flow. It could be a circle, square, or rectangle, but a circle would make you dizzy. The ellipse allows you to steady and then focus again. It shifts; the challenge comes and goes. Anything with a corner would offer abrupt movements on the edge. The ellipse is also the natural orbit of the planets and the universe.

It is always a collective presentation because it develops a sense of community. Continue it daily, until the community develops their own interest in initiating it themselves. 

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

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