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MONTESSORI CENTRE INTERNATIONAL
18 Balderton Street, London W1K 6TG, United Kingdom
Tel 00 44(0) 20 7493 8300 ( Fax 00 44 (0) 20 7629 7808 www.montessori.org.uk TITLE SHEET

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STUDENT NAME: Ann E Body

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Name: Ann E Body Date: 01.01.01

Please write the essay title in FULL below:

Montessori saw movement as a harmonising factor in the child’s development. Explain how the underpinning ethos of the prepared environment facilitates a balance between the mental and physical energies of the child.

This essay will examine the way in which the principles of the prepared environment aim to support the child’s mental and physical development, particularly during the sensitive period for movement. The ethos of freedom will be considered, as well as the relationship between movement and the intellect with regard to aspects such as exploration and concentration.
The Montessori classroom should provide specially designed materials and purposeful activities which help the children to develop essential motor and cognitive skills. Since the child’s ultimate aim is to achieve autonomy, the prepared environment should facilitate this by offering freedom of movement and choice, thus enabling the child to respond to his/her natural tendency to work. A key component of the Montessori classroom is its accessibility; the furniture should be child-sized and the shelves and cupboards should be low enough for the children to reach the materials without the assistance of an adult. They should be able to move around freely, choosing whether to sit on a floor mat or at a table rather than being restrained at a desk as in a conventional school. This free-flow of activity supports the sensitive period for movement, during which it is preferable for children to be mobile whenever possible, whether crawling or running freely, as this is crucial for their autonomy and for the development of their intelligence: “mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it” (Montessori, 2007a, p.140). Safety should be of paramount importance as young children do not have a clear sense of risk; however, many adults are too concerned about potential dangers to allow a child to explore without constant interruption; “They try to keep a child shut up within a playpen or strapped into a stroller” (Montessori, 1966, p77). Such restricted movement can affect the mental development of the child and may have a lasting adverse effect on personality, because a child who is constantly restrained by over-anxious adults might become cautious rather than confident (Montessori, 1966).
Natural development is guided by the horme, or inner life force, which directs the child’s efforts towards independence: “A child has a special interior vitality which accounts for the miraculous manner in which he makes his natural conquests” (Montessori, 1966, p40). If this psychic energy is not combined with the physical movements of purposeful activity, the resulting imbalance will result in a deviation from the normal path of development. For normalisation to occur, a child must be given opportunities to be physically involved in activities because this will allow the bodily and mental energies to work together (Montessori, 1966). For example, Montessori (2007b) describes an exercise in which the children walk heel-to-toe along a line on the floor. This can be beneficial in several ways; the physical movements help the child to develop balancing skills which can calm the body and strengthen the muscles, whilst the effort and concentration needed to follow the line enable the mental energies to become centred and focused. The child could attempt the exercise while carrying a full glass of water or holding a set of bells; this necessitates paying very close attention to the movements of the whole body whilst controlling and coordinating the hands to prevent any spillage from the glass or any sound emanating from the bells.
Montessori (2007a) emphasises that education begins at birth, with the child learning unconsciously through activity in his/her environment. A baby should not just be left to sit unoccupied but should be offered toys and materials which allow the hands to touch, turn, insert and grasp; these actions will improve the flexibility of the fingers, aid the development of eye/hand coordination and introduce the infant to problem-solving skills. When the baby begins to be mobile, the environment should provide opportunities for him/her to crawl around and to pull him/herself up into a standing position; favourite toys may be left slightly out of reach so that the infant is encouraged to stretch out and move towards them. A toddler should be encouraged to walk with or without assistance and should be offered push/pull toys. Children engage in the process of walking for its own sake, rather than to reach an intended destination: “His goal is something creative within himself” (Montessori, 1966, p78). Many adults lose patience with the slow speed of a child’s steps; however, acquiring mobility is crucial for the development of independence: “Learning to walk is for a child a kind of second birth, when he passes from a helpless to an active being” (Montessori, 1966, p77).

A slightly older child may start using both hands in coordination of fine movements, being able to hold very small items with the pincer grip and releasing them voluntarily; a child must be permitted to repeat activities as often as desired, as this will lead to the refinement of such movements. Montessori (2007b) explains that the sensory and motor activity of the hands and tongue are interwoven with the development of intelligence and the acquisition of language, for the child who is permitted to use his or her hands will achieve a higher level of understanding and reasoning and will form a stronger character. The ability to speak and to use the hands with intricate precision is uniquely human: “The two bodily movements most intimately connected with man’s intelligence are those of the tongue, which he uses for speaking, and those of his hands, which he employs for work (Montessori, 1966, p80). During the sensitive period pertaining to the refinement of the senses, the child will show a desire to taste and touch things, using these inter-sensory experiences to make sense of the world: “The ego builds up its intelligence through the strength of the sense impressions which it has received” (Montessori, 1966, p96). The Montessori sensorial activities, such as the geometric solids, aim to develop muscular stereognostic and kinaesthetic impressions of objects. This later prepares the child for making material abstractions, whereby theoretical concepts in mathematics are reinforced through the concrete manipulation of materials such as the golden beads (Montessori, 2007a).

When surrounded by stimuli, the child will know instinctively which tasks to pursue in order to acquire the skills pertaining to the current sensitive period and must therefore be given the opportunity to exercise free will in deciding where to direct his or her efforts. The teacher’s position should be one of non-interference; she must resist any urges to intrude on this process lest she hinder the child’s natural hormic drive. If the child is permitted freedom of choice and movement then the learning experience will be a positive one, as he or she will master the skills effortlessly and with pleasure because of a natural predisposition to acquire those specific characteristics at that time. However, if the child is given no limits or boundaries to this freedom, the horme will lack any central focus and the child will not learn to concentrate on any individual task. The teacher should not interrupt a child who is beginning to demonstrate signs of concentration – indeed, the child must not even be aware of being watched: “Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him, or destroy the activity” (Montessori, 2007a, p255). This is particularly the case during a sensitive period, when the child may often appear to focus on specific aspects of the environment to the exclusion of all others, for example a child may choose to open and shut a cupboard door repeatedly. This deep level of concentration means that the actions have relevance and meaning for him or her at that time (Montessori, 1966). The child who begins to concentrate will cease flitting from one activity to another, and will instead start choosing work purposefully with the recognition that certain tasks bring particular pleasure. Normalisation can occur when the energies of the mind and body are channelled together on a task: “The transition from one state to the other always follows a piece of work done by the hands with real things, work accompanied by mental concentration” (Montessori, 2007a, p186).

If the natural impulses to move and explore are hindered then a child may deviate from the normal path of development: “If a child has not been able to act according to the directives of his sensitive period, the opportunity of a natural conquest is lost, and is lost for good” (Montessori, 1966, p39). This is because the disposition of the child during a sensitive period is transient and limited to acquiring a particular trait. So strong are children’s natural instincts during this process that they will forcefully demonstrate their frustration when prevented from acting as they wish: “Through long experience we have noticed the sad and violent reactions of children when their vital activities are checked by external obstacles” (Montessori, 1966, p40). Often referred to as tantrums, these are not simply displays of disobedience or naughtiness but may instead be understood to be external manifestations of an unsatisfied need. For example, toddlers who would prefer to walk will often scream as they are strapped back into their buggies. If such sensitivities are not supported and facilitated, the child will suffer inner unrest and may also lose the vital opportunity to acquire the relevant skills with ease and pleasure during that period, consequently developing deviations such as possessiveness or fear (Montessori, 1966). The very basis of a deviation is the tension between what the child wants to do and what he/she is permitted to do. Young children will often insist on attempting things for themselves and it is important that they are not dominated by adults who are misguidedly trying to ‘help’, for example by rushing to assist a child who is struggling to put on a coat.

The child’s development does not originate in the external surroundings of the prepared environment, but rather the environment provides the means for this development; the child will progress normally as long as the setting adequately corresponds to his or her inner needs. The child may repeat tasks until his or her interest has been exhausted or until the skill has been mastered, at which point the teacher must adapt the learning environment to the appropriate development level by presenting new material. Certain Montessori materials, such as the knobbed cylinders, are self-correcting so that the teacher’s input is necessarily minimal; when the child has mastered a task, the teacher may introduce new work according to the appropriate development level but should never coerce the child into attempting an activity as the freedom to choose tasks of interest and to repeat them as often as desired will allow the child to become independent, self-sufficient and responsible, demonstrating self-discipline in persevering with, and completing, cycles of activity. I recently observed a child who became competent at using tongs for transferring large pebbles eventually progressing to using finer tweezers to transfer much smaller beads, after being presented with this new material by a teacher who had been monitoring his movements.

The freedom offered within the prepared environment should allow the child to move about as directed by his/her natural impulses and to develop skills by repeating activities as often as required. There should be opportunities to explore and to engage all the senses; however, safety should always be of paramount importance in the care of an infant. A teacher must therefore be mindful of the sensitive relationship between a child and his/her surroundings if she is to successfully facilitate the learning process; this involves an awareness of the delicate balance which must be achieved between the setting of boundaries and the offering of opportunities.

Bibliography

Lillard, P.P. (1972) Montessori: A Modern Approach New York: Schocken Books.
Montessori, M. (1966) The Secret of Childhood New York: Ballantine.
Montessori, M. (2007a) The Absorbent Mind Amsterdam: Montessori Pierson Publishing Company. Montessori, M. (2007b) The Discovery of the Child Amsterdam: Montessori Pierson Publishing Company.…...

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