Why Movement is So Important for Children’s Development

All our children are so happy to be back at our school this term and it is a delight to observe them as they immerse themselves in activity, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, but always moving. As we watch the children busy at work, we can see how integral movements are – both large and small – to their process of learning, exploration, and discovery.

One of the cornerstones of our Montessori approach is respecting the children’s need to move and giving them the freedom to do so. Developing control of movements, balance and whole-body and hand-eye coordination are all essential in supporting healthy growth and development. Children learn to direct their actions in increasingly refined and delicate movements, the more control they gain the more they are able to bring purpose and intentionality to experiences as they explore their physical and abstract worlds.

A virtuous circle begins where the mind and the body develop together: the more I can explore with my body the more I know and the more I know, the more I can explore. This applies just as much to real-world experience as it does to the development of abstract thoughts, for all of thought finds its origins in the experiences each one of us has gained in the real world which can then be amplified by our imagination over time.

Today many scientists refer to this phenomenon as embodied cognition: the idea that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind. It is astounding that Maria Montessori spoke about the need for movement and embraced this philosophy 150 years ago and this will be the topic of our AMI Annual Refresher course for those trained in Montessori which will be online this November.

In her book, The Absorbent Mind, Montessori wrote:“It is high time that movement came to be regarded from a new point of view in educational theory. . .  as part of school life, which gives priority to the intellect, the role of movement has always been sadly neglected. When accepted there at all, it has been under the heading of ‘exercise’, ‘physical education’, or ‘games’. But this is to overlook its close connection with the developing mind.”

Maria Montessori knew that children needed to move to learn and she gave us an approach that involved ‘doing’ at every opportunity, doing for oneself, doing for the planet and doing for, and with others. Her approach placed these experiences within an interconnected framework so that the ‘doing’ is not random but leads children to build a more complete and interconnected understanding of the world in which they live.

This month in our school the children have been engaged in so many activities where movement is integral to learning whether building capability and confidence by finding out how to fasten buttons or sew; learning to take care of the world in which we live by washing windows or planting seeds and bulbs; or finding pathways for self-expression through art, music and dance.

And as they build this understanding of their capacities and those of other humans, our elementary children might explore a civilisation and its extraordinary inventiveness by working out the meaning behind Pythagoras’ theorem; or ask themselves the questions that ancient peoples did to solve the problems of their time by building bridges; or deconstruct the sentences of great writers to understand their use of language and to go on to produce their own powerful writing.

As Montessori said, “Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes through his movements”.

Poinsy Pino, Acting Head of School and Karen Gelson, Acting Deputy Head of School