Independence and Movement

Selecting the chapters to read from The 1913 Rome Lectures has been a fun task.  In typical Montessori fashion, the chapters jump from topic to topic.  The last book club session,  before Christmas, facilitated a really meaningful discussion about the nature of freedom and what this freedom represents in context of giving lessons. 

At our next Book Club meeting on 1 February at 19.00 (UTC), we will consider the relationship between children’s independence  (ps:106-11) and muscular education (ps: 163 -171), and for good luck I have also added the short chapter on ‘Nature in Education’ (ps:172 – 182) because I was curious to see if Montessori made any connection with the preceding chapter on movement. Please forgive this little mischief on my part. I also hope that your edition of the book does not have the same challenge with pagination where the chapter on independence is interrupted by pages 72 – 92. It all added to the fun of reading and considering Montessori’s 1913 perspective on education.

Montessori discusses the challenges of independence in the context of freedom and reminds us of the temptations of life which we all experience. She arg­­ues for education which serves life:

“We should not serve the individual, but life, and in that way go forward to the conquest of freedom”

Montessori, The 1913 Rome Lectures, 2013, p. 108

The focus on serving life rather than the individual made me stop and think ‘have I misunderstood the need for individual development?’  I am keen to explore this further when we get together for our bookclub.

She also links independence with development “… every step towards growth is the successive conquest of independence” (p:108). This statement has a significant meaning if we consider the developmental stages which take place during the successive planes of development and the growing autonomy of the child brought by independence. From physical capabilities to intellectual curiosity and the moral activism which we observe in the adolescent.  She argues for the need of care and education of young children. For many years the focus has been on physical care of infants and pre-schoolers, in recent years the shift toward educational outcomes have sometimes resulted in overlooking the need for well being and love, which underpin the child’s personal, emotional and social development.

Montessori challenges our natural instinct to help young children, urging patience, reminding us us that achieving particularly physical independence requires practice and time.  I love her statement: when “the adult acts very little and instead children act a great deal: they may look less perfectly groomed, but are more of a personality” (p:109).

She also warns us about the dangers of trying to help when children are striving for physical competence (perfection) and urges us to acknowledge that “The only real way of perfecting themselves is by their own experience” (p:110), these experiences also offer opportunities to develop attention, will and control of movement and to acquire dexterity. She urges us “…to abstain from wating on the children” (p:112).

Montessori’s views of physical exercise towards the end of this chapter highlights the significant changes in our lifestyles since the beginning of 20th Century and in this context need to be challenged. We have seen the benefits of physical activity, particularly outside, during the recent pandemic. 

She reminds us of the need for freedom of movement (in relation to the size and weight of the nursery furniture) which gives the child agency and highlights the value of freedom when selecting activities and deciding where and with whom to work. This freedom and independence contribute to the children’s calm, serenity and growing self- control.

The next chapter selected for reading, dedicated to Muscular Education, highlights the human capacity for refinement of movement.  Montessori uses her extensive knowledge of anatomy and again returns to the relationship between education of movement and “education for all of life” (p:164).  She connects intelligence and the senses and also the emotional impact of movement – how we feel when we are free to move.  This brings us powerfully to what we understand today by the child’s sensitive period for movement – surprisingly not mentioned in the chapter. I know that The Secret of Childhood (published in 1936) refers to sensitive periods and wonder if any of our readers have found an earlier reference? The following quotation is the precursor of  “The hand is the instrument of man’s intelligence” found in The Absorbent Mind:  “Intelligence does not consist only of taking in, that is to say, it is not only the sense that are the foundation of the construction of the intellect but also the movement the intellect produces”. (p:165)

In this chapter we already see glimpses of activities on offer in the Montessori baby and toddler rooms which Montessori researched and worked on when she returned from India.  She mentions the infants’ need to stand, walk, move, climb, balance and recommends  a small gymnasium with pull up bars, walking on the line, climbing stairs proportioned to suit the small child’s body. She also relates to exercises of practical life as a tools for development of movement and suggests outdoor activities such as working in the garden, feeding animals and pushing a wheelbarrow and eludes to their benefit as indirect preparation for later activities such as writing.

Montessori’s reference to introduction of music and spontaneous approach to dance both offer children opportunities for self-expression connecting movement with feelings.  The connection between movement and the chapter on Nature in Education is best expressed by Montessori’s quote “…the greatest instinct of childhood is to be able to run out into the rain without an umbrella” (p:178).  She also makes a very strong connection between the “spiritual life of the child, and the influence which nature has over this life” (p:178). She refers to the emerging outdoor classrooms, gardening and forest experiences which were being established in the England as well as Germany and Italy at the time; she  acknowledges their value and benefits to the “formation of inner life” (p.179). 

In this last chapter we will discuss on Tuesday, Montessori discusses the importance of observation of nature and how the child’s skills for such observation grow.  She recognises that observation is more than seeing “…real eyes only are not enough to see that which exists, but one needs an inner spiritual preparation to see and enjoy” (p.181). We look forward to exploring this notion and some of Montessori’s other thoughts set out in these three chapters on Tuesday.

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