As I travel all over the world, I am always amazed at how much children the world over seem so much the same. They might be Thai, Chinese, Australian, or Dutch. They might look different on the surface, but underneath they are all the same. I see children during lunch/recess in Thailand, running, jumping, chasing and giggling with delight. I see children in China playing in the sand, swinging or sliding on the play equipment. Change the setting and this would be children anywhere in the world!
I have always been fascinated by children’s need to move, whether with purpose or just for the delight of moving. You might ask, why. Why does the young child seem to always be a ball of energy? Dr. Maria Montessori gives us great insight into the developmental needs of the child. She wrote frequently about the natural, spontaneous energy that exists within the young child. She called these motivational powers sensitive periods.
The energy and motivation for movement comes from this great developmental power of the sensitive periods. Every child comes into this life almost immobile and dependent upon others for meeting all his needs. As the child’s body comes under the control of the neurological system, movement becomes possible. The child is driven to exercise his arms and legs. He creates the ability to roll over, to pull his knees up and crawl and then finally, using his hands as helpers, he is able to stand and walk. I recently watched a video of my grandson practicing the art of rolling over from back to tummy. He was able to roll from tummy to back quite easily some weeks earlier. Rolling from back to tummy involves a totally different set of muscles and must be accomplished without the aid of gravity. Then of course, there is the inside arm that gets in the way. He practiced over and over with little overt success despite the encouragement of is his older brother. This practice eventually went on for several days. I received another video with proof of success! Any adult practicing this same move with limited success would quit, worn out and discouraged in short order. But the young child persists trying over and over again, sometimes over a period of days, before successful. This push to move comes from within the personality. It needs no encouragement, no cheerleading of parents or siblings, although support is always responded to with smiles and coos.
What does this mean for the adults around young children? We can look to see if we are supporting the child’s opportunities to explore movement. In our speeded up, adult convenient world, often the child’s needs get lost. It is so easy to keep the young child corralled in a playpen, car seat, automated swing or bed. What the very young child needs is to be down on the floor where he can exercise arms and legs, kicking and stretching, lifting his head and shoulders to see what is happening. It is during this time that the child is getting his body ready for movement. Once the child begins to move, in whatever manner that might be, the child needs to be free to move. The child must be free to explore the home environment; he should be allowed to interact with the outdoors- grass, sand, sidewalk. Once he can walk, he should be allowed the dignity of walking by himself, for himself. Coordination will come from the application of movement within the context of his immediate world. I remember running through an empty field behind our home, playing at the local park, and taking long walks with my dad. So many children today do not get these experiences in their adult programmed, protected world. Let’s free the children to move as they are meant to move, so they can become confident and secure in moving on their own within their world.