My name is Vanessa and I work in a non-profit Public Charter Montessori school. Montessori is an educational theory in which children are allowed to learn by following their interests which in turn leads to them being naturally motivated to learn new things and practice skills until mastery. Learning is individualized so each child follows their own path to learn different skills, such as focus, memory, sensory acuity, counting, reading, writing, and operational math. All authentic Montessori classrooms have a mix of children with a 3 year age range. Each classroom is overseen by a certified Guide, a role which is somewhat comparable to a lead or head teacher in a traditional school. I am an assistant in a Primary classroom which is for children who are 3 to 6 years old.
Instead of restraining wiggly children to their chairs, my school has chosen to bring additional items into our classrooms and playrooms so we can further support the physical development of our students while indoors.
Every Monday afternoon the instructional staff gather for Professional Development (PD). Last weeks’ PD was a Child Study on one of our PK-4 students. Child study is how my school supports any child having difficulty reaching their full physical, academic, social, or emotional potential at school.
Lily and I chose one student for Child Study due to this child moving around the classroom more often than they are working. Most of our students spend a fair amount of time wandering around the classroom, playing, and improperly using materials- to the point where they are asked to put that particular work away. Our Primary Child Study Team was focused on supporting one particular child, but this PD helped me realize that multiple students’ constant movement and improper use of materials may stem from their need to physically develop their muscles.
The Montessori environment gives children multiple options to move their bodies in order to encourage physical development. Children walk around the room to choose their works and workspaces and can choose from a plethora of works that involve moving around the classroom. In addition, every child at my school receives 1.5 hours of outdoor recess or indoor recess (free play) each day. But for some children, this isn’t enough, and they express this deficit by running around the classroom, crawling under tables and banging pink tower blocks together. Instead of restraining wiggly children to their chairs, my school has chosen to bring additional items into our classrooms and playrooms so we can further support the physical development of our students while indoors.
Our blue rubber cushion allows children to shift their weight side to side to wiggle while sitting in a chair or on the floor. It provides children with a way to move their bodies and engage their core muscles while staying in one place. This cushion has a bumpy side and a spiky side so children can choose their sensorial input. When used on the floor this cushion also defines the space where the child should be sitting to make sure they are orienting themselves correctly in relation to floor work, and giving nearby classmates enough space during circle time. It is also a great cushion for adults to use while sitting or kneeling on the floor. Our cushions are kept in the classroom to be used during the work cycle.
Our scooter allows children to engage their leg muscles in a similar motion to running, but at a slower pace which is safer while indoors. When given a lesson on the scooter children are shown to hold it by both handles in the same manner a tray is held, then to place it on the ground, sit on it while holding both handles, and use their legs to move their scooter forward. One game I like to play with the scooter is having the child quickly maneuver themselves around playroom in order to catch me while I power walk around the tables. We keep our scooter in the playroom to be used during movement breaks. Our school does not have the indoor space necessary for scooters to be used safely in a whole group setting such as indoor recess.
Our stilts encourage children to practice walking cautiously. To use the stilts children stand on the cups (with the openings on the ground), and pull the ropes to create tension. In order to balance on the stilts, children must continually engage their legs, arm, and core muscles and carefully calculate how to take each step. These stilts are recommended for children 3 to 10 years old, but due to the level of motor coordination necessary to safely use these stilts, I personally recommend them for children 4.5 to 10 years old. We keep the stilts in the playroom to be used during movement breaks or inside recess.
Multiple students’ constant movement and improper use of materials may stem from their need to physically develop their muscles.
Burlap Bags with Rocks
Next to our ellipse, we keep bags of rocks which the children can use while walking the line. In this activity children calmy and gracefully move their bodies as they walk around an ellipse taped to the ground. This activity promotes concentration, meditation, and coordination of movement.
In our classroom, the children walk the line either with just their bodies, while holding a bell without letting it ring, or while balancing a beanbag on their head without letting it fall. After discussing how many children are banging various materials together or against furniture, our Child Study Team came to the conclusion that they are looking to further engage their arm muscles. So we brought in bags of rocks for the children to carry while walking the line. Each bag is filled with rocks the size of an adult’s palm and weighs about 10lbs., children can work with 1 or 2 bags at a time. Not only do the bags provide children with a way to challenge their arms, but the weight of the bags prevent children from running so they can tap into the meditative aspect of walking on the line. Additionally, the burlap texture combined with the sound of the rocks rustling against one another creates an interesting sensorial experience.
This balance board is concave with suction cups on the bottom to attach it to the ground. Depending on how it is used, it can provide stimulation to various muscle groups. The sound of the suction cups attaching to and detaching from the ground also provide auditory stimulation. Children can use it by:
- Standing on the board with their feet shoulder width apart and rocking back and forth, either balancing on their own or holding onto a table for support.
- Kneeling on the board while holding onto the handles to rock back and forth
- Sitting on the board while holding onto to the handles to rock back and forth
- Sitting on the ground while using their arms to rock the board back and forth
We keep this balance board in our playroom to be used during movement breaks. When used during a group setting such as indoor recess, the suction cups can be loud and increase the noise level within the room.
This has been such an eye-opening Child Study and reminded me why it is so important for educators to regularly meet with their colleagues. By working together we were able to realize a barrier to success that many students were encountering and decide on the best way to support all of them. Children need to move their bodies and as educators, we must support that. Having more movement outlets within our school allows us to increase the concentration of our students and decrease the inappropriate use of materials. At a time when only 13 states mandate that elementary schools provide students with time for physical activity during the school day, I’m glad to be at a school that values the physical development of our students.
- The Council of State Governments- State Policies on Physical Activity in School
- Rasmussen College Education Blog-The Importance of Recess: Why Schools Need More Play Time