A Moving Experience

Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.

~Maria Montessori

Among the myriad things that happened as the school year came to a close – drama productions, art walk, a field day of collaborative games – a couple of small events came together to illustrate an interesting aspect of learning.

First, I wandered into an Early Childhood classroom at the end of a day, Two students were in the process of deconstructing a “pagoda” they made with the sensory materials. To most of us, these materials look like blocks of assorted shapes, sizes and colors. They had been carrying them from the mat on the floor where they were working to the shelf one at a time. After I walked in and started to talk to the teacher, they started to take two at a time. She looked them pointedly and they, sheepish, giggled and then went back to carrying them one at a time.

To a Montessorian these “blocks” are carefully sequenced lessons that develop the ability to discriminate size and shape, This, in turn, leads to other areas of development. For instance, there are ten items in each set. As these are one of the first lessons introduced to a new child in the classroom, this begins to teach an understanding of base ten before the child is asked to think about counting. The sense of order it develops in learning size discrimination also “orders the mind,” laying the foundation for executive functioning skills. But what was happening in this clean-up session?

Part of the lesson is taking out and restoring the material. Students are taught to retrieve the items for this work one at a time. The walk from the work area to the shelf ten times at the start, and tn time when they are putting it away. This reinforces the learning of the number ten, how that quantity feels when you have to do it ten times.

The next day I saw some activity on the back slope of our property. There is a trail there that goes up a pretty steep hillside, with bridges our middle school built that go over a small stream that runs down it.  When I got there I saw that our Upper Elementary was busy going up and down the slope, reporting their trips to the teacher, with big backpacks, which I learned were weighted with 50 pound of stuff. It turns out that they were participating in an activity about a 6th grader’s Passion Project on the Gold Rush. They had learned that prospectors going over the Chilkoot pass in Alaska into the Klondike had to ferry by foot a years worth of food and supplies per person. This often weighed over a ton. The class was learning what it felt like to carry a ton of stuff, 50 pounds at a time, up a hill.  The teacher said later she had a hard time getting them to stop at the end of the day, they were so into the experience. And several of them weighed hardly much more than their packs.

It’s so easy for us to get wrapped up in what’s easy or fun or, truth be told, electronic. There is a lot of emphasis on technology in learning, and that’s okay. We need to learn through multiple methods because we all learn in different ways, and we also learn new things when learning about the same topic through multiple approaches. But there is so much to be said for the basic body movement and how much that can teach us. We are hard-wired to learn by doing. Feeling it deeply, through our bone and muscle – that’s learning.

Prospectors ascending the Chilkoot Pass in a long line     Image