Maria Montessori's method sparked an approach to education whose objective was not simply to get children to read, write and do sums. The overall goal was much more complex than that because it aimed to develop in children skills that would be useful for their lives in general - not only academic abilities therefore, but social ones too.
Maria Montessori had understood that motor development contributed enormously to the overall balance of a human being because it was interrelated with mental, physical and moral aspects.
What are motor skills?
Motor skills mean the ability to move the muscles of our body. Research has shown that motor-skill development hugely supports cognitive development, helping children to explore the world from a very early age. Not surprisingly, Montessori had already noticed this vital link, writing that: “It is through his muscles that a man can act on the external world and give expression to his thoughts... The will carries out its desires through these marvellous instruments of motion. The mind must have all these means of expression by means of which its concepts are changed into action and its feelings are carried out in works.” [translated from M. Montessori, “La scoperta del bambino” (“The Discovery of the Child”), p. 79]
Motor skills can be divided into three main categories:
- gross motor skills
- fine motor skills
- sensory development
How are motor skills developed and enhanced with the Montessori method?
One prime tenet of the Montessori method consists in the “practical life activities” which foster independence in children, improving their eye-hand coordination and helping them not only to develop both gross and fine motor skills, but not least, to provide cognitive development and concentration with support.
Practical life activities are broken up into four general areas and include a host of different ventures, which include but are not limited to those below:
- Taking care of the environment:
- Clearing and wiping down a table
- Squeezing out a sponge
- Sweeping the floor
- Washing window panes
- Pouring out cereals, water and juice
- Dusting and polishing
- Opening and closing doors, cupboards and drawers (with a variety of different fastenings)
- Setting the table and clearing it
- Folding the tablecloth and napkins
- Washing and drying the dishes
- Talking care of flowers and plants
- Taking care of pets
- Peeling and chopping fruit and vegetables
- Putting anything used back in its place
- Taking care of oneself:
- Washing hands
- Cleaning shoes
- Using a napkin
- Blowing one's nose
- Getting washed alone
- Dressing and undressing alone
- Fastening and undoing buttons, attaching hooks and unhooking, tying bows and undoing them, etc.
- Serving themselves (getting their own elevenses, serving themselves a meal)
- Social behaviour (exercises of grace and courtesy):
- Saying hello/goodbye
- Offering someone something
- Introducing oneself
- Displaying good manners at mealtime
- Passing objects politely
- Shaking hands
- Respecting others’ space and pace
- Serving someone a meal
- Fine-motor control:
- Playing the silence game when children practise self-discipline
- Walking along a line to learn coordination and body control
- Using scissors and a knife
- Screwing and unscrewing
- Threading a needle and pulling out stitches
- Pouring, sieving and crushing
It should be borne in mind that fine motor skills develop neither quickly or automatically, rather they take time and a conducive environment.
What benefits are reaped by fostering the development of the motor skills?
Research shows that children who help around the house achieve their goals more easily in their adult careers because they are more inclined towards orderly thinking and independence. It has also been demonstrated that the acquisition of fine motor skills is closely linked to future cognitive performance because motor-based activities activate various areas of the brain and prompt growth.
This is why it is fundamental that children be involved in such practical pursuits at home. We should be aware that it will be necessary to respect the child’s own pace and it might take up a lot of time (and patience) to finish the housework or cooking, but the long-term benefits will be quite evident. Unfortunately, children grow older, they are less likely to benefit from these kinds of activities.
Can the Montessori method be useful in the case of motor disability?
A huge variety of different motor disabilities exists and unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all solution nor any miracle cure.
However, it is a well-known fact that children with poor motor skills (not necessarily with a motor disability) are more dependent on others and this lack of autonomy can be associated with poorer performance levels.
A Montessori environment constantly fosters the development of this kind of skill from an early age through a whole array of activities and most certainly provides children with the greatest development opportunities, encouraging them to fulfil their potential.
As far back as 1969, Dr Prendergast conducted a study that showed how children who attended a Montessori kindergarten performed better than their peers who went to an ordinary school, and this was particularly true for eye-hand coordination and visual perception.
It is therefore safe to say that a Montessori education provides kids who have no special difficulties with the opportunity to achieve excellent fine-motor skills, but it can also be a good supporting activity for rehabilitation therapies carried out by medical professionals for children who are disabled or exhibit marked motor disorders.