Exercises of Practical Life

Walking on the Line

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Movement is an integral part of the Montessori classroom, during the child’s time at the Children’s House she experiences both the Sensitive Period for Conscious Co-ordination of Movement (two to four and a half years) and the Refinement of the Senses (two to four years).  In this time the muscular and nervous development of the Unconscious Absorbent mind is brought under conscious control.  The child is also in the Sensitive Period for Order and enjoys repetition and perfection in physical tasks.  The child wishes to follow her tendency to work and produce meaningful action, part of this is completing challenging behaviours and the child loves to exercise maximum effort as part of this.  Being given the freedom to move and make choices about how to do so strengthens the Horme which drives further ambition to repeat and perfect.

When the child enters the Children’s house at two and a half years she has been building on her achievements to balance and walk upright for one and a half years, and for a year has been co-ordinating her upper and lower limbs, achieving ‘Equilibrium’, enjoying climbing, lifting and using stairs, however, walking is still an uncertain process at two and a half and the challenge of walking on a line calls all children.  Montessori noticed how children seek to challenge themselves by walking on beams, edges of the pavements or along railings, once they can walk they continue to challenge themselves to reach perfection, the challenge is both absorbing and intrinsically satisfying, it is very different than the experience of walking for adults, who not only do not have the sensitive periods or absorbent mind, but also have different proportions; the child’s limbs bring shorter and head heavier in proportion to the rest of them adds a greater level of complexity and interest.  Montessori believed that a function would inform the child’s drive when walking along the edges of things and finding patterns in tiles and brick floors so devised the ‘Walking on the Line’ exercise as a safe place to develop the natural interest and skill.

The ‘Walking along the Line’ exercise is different than just walking along the edge of a kerb, it isolates the aspect of the line, this is the only detail the child needs to attend to at first.  Later the activity has social applications, teaching the principals behind ‘Grace and Courtesy’ of being aware of the person in front and behind oneself and those sitting watching, and for the non-participant he must be aware of those using the line. Unlike other aspects of The Exercises of Practical Life there is no other goal, apart from walking, it involves the full concentration and as latest research in Neuroscience confirms it is attention which built the neural structures of the brain.  The child places his full attention on placing the feet flat, on the line and heel to toe.  The children can add further challenges by carrying flags, glasses containing liquids, bells which will chime if struck together and even baskets on their heads as there interest is maintained while the challenge remains difficult.  However the line is never obstructed and is always available to a child wishing to practice on his own, outside of the structured group session.

In a structured session it is done for ten to fifteen minutes by those children wishing to participate, others may continue working on the veranda or just sit and watch.  The social aspect is important children of different ages and abilities come together to see how they will and have progressed, they have different speeds but must walk in sync so as not to collide with their peers, helping them to internalise personal space boundaries and the social codes for gracious behaviour.  The more the child internalises the rules taught by the ‘Walking on the Line’ activity the less the adult needs to restrain the child’s behaviour, and the freer he is.  The child can choose whether to exit or reenter the line but must wait for a moment when she will be able to step without affecting the other walkers.  The children enjoy this experience as they enjoy detail and ordering, it gives an opportunity to make spatial predictions using the Mathematical Mind, choice and success strengthen the Horme and the Sensitive Period of Movement is given the opportunity to manifest. Through controlled, gracious movements psyches develop, an equilibrium of the body manifests social development and psychical harmony.

‘Dignity, graceful bearing and easy movement…when they are capable of controlling themselves, they are freed from the control of others’  (M. Montessori, Discovery of the Child p.119)

The activity encourages the child to make some movements while inhibiting others, using positing muscles to instigate and suppress action, the discipline here is on a concrete level but it sets up the space for the conceptualisation of abstract moral choices.  Choosing to participate and keep social harmony feeds a sense of gregariousness, harmony and grace and paves the way for the ‘Silence’ lesson.

Though every child achieves equilibrium the degree of grace and poise depends on their experiences, especially the opportunities they are given to practice and the movements they see made by adults which they draw on as models.

Rules for Walking on the Line

  • The line is in the form of an elongated ellipse
  • The line must be long enough for ten to twelve children to participate simultaneously, as long and spacious as possible, ideally planned into the building of the room
  • Inside the main ellipse is a concentric ellipse to increase it’s capacity
  • The line must be clearly visible at all times, though working spaces may be inside and around the ellipse
  • Children are free to walk the line any time
  • The line should not be used as a place to sit socially or as a place to hold circle time
  • Children are permitted to leave the line, without obstructing its flow at a place near to the table described below, children may rejoin the line at any place providing they do not disturb the flow
  • The group activity takes place daily, with presentations given to new children after a few days.  The activity is not coercive, children may continue to work on the veranda or watch fro the mats if they do not wish to participate.

Material Description:

A smooth elliptical line, unbroken, is permanently marked on the living room floor, angles in the line would require pauses and break the flow, while a gradual curve cultivates the sensation of the eternal and demands little obvious effort it but the variance in the angle of the line calls for continual gradual modification of movement which focuses the attention gently.   When the children walk calmly on the line, touching heal to toe background music, which the children are familiar with and not excited by, it should be without a strong beat or lyrics is played to enhance a calm group atmosphere while allowing the child to walk to her own rhythm.

Display:

  • On a table next to the line have the objects below displayed to complicate the activity, and a few sitting mats or chairs arms length away from the line for children who wish to observe.

The Objects:

  • Have different national flags, with one’s own country prominently in the centre, regional ones near to it and famous ones further away displayed on a stand which is arched in the centre and has drilled into it hole for the flag posts, with enough space for children to set the flags down and pick them up (introducing Geography).
  • Have five to six different lengths of string with glass or wooden beads attached at the end and another five or six lengths with small bells attached.
  • Have a few small, empty, delicate liquor glasses with long stems and a jug with coloured water and a cloth
  • Have three or four 20 by 30 centimetre trays and balls to carry on them
  • Have four to five empathy coloured baskets of different dimensions and cloth rings to support the child walking with the basket on her head

Presentation:

  • Invite a small group of new children and those who continue to lack control
  • The children should be barefoot as this provides the best feedback to develop the kinaesthetic sense, indoor shoes are acceptable of necessary, but not socks as they skid.

Stage 1: 

  • Say, “We are going to walk on the line, putting our feet exactly on it”
  • Demonstrate with natural grace, putting the foot flat on the line
  • Show how to leave or join the line
  • The children try with the adult assisting from the centre, giving individual instructions if the children are too close thy are asked to pause, if they deviate from the line that are asked to “remember to stay on the line”
  • At first most children will look down and their feet, continue while it holds their interest before returning to individual work

Stage 2:

  • Show how the heel of the front foot touches the toes of the one behind, while remaining on the line
  • Stimulate interest by giving instructions to help refine the movement
  • Introduce music

Stage 3:

  • When a child walks heal to toe with confidence, looking in front demonstrate how the objects can be used to vary the developmental activity
  1. Hold a flag, string or glass in one hand, arm stretched out straight ahead without touching the child in front
  2. Do the same but with two hands
  3. Do the same but also balancing an object on the head

At first suggest to the children a particular object to use, later let them choose themselves, challenge them to

  • Carry the bells without making a sound
  • Carry the filled glasses without spilling the liquid
  • Keep the arm more perfectly straight
  • Put a ball onto the tray and try to keep the ball in place while carrying the tray
  • After successfully keeping the basket on the head put objects inside and balance both

Points of Interest:

  • The gradually shifting elliptical line
  • Balancing the whole foot toe to toe along it
  • Keeping a good distance between others, especially when leaving and entering the line
  • Carrying objects while walking

Purpose:

  • Co-ordination of Movement
  • Independence
  • Concentration
  • Social Adaptation
  • The child enjoys consolidating his earlier steps towards equilibrium and gaining full mastery
  • She concentrates and is fully focused, which cultivates self-discipline
  • She learns to be aware of others, then in harmony with others, rather than distracted when others are present
  • The child follows her ‘inner guide’ in spontaneously expressing her will
  • It meets tendencies towards curiosity and exploration and strengthens them
  • A positive experience is built in the Mneme of overcoming difficulties building will power

The Children’s House gives freedom and purpose to children’s natural desire to create use maximum effort while walking, this maximises their potential for development during the Sensitive Periods for Order, Movements and Sensory Refinement and strengthens the Tendencies.   The child is given a graceful and courteous model to follow by the Directress direct and indirect presentations.

Age at Presentation:

Two and a half years

Footnote:

The child will be shown how to walk as a Grace and Courtesy activity before the first presentation is made

Each further challenge is offered one step at a time to a small group to rectify or add a new point of interest.

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1 Comment

  1. […] Montessori gave two key lessons to young children which require them to use their bodies – Walking on the Line and the Silence Activity. As Montessori’s we want to engage the whole child, and yet, apart […]

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