The High Energy Child in the Montessori Environment
By Marla Nargundkar, AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta
In the Montessori environment, movement is an essential and integral part of learning. The child learns through first-hand experience primarily by doing and secondarily by observing. Every activity in the classroom involves movement and engages as many senses as possible. All the work in the Practical Life area and the Sensorial area involve many trips to retrieve all the parts of a given work and then the steps to clean up at the end. Even in areas that may seem abstract, there is always something to engage the body. Children also work in a variety of places and positions – at a table or on the floor which gives the body opportunities to move from one area to another. There are no assigned desks or places in the classroom.
In the Montessori classroom, the child is groomed to engage in purposeful and controlled movement. There are many breakable objects and this is intentional to give the child feedback about his/her movements. Children learn to work toward goal oriented activities. Many high energy children find adequate outlets for their energy in a Montessori classroom and have no issues. However, issues arise when movement is uncontrolled, destructive or disturbing to others. Uncontrolled movements include flopping around, falling down and running indoors. Destructive movements include rough handling of materials, bashing and repeated dropping of materials. It can also include direct harmful movements of hitting, pushing or grabbing others. Disturbing movement can include loud/repetitive noises or touching other’s work. The overarching goal of Montessori education to that each child learns how to conduct him/herself, to pursue his/her own individual work within the structure and responsibility of the group. Each child is expected to respect other’s space, body and work.
Within the classroom itself, there are some specific activities that children can choose to burn off extra energy. They can do “push hands” which involves pushing on the wall. They can jump in a designated area followed by a few deep breathing exercises. There is also an exercise to blow through a straw to move pompoms as well as crawling with a rolling pin along a line. Children can even run laps for a few minutes outside if the above activities are not enough to help them be calm during the morning work time, until it is time to play outside. These activities give the child an opportunity to regain a controlled level of energy whenever the need arises and hopefully by his/her own conscious self-awareness and choice.
Support from home is essential for high energy children. They often need a very high and consistent level of exercise outside of school. Parents of high energy children need to commit to a regular exercise regimen for their child. This could include regular lessons in dance, gymnastics, martial arts and swimming. But there must be a daily routine in place for enough exercise that involves full body movement and weight bearing activities such as calisthenics. The diet should avoid refined and processed foods including sugar, white flour, artificial colors and junk food. Proper sleep and rest are also essential for high energy children to regulate their energy and mood. Children under the age of 5 need at least 10 – 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Electronic media and television should be very limited and none should occur the last 2 hours before bed. Many high energy children are sensitive to violence in media and should be shielded from it on television and video games.
High energy children need help to develop a vocabulary of emotions and find acceptable ways to express them. For example, parents can read books to children about emotions and how to name them. They can help each child to find an activity that works for them to express that feeling such as dance, art, music, running, hitting or even screaming into a pillow. Each outlet should have an acceptable time and place. High energy children need to know what is acceptable and where and when.
High energy children need firm and consistent boundaries and limits that are clearly set in advance with appropriate and logical consequences. High energy children can be very persistent and so parents may be tempted to give in and not consistently follow through with consequences. It’s important for parents to choose rules and logical consequences very carefully. Rude, destructive or harmful behavior should never be tolerated in the name of “high energy.” Setting healthy boundaries and expectations for a high energy child helps avoid some very anti-social behavior among peers as well as with teachers and other adults.
So with the right support from home and school, high energy children thrive in Montessori environments! Energy is neither good nor bad in itself – it is a force, that when harnessed properly becomes and ally rather than a hindrance. Movement is essential to the development of the child’s brain and to strengthen the neural pathways of learning. If your child is a high energy child then be sure to elicit information and guidance from your child’s Montessori teacher and follow the suggestions given above. Together, you can help your child succeed at home and school.
“The task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.”
“Respect all reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.”
— Maria Montessori