Sitting and rising from the table
Dr. Montessori termed development of motor function “muscular education”. Here we are concerned with the coordination of muscles and the skillful tasks that can be performed by the child that has developed excellent coordination. Muscular education is not body building, but rather the securing of balance, learning to walk and coordinate movements. With attention to muscular education, the child can achieve extraordinary coordination and grace. Surely, every parent desires this for his child.
How might a child be empowered from within the home to accomplish feats requiring extraordinary coordination and grace? Parents often harbor the mindset that children are clumsy; therefore they must not be entrusted with a job requiring much skill to perform. (And that is why they do not develop much skill.) For example, children are usually not allowed to carry a tureen of soup or ladle it out or to carry a pitcher of water or pour their own juice. Rather than forbidding children to strive for these accomplishments, parents need to carefully and systematically teach the children how to do these things. In the Montessori Children’s House children do everything including pouring their beverage and serving the soup.
Parents can prepare simple lessons at home that provide ample opportunity for muscular education. The child can begin some of these lessons as early as one year of age.
Sitting down at the table and getting up again is a good lesson for a two year old. The parent demonstrates the proper way to sit down and rise up from the table. The child watches and is then given the opportunity to practice using his own child-sized table and chair.
Here are the practical steps that make up this lesson:
1. Invite the child to watch how you sit at the table and rise up again.
2. Stand behind your chair and place both hands on the sides of the back of the chair.
3. Lift the back legs slightly and pull the chair out. There should be approximately 5 inches between the edge of the table and the edge of the chair.
4. Step around to the side of the chair. Sit sideways on the chair and swing your legs under the table.
1. Swing your legs from under the table so you are sitting sideways in your chair.
2. Stand up and walk around to the back of the chair. Place both hands on the sides of the back of the chair.
3. Lift the back legs slightly and push the chair in towards the table until the back of the chair is about 1 inch from the edge of the table. As you push, guide the chair between the table legs to its proper place.
4. Invite the child to perform the same exercise using his child-sized table and chair.
One of the objectives of this exercise is to make as little noise as possible. Bring it to the child’s attention that we sit down and get up as quietly as possible. Knocking the table with one's legs or knocking the chair against the table or being noisy with pushing or pulling the chair towards or away from the table are all errors. You may need to practice this yourself for a while in order to perfect the technique before you attempt teaching it to the child.
Do not judge the child’s performance. Of course, the child will not perform perfectly the first time. And probably not until he has practiced it many times. Make no mention of the child's mistakes. Discouraging or overbearing words from a parent can stifle a child's desire to learn and achieve.
On the other hand, giving too much attention or praise for every little thing the child does is equally disastrous and does not help a child strive for excellence at all.
All a parent needs to do is to set the right example for the child to follow. Eventually the child will become accomplished.
The most important thing is to give the child opportunity (in this case your superlative example and the child's own table and chair) and, above all, give the child the psychic space, or room, to practice and learn on his own without parental interference and undue attention, which will interfere with the child's concentration and undermine the development of intelligence and learning.
Never disturb a concentrating child. It is the most disrespectful thing a parent can do.
Whenever you sit at the table or rise up and your child is watching, you can make a point to show the child, again, how it is done, emphasizing the quiet way you go about it. Each time the child practices the child gains skill. And if you follow the path of Dr. Maria Montessori, someday soon the child will exhibit this skill with extraordinary coordination and grace.