Monday, June 16, 2008

Spontaneous Tracing - Muscular Memory Viewed

Have you ever noticed a child sitting with a material and simply tracing its outline; her movements slow and deliberate. It is a poetic scene.


Years ago, I took a graduate course at the University of Minnesota called "Cinematic Poetry." The films were made by independent artists and scenes from each return to me on occassion. I am reminded of a particular one now. It was made by a woman filmaker whose name I have forgotten. The main character in the movie repeats a motion over and over again throughout the film. She sits in a chair with both of her empty hands raised to shoulder level - the palms facing each other. While the rest of her body remains still she slowly rocks her hands up and down; a seesaw like motion. It was later realized by myself and my fellow students that the filmmaker was having the actress mimic an action she had often seen her grandmother do when she was a child. The actress was re-enacting the movement of creating a skein from a ball of yarn.


When I see a child slowly tracing the outline of a single sandpaper number or letter of the moveable alphabet, I know that they are repeating learned behaviour via some of their earliest Montessori lessons. Yet, I also acknowledge their quiet joy in completing the act and then repeating it.


While I lived in Minnesota, I worked briefly at Lake Country Montessori School in their after school program. One day I saw a co-worker, who had attended the school for many years as a child, washing his hands. After he placed both hands under the faucet, he carefully rubbed a piece of soap between his palms. Then he placed the bar of soap on the edge of the sink and began washing his hands. The pointer finger and thumb of his left hand slowly circled each of his right hand fingers and washed them individually. I watched him like I was viewing a PBS documentary.

When it came to drying his hands with a small towel, he dried each finger in the same manner as he had washed them. This man who was in his earlier twenties completed every step of the hand washing lesson I had just learned in my evening classes at the St. Paul Montessori Training Center.

I was fortunate to learn from this experience that the lessons given in the classroom last a lifetime. Each time I see one of my photographs of a child spontaneously tracing the outline of a letter, a leaf, a shape or any number of things in the classroom or outside, I remember this young man washing his hands.


My Child's Diary said...

Dear Susan,
Thank you so much for your detailed posts, and especially the photos attached. You're an inspiration to me. Just wanted to let you know that you have a dedicated reader in Israel. I am a mother to a 9.5 months boy which makes his first steps on his Montessorian journey. I hope you didn't mind that I've linked to your blog on my blog (it's on Hebrew). Looking forward to your posts during the summer. Thanks again. Miri

Susan Y. Dyer said...

Wow! I feel so complimented. Thank you. I will put a link to your blog too.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet

My Child's Diary said...

Oh, I'm flattered. Thank you!