Sensitivity to walking is my favorite. Hands down. No contest. And yet, it is the one that I know the least about in terms of Dr. Montessori's formal opinion on the matter. Those writings of hers that I have been lucky enough to consume mention this stage in passing, and do not dwell much on the matter. If you know off-hand which of her writings most completely covers the stage, I would be grateful for that information!!
My personal observations lead me to believe that sensitivity to walking would be more accurate if labeled sensitivity to movement. I have heard this term used in Montessori circles, so I trust that it will not be offensive if I begin referring to it as such. I just can not throw my hat in the ring if the focus is so narrowly set. The first time the doctor laid my Sweet Boy on my chest, he wiggle-wiggled right on up looking for milk. He was born moving with intent. Such a miraculous thing!!
"The greatness of human personality begins at the hour of birth." - Dr. Maria Montessori
Sensitivity to movement breaks into two separate categories, gross and fine motor development, and they progress along side each other from day one. In the first few months, infants are consumed with the transition between womb and world. They must learn to eat, be that by bottle or breast -- a fine motor skill that can overwhelm baby and mother if it is slow to develop. Behind this picture, I am crying tears of joy. Three days later at one in the morning, I was a sobbing, snotty-nosed mess on the floor of my bedroom rocking a screaming and starving baby boy. Sweet Boy was developing a skill. (So was Mommy!) In the same manner that he has hundreds of times since then, he aimed at a goal, by his own instinctual drive, and struggled at the skill until it was mastered. And in the same manner, I had to learn the skill of watching the struggle, supporting it, without interfering in the lesson.
Baby Bubs loved to lie in the sunshine wrapped up tight. There is a comfort in returning to the womb those first months, and he would sleep like this all day as the world spun around him. When he woke, though, his little hands would stretch out, and his tiny toes would wiggle. It didn't look like much, but it was the beginnings of gross motor skill. He would stretch out into the world, exploring his space in it, developing the skills needed to do so. After this work, he would request again a bundled up nap. Learning is hard work!
The progression of gross motor skills quickly changes from a sweet, snuggling bundle to a sticky, mud covered mess. This is when the urge for movement really begins to stretch caretakers. It is amazingly difficult to support this sensitive period -- not because you have to do anything, but because you have to do nothing. Well. Less than you would like. It will feel some days like your little joy woke up with the intention to give someone a heart attack. The urge to climb comes before awareness of the fall. The urge to throw comes before the awareness of shattering glass. And the urge to run comes before the awareness of that sharp corner on the table. The temptation to chase your child around all day shouting "No" is so strong it almost hurts. But I am here to tell YOU "No!" Don't do that to your sweet joy. What can you do? Repeat the Montessori mantras to yourself and get creative. "Observe the child. Follow the child. Prepare the environment." Here are some ways that might manifest.
You notice your four month old arching his back and kicking his legs. You prepare his environment by setting him down on floors instead of beds or couches when you need a free hand. You know that first roll is coming!
You watch your baby girl push up onto her arms and begin rocking back and forth. You move the floor lamp to another room for a few years because you see crawling in the near future.
Your baby girl pulls up into a standing position for the first time!! That floor lamp gets a few roommates. Flimsy side tables have got to go.
You walk in to the living room to a big boy grinning like a Cheshire cat, hands in the air, perched on top of the couch. The coffee table gets pushed a touch further away from the couch and you pull out a step stool to encourage climbing in a different location.
Over night it seems like every toy has become a ball, so you place as many wooden, hand sized toys away as possible for a few months. In their place, you fill a couple baskets with bean bags, scarves and ball-pit balls.
Your little track star figured out that she gets quite the rise out of Mommy when she runs in the parking lot, and has made it a personal goal to explore this phenomenon. You silently curse having opinions about child leashes before children as you place your Amazon order.
It is incredibly important to note that preparing the environment does NOT mean keeping your child free from harm. Preparing the environment means allowing your child to learn the natural causes and effects that exist in the world of gross motor skills without an emergency room visit. It sounds odd, but your goal is to help them fall the correct distance. You want to teach them that climbing comes with falls, running comes with obstacles, and things can break if you treat them roughly. The child is chasing independence, and independent movement comes with the responsibilities of decision making and bodily control. These are skills that must be mastered!
The same concept can be applied to fine motor skills. The goal in all things harmful during skill development is to allow the child an appropriate amount of consequence. Obviously, you can not let your sweet joy choke on a marble to learn the lesson!! Here, I am thinking of things like needles, knives, hammers and screw drivers. It is quite alright for a two year old to know that a hammer smashing your finger isn't pleasant, or that a glass of milk will break. Allow that lesson, as hard as it is to watch, as long as it doesn't place the child in a position of permanent damage.
You will find if you are careful, and train yourself to say, "Try that here instead." -- that when you do need to shout out a definitive "NO!" your child will be much more inclined to stop in their surprised tracks. You will also find that your sweet joy develops the opinion that he is very capable of doing things. The child will feel capable because self esteem does not come from parental platitudes in a safe environment. Self esteem is a byproduct of having overcome. This is why sensitivity to movement is my all time, hands down favorite. The look on the face of a child who has fallen three times, and overcome the fourth, is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Blessings on your journey,
Buckets and Berries