Freedom of Movement

I had the pleasure of watching a former student, Joss Christensen, win gold at the Olympics recently. I’d known this boy since before he was born. His parents, Debbie and JD, were among those Parkites who came to town to ski in the ‘70’s, met, married, found jobs and began a life here. Joss’s older brother, Charlie, was a spectacular student. He had soft wispy blond hair that you wanted to reach out and touch, but he didn’t like the attention and would expertly dart away from your outstretched hand. Joss always had big ideas going on in his head of tousled blond curls. He liked the movement of the Montessori exercises.  I reminded him one day of how to carry the golden 1000 bead chain carefully across the room. He accidentally stepped on it and looked at me with a sheepish expression that said, “But this time I was being careful!” The next time he carried the bead chain across the room he moved as if he was tip toeing through a china shop.

Time went by and Joss graduated from the Winter Sports School. The last time I saw his dad he was grinning ear to ear about the success Joss was having in skiing. JD died tragically last fall and when I saw Charlie at the memorial the boy who didn’t like to be touched hugged me several times. I made my way across the packed room to Joss standing with his tall, blond friends. I felt like a Hobbit in the land of Elves. He also had generous hugs and grateful memories of our times together at Soaring Wings. I asked how the skiing was going and he was very modest. I quipped that I would see him at the Olympics.

A few months later we saw a letter to the editor in the Park Record from another of our graduates congratulating Joss on making the Olympic team. We were elated for Joss and his family.  I figured that if he came in 27th it would be an incredible thing. So when I saw him ski that winning run on tv and heard his mom screaming from the crowd I imagined they might have heard me screaming, too. The boy who worked so hard to keep those math beads in hand now had real gold firmly in the palm of his hand.

Dr. Montessori pointed out that in order to develop to their fullest potential one of the basic needs of children is freedom of movement. She observed that when an infant is left naked on a flat surface she will practice moving her limbs in large circular motions with great concentration while rotating her whole body in a circle. She suggested heating the room so the child would be comfortable without clothes and could move unhindered, providing time and space for the infant to practice this work of development. A busy family may keep the baby bundled through most of the day rather than allowing a safe place and time to practice movement. The child will learn movement nevertheless, but allowing freedom of movement not only promotes muscular coordination, but also the knowledge that individual needs are honored in this family.

As children grow they accompany their families through their daily tasks and form attachments for these experiences. A farmer’s children enjoy the scent of the soil and the new plants. The artist’s child enjoys the smell of the paint and the sun streaming in through the window. The athlete’s child enjoys the wind in his face and the feel of muscles stretched to their limit. The child may or may not choose a similar path, but the values the family has demonstrated will stay with the child for life.

Thinking back on the conversations we had with Joss’s parents on the many choices along the way I see that they always worked hard to put the boys’ needs before their own. They came here to live happy, healthy lives doing what they loved and they conveyed this to their boys. Whenever there was a fork in the road they chose what the boys needed most. The conversation always ended with, “He’s happy.” The children always had freedom of movement, not only in exercising their muscles but in exercising their choices. They knew that their needs were honored. They’ve both grown into confident, thoughtful, accomplished men. Joss skied with a picture of his dad in his pocket. At the finish line his mom pulled him close and right there on national tv he said, “I love you, Mom.”

Most of our children won’t meet their life’s goals so famously, but they have parents who have come to this place to follow their dreams and live happy, healthy lives doing what they love, allowing freedom of movement and honoring their needs. Whether they choose to become the best in the world at something or to do something very ordinary to the best of their ability they will live their own happy, healthy lives doing what they love. And they will likely pass this inclination toward freedom of movement on to our grandchildren.

Duna Strachan, BS AMS
Executive Director
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA

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