Lower School Blog: The Work of the Hand

"The hand is in direct connection with a human's soul...it is bound up with the development of the mind, and in the light of history, we see it connected with the development of civilization."  from The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori

Did you ever stop to consider that all human achievements - in medicine, technology, art, music - are the result of the interaction of the intellect and unique grasp of our hand? The information loop from the brain to the hand and back again is a continuous action of learning. The hand is indeed the main tool of education. In a Montessori school we use that to our advantage when guiding the children towards creating themselves.

An infant must perfect their grasp, which starts as just a reflex and progresses to the intentional movement of an object to the mouth. Early on a child uses their palm and flat fingers without control of the thumb. As more nerve fibers are myelinized in the brain, the use of the opposable thumbs and pincer grip improve so that the child can easily pick up very small items and manipulate them to a desired purpose.

In the Toddler community there is work that specifically encourages the use of the hand, fingers, and pincer grip. Puzzles have knobs which almost force the child to use their fingers and not their whole hand. There are beads to string, rings to put on dowels, shapes to place in a sorter and chips to slide into a slot. When dressing independently, they manipulate buttons, zippers, and stretchy waistbands. 

In the Primary classrooms there are opportunities for further exploration with the hand through spooning, pouring, scrubbing, sewing, even the use of watercolors and that skinny brush; all of which call for precision and accuracy. The practice with Metal Insets necessitates a steady hand and firm grip. So much of the food preparation tasks (may we return to those!) require control of fingers and a command of one’s strength of wrists and arms. 

At home, when your child is sliding drawers open and closed, opening and shutting doors, turning keys, pushing locks back and forth, they are working to become more intelligent through the use of their hands. This summer encourage chances to knead dough, use scissors, gently hold a cicada, feel the smoothness of a stone, heft a heavy rock, create and build and tear apart, and applaud. Caress a cheek, stroke someone’s hair, and pat another’s hand with joy and tenderness and love. Feel those sensations for it’s time to celebrate our hands.


Denise Merkel

Head of Lower School, Director of Education & APF Coordinator

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