Hands: The Tools of the Mind

“ The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.” -Maria Montessori

A two-year-old boy uses his hand to fold a cloth in an AMI Montessori classroom.

In this modern era of screens, working with your hands and doing something other than typing or swiping is an anomaly.

As the teacher of young children, I am always astounded at what the children don’t know how to do with their hands when they first enter the Montessori classroom. It has gotten increasingly worse since I began my teaching career in 1999. I have been a witness, first hand, to the demise of hand strength in small children over the last 20 years. So many children know how to swipe and tap, but not how to cut, carry a plate, or button a coat.

The hands are one of the biological differences that set us aside from the other mammals. We have strong, intelligent hands. The hands are such a central part of our humanity that more than one culture formed their mathematical system from counting from their hands. For example, the Mayan base five counting system is based on the fingers of the hand. “Hand” means five. Our hands allowed us to develop tools, which led to hunting, farming, and building communities. Our hands allowed us to leave signs in the dirt for one another, eventually leading us to create written symbols which led to written language. Our hands allowed us to create musical instruments to worship what we hold sacred and bring joy and melody into our communities. Our hands allowed us to carve, cook, chop, cut, build, create, weave, sew, mold, shape, plant, and on and on. The hands are the tools that make our intelligence and our inner thoughts visible to the rest of the world.

A five-year-old girl sews a stuffed animal of her own design in an AMI Montessori classroom.

We must be more invested in the development of these precious, unparalleled tools in the lives of our young children. We must take care to give the majority of their day over to using and strengthening their hands. We must take extra care to develop our own tools of intelligence and model for our children how to use the hands to create.

Not much is needed to do this: a simple afternoon of baking, pencils, and paper, scissors and yarn, different jars to open and close, shirts to snap, button or zip, a needle to thread, a shrub to plant, laundry to fold, a carrot to scrub and peel. There are so many ways that children can engage with their families and use their hands. They need not be relegated to the couch and the tablet while the adults prepare food. Yes, it’s easier, but our children are being robbed of so many opportunities to use their hands..and the use of the hand develops their coordination, concentration, and overall development.

A three-year-old boy washes the dust off of the leaves of a plant in an AMI Montessori classroom.

So make handwork a priority. Model it. Teach it. Engage in it with your loved ones and the children in your lives. Allow their inner thoughts to become visible and for their intelligence to be manifest.

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence” -Maria Montessori

Go-Montessori, USA

Christine Carrillo has been a passionate advocate of child centered education and Montessori education for more than two decades, and has worked as a classroom teacher with children aged three to fourteen since 1999. Mrs. Carrillo is a primary teacher at Wheaton Montessori School in Illinois.

She is a contributing author to several nationally published journal articles, books and blogs on the topics of teaching, classroom management and Montessori education. She currently writes for the international publication The Innovation.

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