To Walk is Noble

A recent post on How We Montessori addressed the importance of letting toddlers walk when they show enthusiasm for it.  Yes, a walking toddler slows you down, but what’s your hurry?  Parents are always claiming that they want to stimulate their child’s intelligence, and yet they put a stop to the ONE activity that will most enhance cognitive growth – purposeful movement.

It has always driven me NUTS to see three-year olds being pushed in strollers.  Have you looked at a child’s face when he’s sitting in a stroller?  Is he engaged, curious, excited?  Or is he passive, bored, and even humiliated?  What do you think he’s learning while being pushed around?  What messages are we sending them when we strap them down? 

I hope you’ve seen the movie “Babies” (if you haven’t, what are you waiting for???).  It features a baby girl from a goat-herding tribe in Namibia.  From the moment the child starts to walk, the mother is never shown picking up the child again.

In one scene, the mother walks slowly next to the toddling girl, giving her sensitive feet time to become accustomed to the rocky ground.  The child’s discomfort is obvious, and yet the mother’s presence seems to be telling her: “You are strong, I know you can do this.”  In another scene, the mother bends down to nurse the girl while the child is standing.  In a third scene, the toddler is trying to balance a can on her head while walking – all this, while the three other same-aged babies in the movie (from Japan, Mongolia, and the U.S.) are still as wobbly on their feet as a newborn foal.

Dr. Montessori writes: “It is often we who obstruct the child, and so become responsible for anomalies that last a lifetime.”  By putting toddlers in strollers, we are giving them the message that walking is a chore, that our will is more powerful than theirs, and that their presence is slowing us down.  By letting them walk, we are encouraging them to “coordinate those movements which play a necessary part in [their] mental life, so as to enrich the practical and executive sides of it.”

Executive functions – the ability to plan, prioritize, initiate, inhibit, monitor, correct, control and change one’s own behavior – are honed through the simple act of walking!

Whenever I see a child strapped down to a stroller, I remember one of my Children’s House trainers.  She was an elegant older lady who floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee.  She told us that whenever she sees a child in a stroller, she approaches the parents and asks: “Can your child walk?”  Upon receiving an affirmative answer, she replies: “Then why doesn’t he?”

4 thoughts on “To Walk is Noble

  1. today, I hung out with baby S and we walked up and down stairs ALOT! the bits between my elbows up to my neck really hurts because she used me for a rail. then…after reaching the top the umpteenth time, she clapped for herself and toddled off. I am giving myself 3 montessori points for that and I have just used by new found twitter skills to #towalkisnoble great article

  2. That too big for stroller website is hysterical! I was rolling around on the floor after checking it out! Strollers are my pet peeve as well…we do have one, but we only take it with us when we are going to be out all day at a place where we expect to be walking very long distances, and most of the time we use it to push our bags around while our toddler happily runs amok! On the odd occasion that he asks to sit we will happily oblige but we never fasten the straps and encourage him to walk as soon as he is ready to go again.
    Thanks for linking to that gorgeous film, Babies. What an eye opener…

  3. One thing I wish could be considered here…sometimes children CAN walk but have physical limitations strangers cannot see. Perhaps they are struggling with cancer, severe asthma, a heart condition, and walking too many steps is extremely difficult. The moment you see them in a stroller may be the break they needed for their health and it is simply not the parent’s responsibility to inform perfect strangers of their child’s medical history. I have family in this situation and they are always being belittled when really, their five year old can walk but just not very far. They trust the little girl to show when she needs to ride in the stroller and to take that break from walking for a while. Their daughter’s heart condition isn’t visible to others but is very, very real to her. Please reconsider your thoughts and know that an unhealthy child may look perfectly fine to those not in the know.

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