Category Archives: Role of the hand in developing human intelligence

What are we learning at 18 months

“Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment.” (Maria Montessori)

S and I have been doing alot of activities that require concentration lately. Besides working with the purposeful educational toys we do alot of activities that can easily be set up at home at close to zero cost.

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this develops concentration, hand-eye coordination, we are using pipe cleaners and colander

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We are using pigs and a chocolate tin for this activity. S is immensely engaged whilst developing a number of skills through this learning experience.

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This has to be one of our favorites at the moment. I find such activities to be hugely popular by young children. Photos speak a thousand words here. So much learning is being unfolded as the child explores each item of the treasure basket. I sometimes just sit back and watch S as she eagerly opens each bag to find the treasure hidden inside. It is fascinating to watch her enthusiasm and the amount of effort she puts in to overcome the difficulties.

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we are learning to peel an egg, slice it with the “egg slicer” and eat it.

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Soon I will write a post about gardening and how it helps the young child to learn about our mother earth and sustainability. All we do at the moment is watering our winter veges and daffodils. We are in a middle of a cold and wet winter, very much looking forward to spring so we can get out more often and plant some more veges. I have done a course on composting and that will also be next on our to do list.

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learning to use tongs, transferring activity and at snack table.

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Weaning table must be one of the best pieces of furniture we bought for S. I can not imagine not having it. She sits there and enjoys having her food in peace. She goes to the fridge, chooses what she likes to eat, and takes it to her low table and has it for snack. It is the most enjoyable thing to watch. I find it so reassuring that she is able to identify her needs (hunger in this instance) and find appropriate ways to meet them. I believe this gives her a strong feeling of security and belonging. When she is finished she cleans up after herself. It is so rewarding to see how an 18 months old is so capable and I am so pleased that our prepared environment allows this natural learning to unfold.


The wonders of play dough


Today S and I made some play dough together. It is so easy and cheap to make. This is the recipe we used. We made two batch, a blue one and a yellow one. I used cooking salt this time because we ran out of fine table salt. I actually liked it better cause the texture was rough and was a whole new sensorial experience.

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Play dough is so versatile and offers many learning benefits.

  • This open ended-activity promotes creative thinking.
  • It strengthens the muscles of hands and tendons as preparation for pinch grip and writing. Fine motor skills and dexterity are developed by manipulating the dough, kneading, rolling, poking, pulling, molding, and shaping it.
  • A great medium for sensory learning, smooth/rough texture, warm when made, cold and hard later.
  • We can indirectly teach children about colours, shapes, weight, temperature, texture, etc using this medium.
  • It is so calming and soothing. As an adult I find it so relaxing when I squeeze/squash/manipulate the dough. It is the same for the little ones, a fantastic way to relieve stress.
  • It is such a simple activity but has so many extensions. Add a bit of aromatic oil/cinnamon or cocoa powder/dried herbs and it suddenly becomes a whole new learning experience, a different texture, smell, and feeling. Mix in some sand/rice/seeds/couscous/oatmeal and we have a new sensory learning.
  • This incredible substance promotes concentration and focus.

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You could provide a wide range of additional extras and allow your child to freely exercise their creativity. They will be engaged for a long time. Make a batch for play date and it will open up an opportunity for enjoyment, communication, negotiation, cooperation between children. I keep mine in an airtight container and it lasts for at least a week or two. I use primary colours and let S explore them and mix them together and create secondary colours. We both enjoy the time we spend together when working with play dough. It just amazes me how such an easy to make and cheap play item  could be so good for children on so many levels. It makes me think we don’t really need to spend so much on toys, sometimes we better go back to basics and learn to appreciate simple living!!!!

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P.S. Deb from Sixtineetvictoire made a batch with rosewater and no salt! that will be the next to do on my list!! click here to view some gorgeous photos of her work.




Montessori discovered the role of hand in developing intelligence. She saw hand as an educational tool that is undeveloped at the time of birth. New neurological studies now validates Montessori’s findings. At the time of birth, a newborn can only use his hands to feel the texture and sensation of his thumb. This is just enough information for his developing brain. The hand and the brain should work in harmony. The hand reports to the brain, the brain guides the hand and this loop continues resulting in the development of brain and the function of hand.

Maria Montessori said “never give the mind more than you give to the hands”. Montessori believed if the hand is not developed in unity with the brain, the undeveloped hand holds the brain back. That is why she introduced a hands on approach to education.

In the first two months of a baby’s life, he does not have intentional grasp. His arm and hand work as one unit as he is yet not able to bend his wrist. The myelination of nerve fibers that control the wrist are not fully developed yet therefore, this intentional grasp is biologically impossible. If the hand is not developed for intentional grasp, an adult should place the item in the child’s hand, he may let it go before he has gained enough information from that item. similarly, if he has developed intentional grasp but is not given the opportunity to grasp materials, his brain is held back from gaining information. This is an example that brain and hand should work in harmony. When the baby is capable of grasping, we give them objects to explore. That is why at this time we introduce mobiles that the child can hold and explore (e.g. bell on a ribbon/ ring on a ribbon)  rather than mobiles that are hung just for visual development.  Here the child is the source of movement of the object not an adult or a machine. He learns that his movement affects the objects yet he gains understanding of the cause and effects.

One very important thing is to remember is to give your child as much time as they need to explore an item. Giving too many items rapidly to the child’s hand affects their concentration and doesn’t allow them to gain enough information from that particular object. One thing we need to keep in mind is to be aware of the infants’ capabilities at each stage of her development, providing suitable materials that are serving a purpose. We need to constantly observe the child to this purpose. What else could be important in parent’s life than assisting the development of concentration and intelligence of the human being that they have conceived.

This post is my understanding of the relationship between development of hands and brain as discovered by Maria Montessori. For a detailed and more in depth understanding of this concept I highly recommend to study chapter 4 of the Montessori from the start book as I have shown here.

Here, I have purchased a few new items for S to explore which I believe are right for her at this stage.


Twisty moby, it is easy to hold and grab, can be manipulated and twisted. The rings create sound and movement, good for hand-eye coordination.


This bright  wooden rattle is perfect for little hands, features a bell to provide sensory stimulation.


 Bell and ball cylinder, light to lift and shake, rolls away on the floor, providing encouragement for movement.

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small egg maracas, easy to hold and shake,  and cymbals with wooden handles are easy to hold. both create sound, not too loud so great to use at a young age.

S is now almost 7 months old, she has been working with these materials for the past 6 weeks. She still is very much engaged when working with them. The interest is still there but I think its time to introduce some new materials to her. I will share her new toys in another post later on.