The Development of the Will: Movement in the 0-3-Year-Old Child


We have discussed the development of the will in the context of emerging self-discipline in the preschool and elementary-aged child, but a child begins exerting her will much earlier than this; in reality, a child begins developing her will as soon as she begins to move her hands, fingers, feet, toes, and head as an infant! To better understand this process, and the critical relationship between movement and intellect in the 0-3-year-old child, we spoke to our Parent-Child Montessori Guide, Cab Yau, below. 


“For babies and young children we talk about the the link between the development of the intellect, the will, and movement.  With freedom to move, the child is able to interact with the world and expand her intellect.  With the expansion of intellect – which for a young child is done almost exclusively if not entirely through interaction with the environment – the child is then able to begin to develop her will: her ability to choose.”


“How does he achieve this independence?  He does it by means of a continuous activity. How does he become free?  By means of constant effort. …we know that development results from activity.  The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” (Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind)


“This is a not a linear process; all pieces are completely interactive and interdependent.  Without the freedom to move, the child is prohibited from both sensorial exploration (leading to development of the intellect) as well as development of the will.  Moreover, because very young children are actually learning to move (because that is fundamentally part of the intellect they are developing), we deprive them of both intellectual development as well as the development of their will by not allowing free movement.”



“We don’t really think of the young child expressing her will, and in many ways she cannot express it the same way a second plane child can.  However, we can create an environment which allows the development of the will.  Free movement is the key to this.  In simpler terms, a child of this age cannot learn to control her movements until she learns to move!”


“At birth, the child leaves a person – his mother’s womb – and this makes him independent of her bodily functions.  The baby is next endowed with an urge, or need, to face the out world and to absorb it.  We might say that he is born with ‘the psychology of world conquest.’   By absorbing what he finds about him, he forms his own personality.”  (Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind)


“It is after this that the child, who can now walk and feels confident of his strength, begins to notice the actions of those about him, and tries to do the same things.  In this period he imitates not because someone has told him to do so, but because of a deep inner need which he feels.” (Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind)




“This kind of activity (climbing, carrying etc), which serves no external purpose, gives children the practice they need for co-ordinating their movements. ….all the child does is to obey an inner impulse.” (Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind)


Thank you, Cab, for the wise words, and thank you to all the parents present who agreed to allow us to document the Parent/Child course in action. If you are interested in learning more about the Parent/Child course offered here at Villa di Maria, please attend our Open House on Tuesday, March 13th from 9am to 11am in the main building.

The next 8-week session is beginning soon! Starting the week of March 26th, classes for children ages 8 weeks to 2 years will be held on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9am to 11am. For more information on the Parent/Child course offered here at Villa di Maria, please contact Carrie Tallon, Villa di Maria’s Director of Education at .