Secrets of Childhood

We are asked to consider where children feel they belong and are understood. Though Maria believed that great progress was underway when writing this book, with an increased sensitivity and better healthcare for children, she also believed there was so much more potential, and that it was critical to recognize the need for social reform in regards to children, not just for the sake of children, but for humanity as a whole. Chapter 2: The Accused Maria Montessori implores us to stand accused for the sake of our children. With a spirit of sacrifice and enthusiasm we must go in search like those who travel to foreign lands and tear up mountains in their search for hidden gold. This is what the adult must do who seeks the unknown factor that lies hidden in the depths of the child’s soul. This is a labor in which all must share…. since it means the bringing forth of an indispensable element for the moral progress of mankind. ” Dr. Montessori claims that our perspective is egocentric, in which adults look upon a child “as omething empty that is to be filled through the adult’s own efforts, as something inert and helpless for which they (the adult) must do everything, as something lacking an inner guide and in constant need of direction. ” Dr. Montessori concludes this false perspective with this warning: “An adult who acts in this way, even though he may be convinced that he is filled with zeal, love and a spirit of sacrifice on behalf of his child, unconsciously suppresses the development of the child’s own personality. Chapter 3: Biological Interlude I love this chapter – it gives us a sneak peek of how a newborn grows into the form and function of an amazing human being. It’s a miracle happening in secret, with the outcome visible to our very own eyes. And as if that alone wasn’t a miracle enough unfolding, this is really just the tip of the iceberg!

Just as the physical being is becoming through a hidden code and construct, so too is the physic being unfolding under similar guiding principles – an invisible, innate life-force that determine the being’s personality, character, and work that will contribute to the overall harmony of the being and ultimately all of society and the world. Chapter 4: The Newborn Child There is an incongruous relationship between man and child, and it starts immediately at birth, if not sooner in the womb.

Though intense feelings of love, awe and joy are certainly possible and present when welcoming a new child into the world, there is also conflicting thoughts that alter our feelings – from concern that the child will soil something, be a nuisance, prevent the new parents from acquiring sufficient sleep – the parent is perpetually on guard for the inconveniences as well as transgressions of the child, no matter how innocent or intentional. In addition to these conflicting thoughts and feelings, Dr. Montessori speaks up for the needs of the newborn.

There is great concern for the mother who has obviously labored long and hard and went through a major hardship. However, the helpless child with no voice is not given at least equal consideration for probably the most traumatic experience of the child’s life – being born. “Too little attention is paid to the newborn child that has just experienced the most difficult of human crises. When he appears in our midst, we hardly know how to receive him, even though he bears within himself a power to create a better world than that which we live ourselves. ” Reverence… Dr.

Montessori urges us to receive him with reverence! Chapter 6: The Spiritual Embryo “One of the most profound mysteries of Christianity is the Incarnation, when ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. ’ Something analogous to this mystery may be found in the birth of every child, when a spirit enclosed in flesh comes to live in the world. ” I love the analogy between the Incarnation of Christ, and the spirit of every child, as it shows the true miracle that takes place from the time a child is born in the flesh, to the time he is spiritually born as a creation of his own making.

This chapter also compares the instincts of animals to that of human beings, with humans having innate liberty and freedom which changes the process and differentiates in the final product – instead of a mass produced creature, every human being is a highly creative and handmade work of art, capable of becoming anything, and each individual and unique. “Just as a physical embryo needs its mother’s womb in which to grow, so the spiritual embryo needs to be protected by an external environment that is warm with love and rich in nourishment.

When this is finally realized, adults will change their attitude toward children, for the image of a child as a spiritual being becoming incarnate not only stirs us but imposes upon us new responsibility. ” Chapter 7: Psychic Development A child possesses an inner instinct that enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. These instincts make the child sensitive, and when that sensitivity is aroused, it is like a beam of light shining only on that object or activity necessary to fulfill that inner urge. In this sensitive relationship between a child and his surroundings may be found the means for untangling the raveled skein of mystery that surrounds the spiritual growth of a child in all its wonders. ” “We can no longer remain blind to the psychic development of the child. We must assist him from his earliest moments. Such assistance will not consist in forming the child since this task belongs to nature herself, but in a delicate respect for the outward manifestations of this development. ”

Chapter 8: Order To the casual observer it may seem like a young child lives entirely in chaos, but a keen observer will discover this is not the case, and in addition to possessing a high need for order, it is also a need that produces a real happiness. “Order consists in recognizing the place for each object in relation to its environment and in remembering where each thing should be. This implies that one is able to orient one’s self within one’s environment and to dominate in all its detail. Such an environment is necessary for peace and happiness. ”

Chapter 9: Intelligence The Montessori Method makes a child’s environment the center of instruction and then relies upon the child’s inner sensibilities which guide the child through their sensitive periods enabling the child to gather impressions from the environment to meet specific needs at specific times or sensitive periods. This is a natural, ongoing process, but can be interrupted by unknowing or misguided adults unaware of the child’s needs. “Adults can hinder this inner toil when they rudely interrupt a child’s reflection or try to distract him.

They take the tiny hand of a child, or kiss him, or try to make him go to sleep without taking into account his peculiar psychic development. Through their ignorance adults can thus suppress a child’s primitive desires. ” These passage were especially intriguing to me, reminding us how very differently adults and children think and learn. I only have to walk down the aisle of the local big-box toy store to realize just how off course we are with truly appreciating what appeals, engages and enhances a child’s development.

Reading these passages make me appreciate all the more the Montessori Method which takes this understanding into full account when conceiving the environment and creating the materials. Only when we truly understand these differences can we bridge with the child to create adequate environments and materials that support effective learning. “From the beginning of the second year a child is no longer carried away by gaudy objects and brilliant colors with that transparent joy so characteristic of the sensitive periods, but becomes interested in tiny objects that escape our notice.

We might even say that he is interested in what is invisible, or at least in what is found on the fringes of consciousness. ” “Adults have taken it for granted that children are sensitive only to gaudy objects, bright colors, and shrill sounds, and they make use of these to attract a child’s attention. We have all noticed how children are attracted by songs, by the tolling of bells, by flags fluttering in the wind, by brilliant lights, and so forth. But these violent attractions are external and transitory, and can be more of a distraction than boom.

We might make the comparison with our own way of acting. If we are busy reading an interesting book and suddenly hear a loud bang passing by in the street, we get up and go to the window to see what is happening. If we were to see someone act in this way, we would hardly conclude that men are particularly attracted by loud sounds. And yet we make this conclusion about little children. The fact that a strong, external stimulus catches a child’s attention is merely incidental and has no real relation with the inner life of the child which is responsible for his development.

We can perceive evidence of a child’s inner life in the way he immerses himself in the fixed contemplation of minute things that are of no concern to us. But one who is attracted by the smallness of an object and focuses his attention upon it does so, not because it made a striking impression upon him, but simply because his contemplation of it is an expression of an affectionate understanding. ” “A child’s psychic personality is far different from our own, and it is different in kind and not simply in degree.

A child who gathers in the smallest details must look upon us with a certain degree of contempt since he is unaware of the mental syntheses with which we are constantly making. He must as a consequence look upon us as being somewhat inefficient, as individuals who do not see well. From a child’s viewpoint we are not very exact. He sees us as dull and indifferent since we are not interested in minute details. If a child could express himself, he would certainly tell us that deep down he has little confidence in us, just as we have little confidence in him, since our separate ways of thinking are so foreign to each other.

This is why a child and an adult fail to understand each other. ” If an adult is to accept the responsibility to truly understand the child “he must become a student rather than a thoughtless ruler or tyrannical judge, as he only too often is with respect to a child. ” Chapter 10: Obstacles to Growth Because the conflict between child and adult is an unconscious one, it requires great insight and honesty to acknowledge. It is best recognized through Dr. Montessori’s condemning words: This struggle between the love of the parents and the innocence of the child is carried on unconsciously. Even though an adult may truly love a child, there rises up within him a powerful defensive instinct. The two psychic states, that of the growing child and that of the adult, are so much at odds that it becomes practically impossible for the two to live together without making some adjustments. And there should be no difficulty in seeing that these adjustments are made to the disadvantage of the child, whose social status is one of absolute inferiority.

A child’s acts, which are not in harmony with an adult environment will inevitably be checked, especially since the adult is not aware of his own defensive attitude but is rather convinced of his generous love and dedication. But this unconscious defense on the part of the adult flourishes only under a mask. An adult’s avarice, which makes him jealously defend whatever he owns, is concealed under “the duty of properly educating one’s child. ” And the fear of having one’s peace disrupted is concealed under “the need of making a child sleep a great deal to safeguard his health. “Adults must cease to look upon a child as an object to be lifted and carried about when he is small and which has nothing more to do than obey adults when he is larger. Adults must be convinced that they have a secondary role to play in a child’s development. They must endeavor to understand children so that they can properly assist them. This should be the aim and desire of a child’s mother as well as of all those who have anything to do with his education. A child is naturally much weaker than an adult.

If he is to develop his personality, it is necessary that the adult should hold himself in check and follow the lead given by the child. And he should regard it as a privilege that he is able to understand and follow him. ” Chapter 11: Walking “Hardly has a child learned to move about and begun to exult in his own freedom of activity than he is met by a swarm of giants that block his every move. ” The comparisons made between poor and upper class families is an interesting one as applied to Montessori’s philosophies.

Though some may assume that an upper class family has a greater advantage to meeting their child’s needs, when we truly understand the needs of children we discover this is not always so: “The ease with which a child from a poor family darts about the streets avoiding traffic and even catching rides on cars and trucks reveals, despite its hazards, a potentiality far removed from the sluggishness of a timid, an ultimately lazy, child of the upper classes. But neither child has been really assisted in his development. The poor child is abandoned to the dangerous adult environment of the streets.

The other is hindered by being hedged in by too many things meant to save him from the dangers inherent in these same surroundings. ” Chapter 12: The Hand I appreciate the extra emphasis given to the hands of a child and the essential role of the hands which impress upon and inform the child’s intellect. A child’s work is through the hands, and this need to touch and manipulate objects in the environment is a constant source of conflict between the child and adult, as the adult is always telling the child “DON’T TOUCH! Only when we recognize how essential it is for the child to interact directly with the environment with his/her hands can we adequately meet the needs of the child. “If a child succeeds in grasping something, he is like a hungry puppy that has found a bone and goes off to a corner to gnaw on it, seeking nourishment from something that cannot provide it and fearful that someone will chase him away. ” Chapter 13: Rhythm This chapter describes a phenomenon that I have felt and fumbled with often, but would not have been able to clearly understand what I was struggling against without the insight provided here.

As humans we have a natural rhythm to how we move through space and time, and when we are in a place or with people who match that rhythm we feel a resonating calm and peacefulness, just like hearing a song that soothes our soul. Yet every being has their own unique rhythm, and we must be careful that we are not reacting to a mismatched rhythm with undue pressure, frustration or tyranny in an effort to assert and overpower the other person who is out of synch with our own rhythm.

This is especially critical when working with young children as we can unwittingly act with contempt or condemnation toward an innocent child. We are quick to assist them in dressing when they are taking too much time, pick them up and carry them when their pace is an inconvenience or annoyance to our own agenda. Children must have the time and space to independently conquer their world, and it is our responsibility to make the necessary adjustments to our expectations and schedules to assure that this critical need is met.

Chapter 15: Movement Some believe that in order to learn, you must be physically still so your mind can be active and thus learning. However, movement plays a critical role in the learning process, and when the movement is purposeful and the child given the freedom to seek out and execute purposeful tasks, the child develops a “love for exactitude in the carrying out of his actions. His spirit then seems suspended between existence and self-realization. A child is a discoverer. He is an amorphous, splendid being in search of his own proper form. Chapter 16: The Lack of Comprehension We must recognize the purpose of movement and instead of trying to still a child, find ways to guide a child so they acquire the ability to move with confidence and purpose toward their full potential. “Since adults have no concept of the importance of physical activity for a child, they put a damper on it as a cause of disturbance. ” “It is not easy to gain acceptance for the idea that physical activity is of great importance for man’s moral and intellectual development.

If a still growing child fails to use his organs of movement, his development is retarded and he will fall farther short of his goal than if he had been deprived of either sight or hearing. ” Chapter 17: The Intelligence of Love I was surprised to find myself at odds with this chapter. I had trouble digesting the explanation of the simple nature of a child’s love: “A child’s love is by nature simple. He loves in order that he may receive impressions which will furnish him with means of growth. ” If this is the nature of love – something we do for personal gain, somewhat elfishly, rather than simply for the sake of love – then why the condemnation of adults who are only carrying on with the love that they discovered and developed as a child? Dr. Montessori condemns the parent as too busy or too inconvenient to meet the ongoing demands of the child to share their lap at mealtimes, their warm bed at night time, the early dawn at morning time, often much too early for the tired parent. As a parent, I have been the one who yearns for the quiet of the evening after children are in bed; an extra hour of sleep in the morning; a meal without a child on my lap to balance and cater to.

I think that both the child and adults needs must be taken into consideration; it is not wrong for the child to wish for closeness with the adult, but it is also not wrong for an adult to wish for some space from the demands of parenting, and in fact I have found it essential at times to my ability to be an effective parent. As long as both needs are taken into consideration and the parent always aware of both needs and willing to find a balance and happy medium, then I think a more realistic idea of love can be experienced – a deeper love that reciprocates, sacrifices, and seeks to be a mutual love that benefits all who are willing to share.

Chapter 18: The Education of the Child “We must wake up to the great reality that children have a psychic life whose delicate manifestations escape notice and whose pattern of activity can be unconsciously disrupted by adults. An adult environment is not a suitable environment for children, but rather an aggregate of obstacles that strengthen their defenses, warp their attitudes, and expose them to adult suggestions. ” “To assist a child, we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.

A child is passing through a period of self-realization, and it is enough simply to open up the door for him. ” “In an open environment, one that is suitable to his age, a child’s psychic life should develop naturally and reveal its inner secret. ” “The new education has as its primary aim the discovery and freeing of the child. ” “This new system of education has been widely discussed, particularly with respect to the reversed roles of child and adult – the teacher without a desk, without authority, and almost without teaching, and the child, the center of activity, free to move about as he wills and to choose his own ccupations. ” Chapter 20: The “Method” It was really fascinating to read how Dr. Montessori’s Method came to be, and the perspective that it isn’t the Method itself that educates the children, but rather the Method that improves a child’s natural development process as it unfolds, and rather educates us, the teacher, on how best to enhance the child’s natural development. The Method was not something that was premeditated and put into practice, but rather discovered through a period of time and taught by the children themselves.

This alone reminds us that we don’t have a Method to impose upon children, but rather an opportunity to share this approach with young children who teach us how effective we are with Dr. Montessori’s teachings and philosophies. Just as the child learns through incremental progress, we too as teachers can learn how to assess, adjust and reapply the Method incrementally as we discover it ourselves. Critical parts of the Method are a suitable, prepared environment, a humble teacher and materials that met their developmental needs.

These conditions honor and protect the child’s potentialities to enable the child to learn and grow into the best version of themselves. Chapter 21: Pampered Children It might be assumed that wealthy children with their advantages and privileges in comparison to less fortunate children would be more civilized and easier to educate, but they often have their own unique challenges due to being over-indulged.

A child that has been given in excess have been overstimulated where they no longer can appreciate the beauty that surrounds them; they are flighty as they flit around from object to object with disinterest and dissatisfaction; they don’t care for items in their environment as everything is disposable and replaceable; because of this they are challenging to teach how to use materials with care, let alone settle with a material long enough to benefit from its intended purpose.

Hopefully there will be something that will eventually catch the child’s attention that fulfills an inner need and from that will lead to the “conversion” of the child, a rapid and sometimes instantaneous change that takes place due to an interesting task that concentrates the child’s activities. “In a child the normal psychic traits can flourish easily. Then all those traits that deviated from the norm disappear, just as with the return of health all the symptoms of the disease vanish. ” Chapter 22: The Spiritual Preparation of the Teacher We hide our defects under the guise of noble and impelling duties, just as in time of war offensive weapons are described as means for protecting peace. ” This chapter reminds us that we must come to teaching with a humble spirit, an awareness of our own defects and an openness to criticism and guidance to better ourself and our effectiveness as a teacher. I feel this is an ongoing process that requires daily self-reflection, sometimes hourly or even minute to minute when in the thick of it and our patience and competence is being tested.

Even when we know we have acted out of frustration with little regard for the child’s needs or spirit, awareness is a powerful tool to help guide us back to a place where pride and anger can be kept in check as we strive for a more balanced, poised, gracious approach to working with challenging yet sensitive young children. “A child owes respect to his elders, but adults claim the right to judge and even to offend a child. At their own convenience they direct or even suppress a child’s needs, and his protests are regarded as a dangerous and intolerable lack of submission. ”

Chapter 23: Deviations Just as there is a single specific factor that returns a child to his normal, natural state, there is also a single, specific factor for all his deviations. This chapter discusses the various deviations that a child can experience so that we may better recognize these deviations – attachment, possessive, desire for power, inferiority complex, fear and lies. Understanding these deviations includes not only recognizing them, but also being proactive to ensure that we are not ourselves responsible for causing any of these deviations to take root in a child entrusted to our our care.

Chapter 25: Conflict Between Adult and Child “The conflict between adult and child has consequences reaching out almost to infinity, like the waves that are propagated when a stone is thrown into the surface of a tranquil lake. A disturbance is started that spreads out in a circle in all directions. ” Chapter 26: The Instinct to Work I think this might be one of the most important chapters of this book, as we must understand, appreciate and support man’s instinct to work starting from a very young age if we are to preserve man’s inner nature and potentialities.

Unless we fully grasp this instinct and its implications for mankind, we will not be able to fully meet this need, from preparing an adequate environment to guiding and protecting the child. Dr. Montessori put much emphasis on the instinct to work and its implications for society: “The most important discovery is that a child returns to a normal state through work. A child’s desire to work represents a vital instinct since he cannot organize his personality without working.

A man builds himself by carrying out manual labor in which he uses his hands as the instruments of his personality and as an expression of his intellect and will, helping him to dominate his environment. A child’s instinct for work is a proof that work is instinctive to man and characteristic of the species. ” “This chapter discusses how man’s instinct to work, which should bring great peace and satisfaction, is often a source of contempt.

This is because man has lost the proper motives for work – instead of working for the sake and joy of the work itself as well as making a positive contribution to society, work has become a means to ends that do not provide lasting satisfaction – greed, power and control. ” “Work in its pure state, that flows from an inner impulse and leads to positive, lasting joy and satisfaction, can be witnessed in the toils of an inventor, the discoveries of an explorer and and paintings of an artist. When mankind follows its natural instinct for work, it is through this work that their environment is perfected and becomes more easy and comfortable.

Man constructs for himself a new environment and becomes so dependent upon it that he could not live apart from his marvelous creation. As creator, man now depends on man, with all mankind dependent on each individual contributing through his own labors to the transcendent environment all appreciate and rely upon. As master of his own existence and able to direct and dispose of it as he pleases, man is not immediately subject to the vicissitudes of nature, but instead isolated from the whims of nature while fully at the mercy of mankind, his whole life in danger if the personalities of those about him have been warped. “It would be unreasonable to think that man does not share in the harmony of the universe to which all living beings contribute, each according to the instincts of its particular species. Single corals construct islands and continents by rebuilding the coasts worn away by the ceaseless action of the waves. Insects carry pollen from one blossom to another and thus enable plants to propagate themselves. Vultures and hyenas are scavengers that cleanse the earth of unburied bodies. Some animals rid the world of waste materials and others produce such useful things as honey, wax, silk and so forth. “Living beings surround the earth almost like the atmosphere, and the individual living things are dependent upon others for preservation of life on earth. Indeed, the life that covers the earth is regarded today as a biosphere. Living creatures do not simply preserve themselves in existence and provide for the preservation of their species, but they all work together in a kind of terrestrial harmony. ” Chapter 27: Two Different Kinds of Work The adults work is to build a transcendental environment, while a child’s work is that of producing a man.

The child engages in constant labor using the same external environment for his development which the adult uses and transforms. “The adult is master in one area, the child is master in the other, and the two depend upon each other. Both child and adults are kings, but they are rulers of different realms. ” “A child does not become weary with toil. He grows by working and, as a consequence, his work increases his energy. A child never asks to be relieved of his burdens but simply that he may carry out his mission completely and alone.

If adults do not understand this secret they will never understand the work of children, thinking that rest will be of greater assistance to his proper growth. An adult does everything for the child instead of letting the child act as he should. An adult is interested in using the least effort and in saving time. When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, “I want to do it! ” But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, “Help me do it alone. ” And these words reveal their inner needs. ”

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