Magazine article Montessori Life

Seeing a Child's World

Magazine article Montessori Life

Seeing a Child's World

Article excerpt

By nature and training I am an observer, especially of children. Montessori, when I discovered her quite accidentally in 1971, taught me much about how to see the essence of children's behavior. At the time, since I had no background in education, limited experience with children, and no understanding of the words used and questions asked by my fellow students, I focused on Montessori's stories, many of which I did not fully understand at the time.

The story I often return to appears in chapter 21 of The Montessori Method. Montessori observes an 18-month-old in a park shoveling gravel into a little bucket. When it is time to leave, the child's nurse (read "nanny") attempts to enlist the baby's cooperation in abandoning his work to get in the carriage. When that fails, the nurse fills the pail and puts baby and pail and shovel in the carriage. Montessori describes what follows as ". . . loud cries of the child and . . . the expression of protest against violence and injustice which wrote itself on his little face" (Montessori, 1964, p. 355).

Montessori, rather than characterizing the child as spoiled or willful, cuts to the heart of his reaction:

What an accumulation of wrongs weighed down that nascent intelligence! The little boy did not wish to have the pail full of gravel; he wished to go through the motions necessary to fill it, thus satisfying a need of his vigorous organism. The child's unconscious aim was his own self-development; not the external fact of a pail full of little stones. (Montessori, 1964, p. 355)

An incredible insight, thankfully shared with her followers. But equally as important is her reasoning:

They [the children] are not understood, because the adult judges them by his own measure: he thinks that the child's wish is to obtain some tangible object, and lovingly helps him to do this: whereas the child as a rule has for his unconscious desire, his own self-development. Hence he despises everything already attained, and yearns for that which is still to be sought for. (Montessori, 1964, p. 356)

In an article in Exchange, David Elkind suggests that the world of toys, thanks to technology and mass production, has changed and that this change has affected the behavior of children. He says of his own 3-yearold granddaughter that she seems overwhelmed by the number of toys she has, that she looks to them for entertainment and distraction rather than as a source of her own imaginative invention, and seems not to place great value on any of them. …

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