During my pregnancy I crafted a series of Montessori mobiles that are designed to isolate certain concepts (black & white, primary colors, gradation, etc.) and to stimulate the visual sense of newborns. When my son, Zachary, was 7 weeks old, I introduced the third mobile in the series: the Gobbi Mobile. It is designed to isolate the gradation of one color – in this case the color blue.

For the first four days that the mobile hung over his head, Zachary paid no attention to it. It was as if the mobile simply didn’t exist. He would look at himself in the mirror, coo and gurgle, flap his arms and legs, and spit up.

© MariaMontessori.com

I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong: I had made sure that the mobile was at the correct distance from his eyes, there was adequate lighting in the room, the mobile was carefully crafted, and the overall effect was (in my opinion) quite attractive! Nevertheless, Zachary continued to ignore it.

Then on the fifth day, I placed him on his activity mat under the mobile and moved away to observe him at a distance, as usual… And he saw it! He stopped babbling and stared at the mobile, transfixed. This went on for more than fifteen minutes, even as my husband moved around the room, the dogs barked, and I ran to get the camera.

I’ve been pondering the significance of his behavior as it applies to the broader scope of child development. Montessori teachers understand the power of using the joy of discovery to educate each child to his full potential. When we give a lesson through the use of a material, we are giving the child a key that can open the door of new knowledge. We hope that he will turn the key, walk through that door, and realize that there are a hundred different paths to take, each one leading to countless amazing discoveries.

And yet, we cannot force the child to step through the threshold if he’s not ready. In order for his mind to truly grasp the concepts revealed through his experiences with the materials, his body and mind must be ready to “see”, and he must be given the opportunity to unearth the knowledge on his own. How far he goes depends on his potential, his interest, and the gentle and unobtrusive guidance of an adult who follows rather than leads.

Sadly, adults often feel pressured to make the child learn something he is not yet ready to discover. Because of his enormous powers of memorization and his willingness to please us at all costs, the child will often “learn” whatever is being force-fed to him. But will this knowledge become part of his psyche? Will he be able to apply it in new situations? And most importantly, will he feel the pride, excitement, and overwhelming joy of having discovered it himself?

“The child has his own laws of development, and if we want to help him to grow, it is a question of following these, not of imposing ourselves upon him.” – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Pilar Bewley is an AMI trained Primary teacher.  She is currently enrolled in AMI Elementary training in Bergamo, Italy.