With heavy eyes, I read the same paragraph for the third time in a row. My last dose of caffeine was definitely wearing off. I needed to do something – anything – to push through and continue studying.
In September I was observing in a primary class and happened to be present as the teacher gave a lesson to a three-year-old girl on cleaning a chalkboard. They were both wearing aprons, carried a bucket, sponge, towel and underlay to a table, and then brought a small, and very dusty, student-size chalkboard to the table, as well. The little girl watched with rapt attention as the teacher dipped the sponge in the bucket of water, squeezed it out and then began to wipe. As she wiped from left to right across the surface of the chalkboard, it changed from chalky white to a dark, shiny green before the child’s eyes.
Two boys took turns reading with zest and dramatic expression the tale from Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” to a small group of children, alternating with one another as their voices gave out. How well they read this difficult language and how genuinely they enjoyed it!
The child, unlike the adult, is not on his way to death. He is on his way to life. His work is to fashion a man in the fullness of his strength. By the time the adult exists, the child has vanished. So the whole life of the child is an advance toward perfection, toward a greater completeness. From this we may infer that the child will enjoy doing the work needed to complete himself. The child’s life is one in which work–the doing of one’s duty–begets joy and happiness. For adults, the daily round is more often depressing.
–Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (page 30)
If you observe children in a Montessori preschool program, you’ll notice that children’s “work” has all the key characteristics of play. A very thoughtful article by Peter Grey in Psychology Today identifies five such key characteristics.
For children who are at home during the summer break, parents will wish to work diligently with slowing the pace of life. Children will savor the leisurely passage of time in which they can relish individual choices, uninterrupted play, ample rest and sleep, unhurried meals and unplugged screens. Here are just a few ideas of how a child can fill her long lovely summer days and return to school refreshed, nourished and eager:
My daughter was born into a tumultuous year in our lives. When she was three months old, we moved cross-country. When she was six months old, we moved again. She’ll be ten months in a month; we’ll be moving then, too. Needless to say, it’s been a challenge for her to have the perfect Montessori environment in which to grow in. In fact, she was almost seven months old before we were able to transition her to her floor bed (due to safety issues). This is not the ideal, and I realize that; however, life just got in the way (as it has a habit of doing).
It is about 9:00am, half an hour after the children have come inside from the playground and began their work. I have just arrived to the school to observe the classroom of my son a few months ago. As I walk towards his classroom I see two children, probably 5 or 6 years old, with the long one thousand chain laid out along the hallway. As the name suggests, this is a chain comprised of a thousand golden beads, laid upon a fleece mat cut to the right size and length. The children are counting the beads one by one and laying number tiles by the appropriate beads as they count all the way up to one thousand. They glance up at me as I walk by, smile, then go back to their work.
The comings and goings of the children were remarkable. They seemed so assured and confident and decisive. No one was telling them where to go or what to do. It was hard to believe that I was observing a room of children ages three through six. If a child chose to do his “work” on the floor, he would first get a rolled up mat the size of a doormat from a bin of several, bring it to his chosen location on the floor, and meticulously unroll it. Then he would go get the work (or the “material” as the various pieces of work from which to choose are called) he had chosen and bring it back to the mat on the floor. Whenever he decided he was done, he’d put the work back where it came from and then re-roll the mat, placing it back in its bin. When something spilled, or it was noticed that a spot on the floor was dirty, a random child would choose to get the broom and dustpan out, or maybe hand towel, and simply clean it up without waiting to be told. I almost had to pinch myself.
But what is the difference between the kind of work which is an obligation and a chore, and the work that fulfills the spirit and the mind? First, it is important to realize that work in a Montessori environment is not forced on a child, but is instead freely chosen. A Montessori environment offers the child the liberty of choosing their own activities, and they have consistently, and independently, chosen work that serves a developmental purpose. Through this work, children show an ability to concentrate for long periods of time, a propensity for repeating an activity until a certain skill is mastered, and the urge to make the maximum effort on any task.
Sebastian was a very particular child. Prone to believing he was right and making his opinions known to all, he was a student for whom daily struggles were common: arriving on time, staying on task, choosing challenging work, doing work that was not always his choice, sticking to a schedule, etc. For a teacher still […]