Creating Sanctuary

The Children’s House level of Montessori education stands alone in its provision of an incubated space and time for a child to cocoon himself in anticipation of metamorphosis, an entirely new species of a human being. While all levels of a Montessori school offer unique approaches to child development, it is in the Children’s House that the focus is on individual work done in concentration in order to provide opportunities for the construction of the individual child’s personality. No- where in our culture is the 2 ½ to 6-year-old afforded the opportunity to withdraw from the world at large and find refuge in solitary activity for which she has been prepared and engage in it for as long as she wishes.

Creating space and time for refuge from an overwhelming, busy, and noisy world – a world full of bling, demands, and chatter – is a possibility and a gift we can give our children in our homes. The pace of modern life is often stressful for families and children. Providing moments to envelope oneself in silence and solitude teaches the child how to care for her own well-being. Here are three suggestions to consider for creating a space of sanctuary for your child. In each example there are shared characteristics:

  • Each space is created for contemplation, not conversation.
  • Each space is accessed the same way each time it is used, establishing a predictable ritual.
  • Each space is freely chosen by the child and never used as a form of discipline.
  • The child is shown exactly how to use the space and is expected to do so.

The Contemplative Chair:

  • Select a moveable adult-size chair for yourself.
  • Provide and/or select a comfortable child’s chair that can be moved by the child independently.
  • Select a space near a window that faces the most attractive outdoor view possible.
  • Carry the adult chair to the selected space and quietly place it on the floor.
  • Show the child how to carry her chair safely to the chosen place and set it down quietly.
  • Show the child how to sit on the chair: body completely to the back of the chair, arms either resting on the arms of the chair or on the child’s lap, and feet comfortably on the floor.
  • Tell the child that this is “a quiet time”. Show him how to look through the window and observe the view in silence.
  • Continue to demonstrate contemplative observation for several minutes. Quietly return your adult chair to storage.
  • Invite your child to quietly return his chair to storage.
  • Tell your child that he may sit and contemplate when he wishes.
  • On successive days quietly repeat the activity, emphasizing observing only.
  • Extend the amount of time observing incrementally each time.

Sky Gazing:

  • Observe for a clear night when the sky and stars are visible.
  • Select an appropriate time for this activity (perhaps following the child’s bath and nightly bedtime preparations that will allow for a short introductory period)
  • Dress according to the weather dictates a robe over pajamas on a cool night. Prepare an adult chair and a child-size chair (preferably a chair that can be adjustable to a reclining position) in an open space outside where there are no other distractions.
  • Show the child how to sit on her chair. If reclining is possible, help position the chair.
  • Show the child how to observe the sky quietly.
  • Remind the child that this is not a time for conversation but for observing.
  • Continue to observe for several minutes.
  • There may need to be time limits agreed upon since the time follows bath and precedes sleep (“Shall we observe for 5 minutes or 10 minutes?”)
  • At the allotted time gently observe that it is time to go inside and to bed.
  • On successive nights quietly repeat the activity, emphasizing observing only and agreeing on time limits.
  • This is partner observing because it is performed out of doors and is limited in time but is child-chosen as often as possible.

Drinking Water with Intention and Focus:

  • Select a quiet but attractive space in the kitchen for a place to drink water.
  • Provide a table of comfortable size for the child, a small bench or straight back chair, an attractive tray of natural material (metal, glass, bamboo), a pitcher of fresh cool water, a small glass, a sponge on a small tray and a small cloth for floor spills tucked into a small bucket. Lemon or lime wedges may also be provided on a small plate with a small pair of tongs.
  • Show the child how to pour water from the pitcher into the glass: grasp the pitcher by handle and side with both hands, place the lip of the pitcher over the mouth of the upturned glass and slowly fill it to ¾ full, being very careful to not let the pitcher and the glass come into contact. Do this with clear, concise movement. Replace the pitcher on a tray.
  • Place the glass of water on the table near the bench.
  • Show the child how to sit squarely on the bench or chair, feet on the floor.
  • Show how to grasp the glass with both hands and sip the water with attention.
  • Show how to sit quietly, observe the area and sip the water with intention until the glass is empty.
  • Return the glass to the tray.
  • Observe to see if there are any spills on the tray or table. Show how to wipe the spills up with the sponge.
  • Observe for spills on the floor. Show how to wipe up any spills by using the floor cloth. Refold and restore the cloth when finished.
  • Show the child how to fill the pitcher with water when needed.
  • Show how to place a small wedge of lemon or lime in the pitcher of water on another day when the child is proficient with the drinking system.
  • Have a selection of small pitchers and glasses to rotate so that interest is kept.

Providing small retreats from the busy world will allow your child the practice of meeting her needs and taking care of herself. You can probably think of other ways sanctuary and refuge can be provided for your child in your home.

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