Chapters 4, 7 and 8
This is the clearest endorsement of play by Montessori I have come across recently and makes me wonder how we got to the more general attitude of negation of play in Montessori settings. So it is useful to follow Montessori’s somewhat more accessible use of language when speaking to parents, teasing out her meaning of the relationship between the child’s play – or any self selected, spontaneous activity – and the work of self-construction. In the subsequent five short chapters of this book, Montessori explores the ideas of “learning by doing”. The most important message is that play is a significant contributor to children’s “building the man he will become”. Montessori is very clear about the natural and happy way of children’s learning by touching and moving objects – this is really at the heart of all practical life activities as long as we understand that the child does and repeats these things for their own sake – endeavouring to become really good at them. This guidance is also very useful to parents of today because any activity around the house which the children to offer help with or engage in represents the child’s levels of interest and offer fulfilment and happiness for the child.
Young children are very keen to contribute to family life – and to be able to do this efficiently and competently contributes to their sense of worth and belonging.
Montessori (2017:19) closes Chapter 4 with the following statement: “The wise mother will remember that playtime is never wasted. So long as the children are busily absorbed, they are working at their own development – for children would rather work than play”. What could a teacher learn from the advice to parents – and what have we misunderstood about play by elevating work above play? In the subsequent chapter, no 6, Montessori (2017:25) asks “Have you ever given your children a chance even for one day to do what they like without interference?” Just think what we could learn from this experiment and what insights we would gain about our children from these observations?
Learning by doing, or The New Education of Movement, which is the title of the next chapter, draws our attention to children’s need for active learning and what we can learn from observing these spontaneous efforts of our children. Montessori reminds us that children can only do what they can – I so appreciated this statement. Once again Montessori’s intuitive understanding of children has since been reinforced by brain research – there is no way of speeding up children’s development – or using hothousing techniques. Each child will take from what we offer, that which they are ready for. Therefore, we need to also think about the choices we offer and not be offended by their rejection. The perfect layout of the classroom and our attention to detail does not guarantee, what we perceive to be the most perfect or logical next steps choice by the child – they will choose what appeals to them or what they have seen their friends use. Whilst encouraging independent choice we always need to consider and value the social aspect of being with more able or fascinating peers and friends. As Sid Mohandas often reminds us in his posts on Montistory and The Male Montessorian, children’s development is not linear, it is entangled and complex. Explained in a very simplistic way, Montessori offers children an opportunity for natural unfolding of their unique gifts guiding them from practice (doing) to principles (concepts).
Sadly, the last chapter of this week’s reading is deeply flawed by outdated use of language – so brace yourselves as you come to see the title of Chapter 8: Backward Children are not Hopeless. But please do not be put off. The message of the chapter is pure Montessori gold – as the first sentence tells us “It is a serious mistake to think of backwards children as different from normal children. …. It is also a prejudice to think them as different. …. Children, whether backward or normal, develop their intelligence through activity” (Montessori, 2017:35). I love Montessori’s deeply held belief in the child’s capacity to choose, play and learn spontaneously, in the child’s capacity to engage with a new challenge once the task they are focusing loses its interest. She urges us to stand by, not interrupt, value and rejoice in the child’s efforts – “Even if it merely consists of fitting a cork in a bottle and pulling it out again, the child is learning muscle control and mental accuracy”. For me, this is a powerful reminder of the importance of not judging what the child is doing but really engaging in the efforts it takes them do them.
As I invite you to join us to explore these chapters with us next Tuesday evening (register here), I would like to share with you this recent picture of learning by our two granddaughters – it is pure joy – so well managed without an adult interference.
Barbara Isaacs, February 2021