“The child has in himself such a foundation of wisdom to guide him, that it is evident that frequent and ill-founded interference by the adult is not a help, but an obstacle to his development. The necessity of a prepared and well organized environment for the child and freedom for the child to expand its soul within it stands out very clearly now.”

May 12, 2020

 

There are three critical pieces to Montessori’s message here: First, that our interference is an obstacle to children’s development, even when it’s well-intended. Second, that the child needs a well-prepared environment. And third, and perhaps most important, that the child needs freedom to expand their soul within that environment. 

 

In other words, time without our agendas. 

 

Time to explore. 

 

Time to question. 

 

Time to enact. 

 

Time to reflect. 

 

Time to expand. 

 

Think about how often we give direct instructions to children, and then think about how much time we allow them to respond. We presume that the child can consider, choose a response and execute that response in the same careless time we would do so ourselves. But the child doesn’t seek the completion of a task. Absorbed in their own development, they want to work with the challenge, to explore, to question, to enact, to reflect, to expand. They want to embody each new challenge, while we too often want to check them off as “mastered,” and move on. 

 

We function at a faster pace because our work is different than that of the child. The child, in the process of their own self-construction, attends to the engagements that will support that construction. As adults, we are tasked with the maintenance rather than the construction.  We have our things-to-do, and they are important things-to-do, important to us in our lives as adults. But they are not the child’s things-to-do. They are not important to the child. And when we emphasize our agendas, including the speed at which we have decided they need to get done, we do so at the expense of the child. 

 

How many times have you had a conversation with a child that you thought was resolved, only to have the child raise it with you again hours or days or weeks later? Indeed, some of the most frustrating translating adults need to accomplish is when a child raises a question about a conversation we’ve long since forgotten. “What in the world are they talking about?” We wonder with exasperation. What a powerful reminder of how the child’s mind works. We plant seeds, of ideas, of questions, of curiosity in the child, and then we wait. Sometimes children may take those ideas with zest immediately and want to throw themselves into a new exploration. Sometimes children will absorb those ideas and let them stew for a while, pulling out one concept that they want to think about differently, putting it away again, and returning days or weeks later when they’ve developed the language to express the new thoughts they’ve considered. 

 

That we can’t see the inner workings of the child’s mind, that they don’t fit into discrete windows of thirty minutes or sixty minutes at a time, does not mean they’re not happening. The child is absorbing everything around them, all at once like that camera Montessori describes. And then they are taking the time they need to develop. Their time. Not ours. You know how it feels to be deeply engaged in a task that’s important to you, and to be interrupted from it. How disrupting it is. How hard it is to get back to where you were. That’s the disruption we cause for the child, when we interject and offer suggestions and instructions and “help them along.” Their minds are already capable of concentration. They are already capable of reflection. And when we offer them interesting motivations, they are capable of imagining worlds beyond their own experience. But we distract them and disrupt them and then roll our eyes at how little they attend to us. We think we’re helping, but think of the child’s mind, juggling so many different ideas and concepts and sorting out how they all work together. It’s like we’re watching that cognitive juggling, and as the child tries to integrate all those movements into a fluid dance, we keep reaching in and asking if we can help. 

 

The child needs time. 

 

Time to explore. 

 

Time to question. 

 

Time to enact. 

 

Time to reflect. 

 

Time to expand.

 

Without our interference. Without our assistance. Without us reaching in to their thinking to move it along and “help.” Prepare the environment. Offer the child interesting motives for their own development. Then wait and watch the dance. 

 

* A response to Chapter 18: Further Elaboration through Imagination and Culture The Absorbent Mind. M. Montessori 

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