Friday, June 13, 2014

The First Years from a Montessori Perspective

According to the Montessori Method, we must consciously and deliberately undertake the help to life of the child. The only way to help a child is thoughtfully. Dr. Montessori writes that the inner psychic life begins at birth, and education must begin at birth; however, we now know that the brain is active before birth, and education as a help to life begins before birth.

There are many difficulties in studying the normal psychology of the child. It is hard to know what is needed for the normal course of development if the delicate period of psychic life is disrupted by an unhealthy environment. Before we are much aware of the mental life of the newborn, we begin altering its development. The child has the powers for self-creation in a way that the adult has lost.

The role of the educator is to protect, stimulate, and understand the powers of self-creation within the child. We cannot simply call it child development, because first comes the creative construction of the child, done by the child themselves, before they can develop within that framework. At the beginning of this creative constructive process, we have all human potentialities, looking like nothing, but they are all there. The work of creative constructive development is the work of actualizing the potentialities in specific, individualized ways. We now understand that the process is an autonomous, self-regulating, and self-powered process, given the correct environment.

All beings in this course of development follow the same method, plan, and course; the being is guided by innate laws within-- the how, when, where that come from the child. The natural laws of development are unchanging in time and place. This natural plan does not follow our logic. It is not a linear path, in other words. More of what we see is a series of transformations. What happens at any one time only makes sense in context of the development anticipated, the preparation for the growth to come later in the blueprint.

Each of the indirect preparations at any point in the path connect to the future development. Through more work and more interactions with the environment, the next phase is achieved. We see that during the course of creative constructive development, the being takes a series of steps, a gathering of raw materials-- such as a collection of undifferentiated cells in the blastocyst. Following the collection of raw materials, we see the localized transformation as pieces shift and move into their own eventually unified construction. Finally, the systems consolidate into unity. Therefore, at each phase, we begin with undifferentiated potentialities, then localized transformations, then a unified construction, and finally a unified consolidation of the change.

Sensitive periods typify the development along the time table. Humans must satisfy the hunger for satisfaction of whatever is needed along the developmental plane at the correct time. What is the role played by the environment? It provides a response to the needs of the developing being, whether that environment is the classroom or the body of the mother. The environment must provide what the body needs without imposing; the educator must be there for the child to draw on as needed, just as the mother's body provides and protects, stimulates and nourishes. We must remember as educators that the work of the conscious mind is the work of the child or the adolescent, not the work of anyone else. Step back. Support. Guide-- but we must not overbear and control the exploration that they must endeavor on their own. It is as if cutting open the chrysalis for the child would damage and cripple the child for life; we must trust the child to take charge of their own development, given the correct materials and environment. It is an experience of faith in the child's powers for creative construction during their foundational development. Our privilege is to give a helping hand to guide the process, but never to aggregate the child's role into our own.

What are the powers of the child? The driving force which provides the motivation and energy to work continuously at their development is a joy within the child. Their work toward development is their joy. It cannot be a power of will. Adults do not have the mental stamina that the adult does. The will does not even exist in the infant, yet they propel themselves with great intensity toward their development. Maria Montessori called this desire the horme, the life force within all living beings, as related to the spirit of urge or impulse discussed in Greek Mythology. (Montessori adopted this use of the word from the writings of Sir Percy Nunn, her contemporary biologist-educationist.)

The skills which the child obtains become a living, vital memory, different from the skills that the adult obtains. Montessori used the term mneme to describe the living memory which is integral to being, such as the memory of having learned to walk, which never fades. She, Mneme, is the muse of creation, a psychic (meaning mental) power toward being.

This is why Montessori says that the child has the absorbent mind. As a function of the child being here, she becomes. From conception to birth, Maria Montessori talks about the physio-embryonic world. Following birth to age 2 1/2, Montessori discusses a period of psycho-physio development-- she calls this the child being the spiritual embryo.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas.

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