Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Silence Activity in Preschool: Practice with the Control and Coordination of Movement

This activity is part of the exercises of practical life, under the category of control and coordination of movement, like walking the line. Maria Montessori once brought a baby to the classroom, challenging the children in the room to be very quiet. They called it "The Silence Game". Naturally, children do have an urge to see how quiet they can be-- it is observable in American culture in how children enjoy playing hide and seek so quietly. You can seat all the students and very quietly whisper their names, so that they can move. Or, you can show them the sounds of certain objects dropping and have them identify what the sound is, with a hand raise.

The best time to do the silence activity and access this meditative space is when all the children are working well together. How can we begin such a meditative exercise with children who would struggle to sit quietly? They have to have a degree of motor development and awareness. They have to have control over their movements, because noise is movement. They need a development of the will, because they will be deliberately inhibiting their movements. There also must be a refinement of sensory perception, attuned to the softest sounds. The children need to have enough language development to be able to follow the verbal directions. Finally, they need a level of social consciousness that we each participate in the success of the game, or objective, to participate to the best of their ability. They also need the ability to focus for periods of time.

We can start working on the line early, but this game requires a bit more development. It is a process. They become conscious that when they move, there is noise. They need that feedback from their senses to be in control. If they can play the game with the legs, then add the arms, then add more. If the first silence is 30 seconds, that's good. Then expand and extend it from there.

If one or two children cannot play, you can have the aide walk them away so that the rest can enjoy it. It is a group, collective activity so that everyone can participate. Explain to the children, "This is what you call silence." Later, you can say, "Whenever you see me write the word 'Silence' on the board, then we will all begin to make silence." And that will be the subtle reminder that they can independently create the silence, for short periods.

Then on different days, you can play different games. The sounds of objects being dropped, the sounds of objects in the environment, the sounds of everyday activities… And use a voice with no tone, only the whisper. If the child does not hear their name, whisper it again. If a child mistakes another name for them, that is okay, too. You can also keep yourself invisible from them, so they will not have the visual cue. Keep a list of the students' names, so that no one is forgotten. It will teach the student trust that the teacher knows and thinks about each one.

Finally, never use silence as a punishment, such as a "silent lunch". Silence is a gift.

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