Monday, June 22, 2015

The Development of Independence in the Child

Context: Following are my thoughts regarding Dr. Maria Montessori's writing on the development of independence in the child and in the classroom. We call the classroom the "Casa", an abbreviation of  "House of Children". This information has also been passed to me through the oral tradition via my training supervised by the Association Montessori Internationale. 

What is independence?
"To be able to do a thing without any help from others: This is independence." – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind[1]

The Meaning of Independence 
Independence is the ability to act by oneself, not only to meet our own needs, but also those of the community. What goes into an action? It is a coordinated movement of the thought and will functioning in harmony, to achieve a purpose. Independence requires an integrated personality, from a person who can act with thought, will, and movement in harmony toward that purposeful end. Independence is an outcome of the integration of these parts.

Development takes the form of the drive toward an ever greater independence. It is like an arrow released from the bow, which flies straight, swift, and sure. The conquest of independence is a natural development, if we consider each of these milestones the conquest of independence. Development is not a passive course; critical to development is the activity of the child. The child can make the conquests of independence on the timetable, if they are allowed the appropriate environmental experience. We call this the work of the child. The conquest of independence comes about through work, in turn supporting further development. In Dr. Montessori’s words:

“Localized states of maturity must first be established, and the effort to force a child’s natural development can only do harm. It is nature that directs. Everything depends on her and her exact commands… In nature’s language, create does not just mean make something; it means that what has been made must be allowed to function.”[2]

The relationship between freedom and independence is a mutuality. Experience yields development, which yields independence. Then, independence fuels more experiences and development. The expansion of freedom is the emergence of the personality and the child's own life. In a way, independence progresses along a spiral. Each activity we make efforts toward and accomplish leads to the consolidation and refinement of that activity, to expand to the next conquest. The child must have not only the freedom to achieve but also to function and develop the new capacity beyond it, at the right time, in the natural way. Expanding freedom brings the child to the place of realizing strength and expanding potential. This is the door to life and development.
Adult Ideas of Freedom and Independence vs. The Child’s
The adult's ideal of freedom and the child's idea of freedom are in conflict. The adult imagines freedom to be a minimum effort, rest, idleness, minimum working hours, and having others do out work. Whereas, the child experiences freedom as the maximum effort. The child cannot live without working and being active, carrying out his actions by himself. The child cannot realize himself without more and more work, through his own experiences. Today, we have configured society in a manner opposed to nature; in nature we find a constant, unremitting effort in all beings around us. Constant toil and activity is intrinsic to the order of the universe, and the child functions in this way as well. We must not impose the adult notion of freedom. These adult aspirations toward laziness are evidence of deviation of the adult personality.

Aspects of Independence
We also need independence in multiple areas: functional independence, intellectual independence, emotional independence, and social independence.
·         Functional independence is the ability to act on ones on in the care of self, care of the environment, care of others, and in relationship with others.
·         Intellectual independence is the process of developing one's mind through one's own experiences and not through the experiences of others. It is found in the ability to classify and categorize, to discriminate the relevant from the irrelevant, and find mastery of the tools of learning, such as reading.
·         Emotional independence allows one to create and develop one's own identity. It is the process of learning the difference between self and other, to engage emotionally with the other, to learn to act altruistically toward the other. We learn to share emotions and ideas with the other and to develop empathy toward the other. All of this feeds into social independence. The capacity to develop the self in contrast to the other is the creation of the child's own developing sense of self.
·         Social independence is the interaction in society as an individual. With this independence, the individual can see oneself in the context of the community, understanding that one's actions have great impact on the community. One can see the value of one's actions for the community and act with responsibility to contribute to the order of the community.

Continually, Dr. Montessori emphasizes the relationship between the development of independence and work, as in her words, “It follows that the child can only develop fully by means of experience in his environment. We call such experience ‘work’.”[3]

The Development of Independence through Planes of Development

In the First Plane of Development, by age one, the child has developed learning to move through one's own effort, feeding oneself, and toileting in the area of functional independence. In emotional independence, the child has to learn to be by oneself, part of the separation from the parent. The child learns intellectual independence in orientation to the environment, the relation of people to other people, people to things, and between things. They learn an orientation toward routine. In social independence, the child begins to be able to communicate, learning the first ways to express needs without help. Although the child has limited social capacities, the child can connect through eye contact and smiles.

From the first and third years, the child experiences more growth in functional independence. The child can walk confidently, run, and climb. They can use simple machinery like a tricycle, dress themselves, use simple tools like a spoon or hammer, pull and carry objects, and begin self-care. The child has a widening experience of who the "other" may be, for the emotional development. The intellectual idea of the work cycle grows, as she begins cleaning up after herself, oriented to the environment, with hands being the most active explorer of the world. Socially, the child experiences the explosion of development, through language.

In the next part of the first plane, from three to four-and-a-half years, the child is able to use finer tools to do diners work. They can use more tools and master most of the fasteners. They can pour and spoon in many applications and apply movement to experience being part of a community in family life-- setting the table and doing laundry for the family. The emotional independence expands, allowing the child to separate from the caregiver. Intellectually, we see finer and finer classifications, exploding vocabulary with an explosion of abstract thinking, and the beginning of writing and math skills. The child's social independence is visible in playing simple games with other children.

By the end of the first plane, from 4.5-6 years, the child can experience functional independence on a two wheeler bicycle and tying shoe laces. In emotional independence, the child experiences a big mental shift. The will becomes much stronger as a motivator. Every one of these conquests of independence builds self-esteem, a sense of competency. The child gains intellectual independence in writing and reading, as well as in the math skills of the four operations, memorization, and abstraction. Socially, the child can recognize their skills and their ability to use their individuality to help others in the community socially, to contribute to the needs of others in an empathetic way.

In the Second Plane, the child experiences an expansion of all the functional, physical skills, telling time, and planning. Intellectually, the child can use reading and writing as personal tools for intellectual conquest and using the tools for research. The child has abstracted the tools of math and the beginnings of algebra and geometry. With emotional independence, there is a widening circle of the "other". The child is beginning to make their own connections in their peer group, creating their own friendships. The child can use art and writing as tools for self-expression. Socially, the child has developed an independent understanding of ethics, the theoretical understanding of morality, the basic understanding of the laws that govern society, and finding their own place in history and society. The child takes great pleasure in the "if this, then that" rules for the organization of society. This allows the child to see themselves in the part of the interdependent whole of the cosmos.

In the Third Plane, the child experiences functional independence in learning to drive and beginning to understand the value of money. In intellectual independence, the child experiences the extension of planning, setting goals and creating a timeline for the goals. The child becomes interested in the organization of the world into trade, commerce, production, and exchange. Emotionally, the child has the work of managing their own feelings, sustaining and nurturing intimate relationships, and being strong enough in one's own ethos to stand against peer pressure. The child expands in social independence in responsibility and in the creation of their own philosophical ideals.

In the Fourth Plane, the adolescent child experiences functional independence in the conquest of economic independence, getting a home, job, and manage finances. The intellectual independence arises in becoming a lifelong learner, thinking about reality. Emotionally, the child gains a capacity to form and sustain a relationship, to choose a mate and start a family. Socially, the child gains the skill to choose a profession and take one's place in society. In a sense, we can divide these goals into various areas, but they are all so interdependent that we should consider these distinctions ways of breaking the areas of independence into pieces.

The Role of the Adult
The adult must provide the conditions for development toward independence. We remove obstacles in the environment and in ourselves, provide motives for activity, and allow expanding freedom. The environment and the activities available to the child must expand with the developing ability of the child. The nonmaterial part of the prepared environment is the child's sense of expanding freedom. Work, therefore, is the path to development. We work in collaboration with nature, because nature has its own timetable, and we support the child along that natural path.

Every useless help is a hindrance. The only way to help the child is by stopping and reflecting on when intervention should occur. Activity is the developing feature for the adult as well. Although natural inclinations are toward helping, the adult develops the discernment for when help is appropriate. This element of the adult’s spiritual preparation is what Dr. Montessori called adjusting our minds to work in collaboration with nature. Dr. Montessori wrote in The Absorbent Mind that the most important principal underlying our method is that useless help given to the child becomes an obstacle to development. Therefore, it follows that the adult who wishes to show love for the child gives the child the space and materials to develop himself toward independence, rather than doing many things for the child.

The Role of the Prepared Environment in Independence
We support functional independence through supporting the development of movement, intelligence, and the will to create an integrated personality. The Exercises of Practical Life are the prime example of the child’s first exploration of their developing capacity for work. In the realm of functional independence, the child develops her ability to prepare food for herself with increasing complexity, like slicing apples or carrots, to care for herself in washing her hands and blowing the nose according to the culture. Intellectual independence is supported though the refinement of perception and the development of abstraction, the capacity for discrimination and independent judgment, and the tools of symbolic communication. In the Casa, the most significant development in this area is seen in learning to read and engage the four basic operations. The child's emotional independence develops through the strengthening of the Will, the capacity to make choices, friendliness with error, and the culture of perseverance. An example in the Casa would be the child’s separation from parents for the first time and increasing willingness to try new and more difficult things. Social independence develops through functioning as a contributing member of a community, beginning in the Casa when the child learns to show care for friends, plants, and class pets according to social customs. Grace and courtesy lessons feature in emotional and social development toward empathy.

Cosmic Significance
In conclusion, the significance is that the work of building independence yields a needful benefit for the whole of society. Independence is not a static condition for the individual. It is how the child or adult perfects their own powers, which must be the result of ongoing effort. For society, independence is a critical component of freedom in a democratic society, where individuals conceive of themselves as an interdependent community of independent individuals. As a reflection, society cannot function without the ongoing development of each of the members. The ongoing effort as an adult is a willed choice toward toil, to evolve ourselves to a higher plane of development.

This must be the focus from the child’s birth. It may seem like birth is too early a time to focus on independence, but in Dr. Montessori’s words, “When does the child need to be able to do things without help? The answer is simple. From the beginning of life, from the first moment he is capable of doing things. The urge is revealed again and again by the child. We have so often heard children of a few years of age say, ‘Help me to do it myself.’ By helping the child to do things by himself you are helping the independence of the child.”[4] As our method is education for life, we have no choice but to focus all of our activity as educators on the ultimate goal of building conditions which allowing a child to build more independence, resulting in a society of individuals attracted to the work of self-development and self-perfection, ultimately leading a more free society of thinkers and workers on the whole.

[1] Montessori, M. The Child's Conquest of Independence. In The Absorbent Mind (p. 88). Kalakshedra Publications.
[2] Ibid, p. 93.
[3] Montessori, M. The Child's Conquest of Independence. In The Absorbent Mind (p. 93). Kalakshedra Publications.
[4] Montessori, M. Activity and the Child. In What You Should Know About Your Child (p. 12). Kalakshedra Publications.

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