We reference the child’s daily activities as “work”. “The task of the child is the formation of man” (Dr. Maria Montessori). In other words, the child’s “work” is to create the type of person they will be for the rest of their lives. Their work is extremely important. These early years of their childhood are very precious. Their work is to be honored and protected, both at school and home. Giving them the opportunity to explore and learn from the tools in their environment is extremely critical to their development.
The term “play” is referenced as “work” in a Montessori community, because the children “play” with a purpose. Work is purposeful. When a child plays, it does not always need to be imaginative, overly-stimulated, chaotic, loud, or involve physical activity. When young children play, their purpose is to develop an executive function. Playing can involve many things, such as refining a fine or gross motor skill (small and large muscle movement), playing emphasizes emotional and social interactions, problem solving, patience, developing hand-eye coordination, balancing their bodies, learning to prioritize in order to carry out a particular task…the list is endless. A Montessori classroom caters to all of these functions of “play”.
“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 5)
As Montessori Guides, our main responsibility is to engage the child to the environment, therefore letting the materials teach the child. We do not present a lesson, and afterwards put it away in a closet, never to be touched again. The entire environment is available to the child (considering they’ve been given the proper lesson). They’re given the opportunity and freedom to work with whatever their driven to do for that day. The child experiences many different, spontaneous “sensitive periods”, where they’re internally driven to fulfill an inner desire. Often times, they’re desire is as simple as practicing to walk so that they can refine their balance and composure. Or, it could be that they want to work with water in the “practical life” area (as many children do), so you may see them washing their hands, cloths, tables, dishes, or watering plants for the entirety of the work cycle. Whatever it may be, it’s important to make sure the environment is fully prepared to meet their individual needs.
“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.56)
Simply put, the child absorbs everything. Every object, sound, smell in their environment plays a vital role in their daily learning. Stop and observe your children every once and a while. Watch their careful, gentle movements and observe how they carry out their work. Try to understand what they desire most, and capitalize on these spontaneous learning opportunities. Through the child’s work, they feel a sense of purpose; that they are contributing to a greater good. They are developing and refining skills, and shaping their personality, which will further build the kind of person that they will be for the rest of their lives.
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