“The child’s nature is to aim directly and energetically at functional independence. Development takes the form of a drive toward an ever-greater independence. It is like an arrow released from the bow, which flies straight, swift and sure…While he is developing, he perfects himself and overcomes every obstacle that he finds in his path" - Maria Montessori
Over 100 years ago, Maria Montessori opened the first 'Casa Dei Bambini' in Rome. This translates to 'children's house' and it was revolutionary - child size tables and chairs, actual tools instead of toys, and scientifically designed materials created to cater to each child's developmental needs. It was only after thousands of hours of observation this children's house was created. Some people ask if Montessori is still relevant today, when so many things in society have changed. The answer is a resounding 'YES'! While society has changed, the basic developmental stages of children has not. New technology that allows us to see how the brain works confirms what Dr. Montessori learned from observation so many years ago. Prominent Pediatric Neuropsychologist, Dr. Steve Hughes, said 'It's like education designed by a gifted pediatric neuropsychologist!'.
As an AMI Montessori school our goal is for education to be an aid to life. In order to do this, we must foster our children's Human Tendencies. Human Tendencies are universal characteristics of all people across all cultures. They are characteristic of every child born and allow us to meet our physical needs (food, shelter, clothing, defense) and spiritual needs (love, beauty, intellectual needs, religion).
It is essential to understand that the Human Tendencies are not abilities we are born with, but potentials to be developed. To the degree that we support the unfolding of these human tendencies will determine how that human can make full use of these tendencies for the rest of his life. The more we as adults understand about the Human Tendencies the more we can help our children succeed - not only today, but also in their adult lives. Maria Montessori distilled 10 Human Tendencies which you can read about below.
The Human Tendencies
Order - any activity we engage in needs to have a sense of beginning and steps towards accomplishing a goal. If we don't have order to our thought patterns and actions, we cannot accomplish anything. Without order there is chaos and confusion. Although some people believe order is restricting, it frees the mind and is actually liberating. Creativity rests on order - think of an artist trying to work but being unable to find his materials because they are all thrown into a big box. The creative process is slowed by having to look for each brush, each color needed, etc. When things are in order, we are free to pursue our dreams.
Communication is an essential social bond - there are approximately 7,000 languages being spoken in the world today. Without communication we are unable to function in a social group. The child is born without speech but learns through an arduous effort of babbling how to speak. The child learns the language(s) she hears. She learns spoken language as well as body language. Even before the child can speak, she has a tendency for communication.
How can we encourage the tendency of communication? We must speak to the child and offer her the best our language has to offer. We can let her hear beautiful stories, poems, and songs. It is very important to speak the language correctly. A younger child will be interested in watching your mouth move as you speak. When your child does speak - listen! You are her most important teacher - teach her that what she has to say matters.
Work can also be defined as an activity with purpose or constructive activity. The tendency for work must be developed in a child. If the child is always fed, waited on, and carried she will not become independent because she will be accustomed to doing nothing. A Montessori classroom has endless opportunities for constructive activities and children love to do these activities. The tendency for work must be supported or the child will not want or be able to do anything independently.
Exploration - humans start life by exploring and curiosity drives us as adults to continue exploring new ways to understand life including travel, education, and a relationship with a higher being. The tendency for exploration can be seen in the way a baby looks around, a 9 month old crawls away, and a preschooler goes to school. How can we nurture and encourage this drive? If the child is constantly restrained and kept quiet, he will not develop the gift of exploration. It is our task as adults to find productive, satisfying ways for the child to explore.
Orientation is necessary for exploration. To find your way in a new situation you must orient yourself - think of yourself in a foreign city for the first time. Basic orientation is necessary to accomplish anything. In addition to physical orientation to the land, you must orient yourself to the customs of the city - do you shake hands or bow? What do you eat?
The infant first orients herself to the mother, then the family. A child needs consistency, order, and stability for orientation. Orientation is also a way to use the mathematical mind. Through orientation we observe patterns like similarities and differences. This discernment sharpens the intellect and mathematical mind.
The power of abstraction means to conceptualize something that is not concretely present - to grasp the essence of a thing. The power of abstraction gives us the ability to create inventions. This tendency will only develop if the child has very clear, concrete experiences she can put her hands on. the child must have concrete life experiences to lay the foundation for the mind to take off into the world of abstraction.
During the first six years the child is a sensorial learner. She learns from her senses that which feed information to the brain. Sensory experiences of concrete objects are necessary to unfold this potential. That is why the classroom is filled with materials that can manipulated by the hands. The child must grasp things with her hands before her mind can grasp it. This is why TV and computer games for a child under 6 cannot educate the child the way a real experience can. The child must be grounded before the mind can take off, just like an airplane must roll along the runway before it can take off.
Exactness - Every object we use is an achievement of exactness. The great inventors pursued and pursued until they reached a point of exactness - just think of Thomas Edison's over 10,000 attempts to invent the light bulb! As Montessori teachers, we can develop this exactness through our exact actions in presentations of lessons. From a precise action develops a precise mind.
In order to achieve exactness there must be repetition. Acquiring a new skill required repetition to reach the point of exactness. Another word for repetition is practice and practice makes perfect. A young child with little experience and poor motor control doesn't have the coordination or movement required for many exact motions such as getting dressed. The adult tends to say 'let me do that for you.' Then the child is used to having everything done for them because they couldn't do it well in the beginning. We must give our children the opportunity to practice so they will become proficient in the daily tasks of life.
In the Montessori class we don't have a schedule and we let children repeat as often as they want to. When children are used to constantly doing something new they are not encouraged to repeat and work towards success. Giving the child the freedom to repeat builds concentration and leads to exactness.
Perfection - striving towards perfection is a human tendency. That why we repeat, why we strive for exactness. We strive for perfection to transcend ourselves and connect with a perfect creator, but we must remember we can't be perfect, only God is perfect. This tendency of perfection is not always seen in adults and is not part of American culture. We live in a consumer society with the mindset that things are to be replaced with something newer and better.
By helping the child unfold this potential we can change this attitude. Take the example of water pouring - if the child is rushing and spilling water, we may invite the child to pour more slowly and wait for the last drop. We can give hints or help with a particular step. The purpose of giving help is to show the child how. "Help me to do it by myself" is a mantra you have almost certainly heard before if you are a Montessori parent. By showing the child how to do something we are awakening in the child a desire to reach an ever greater degree of perfection.
Self Control is the human tendency that allows us to restrain an impulse. Not buying junk food, driving the speed limit, or continuing to read this long blog post are all examples of self control. When we delay gratification, or practice self-control, we are making a sacrifice for the greater good.
Humans are constantly confronted with choices. We love and believe in freedom, and freedom means being able to make choices. Everything we do in a Montessori classroom leads the child to make choices. But freedom can't exist without structure. We protect freedom through a structure of limits which helps the child make the right choices, thus the child gradually develops self control.
Education must support the Human Tendencies. These inherited treasures are potentialities which each child is born with. The responsibility of the educator lies in the recognition of the Human Tendencies and the support of their development.
Education should be an aid to life. As Montessori educators we concern ourselves with providing for the child the optimal environment where each of these tendencies can flourish and hold the child in good stead and she becomes a young adult and beyond.
"There is in the soul of the child an impenetrable secret that is gradually revealed as he develops"
We are an AMI accredited Montessori school growing daily in spirit & intellect!