The Secret of Childhood – Maria Montessori

Swapna Mirashi

The Secret of Childhood

As my lil one started Montessori, and I got some time and access to Montessori book. Borrowed this one titled Secrets of Childhood, from parent library at school. Have always been curious about early years education (at least since TV) and have been reading a bit here and there about various methods and new developments in the field. But honestly never really dared to read a Montessori (looks so much like an academic read – not too easy. Had tried before but could only read thru a few pages without much retention). But as my kid started school – loves to go there everyday (despite runny nose, rainy days and hasty mornings), comes back happy and keeps talking about school – I got curious to know what goes on behind closed doors in between the handshake greetings!

The book IS written in an academic style – not too easy on casual readers, at least not until you start to make sense and find relevance to your own self and child. What I liked about it is the recurring message that

Child is the father of man, he makes the man. and everything that a child does or goes through today is what would determine the kind of man he’d become

The points I’d like to note in my quest to give a wholesome, balanced and happy childhood to my kid are:

  • 1. A child, through her early childhood, will have certain SENSITIVE PERIODS – a transient phase when she’ll have a special sensibility to acquire new traits/skills and adjust while evolving.

These inner sensibilities enable her to choose what’s right for her growth from even a complex environment. They make the child sensitive to somethings and indifferent to others.

A child is sensitive to ORDER (recognizing and remembering the place for each object in relation to its environment) from a very early stage.

Tantrums during early years, are just expressions of some unmet need, or something not in order

I realise the significance of this ‘order’ wrt to TV. The only times she’s thrown tantrums was when her routine was drastically changed over a period of time and when things were not in order. There were also some times I remember when I was in midst of something so urgent, and she’d ask, ‘why is the box of tissue on this side table and not the other?’ and I would go ‘how does it matter?’ Or she would notice minor things like the first time she saw my sunglasses on my head instead of eyes, my watch on left hand vs right.

  • 2. Sleep as an obstacle to growth

Wonder which parent will not relate to this tussle – getting a toddler to sleep.

A child must sleep, but if a child is so alert and so quick to observe, she is not a ‘sleeper’ by her very nature.

Bang on for TV too. She is alert through the day that she stopped napping almost at around 2 and could easily stretch until 8pm for bedtime, her eyes drooping, but mind still active. She is so alert until she goes to bed that she would recap what she did through the day or cite a funny/interesting experience she had or talk about next day’s plan and get my commitments on those. She is so alert in her sleep that if nature calls in the middle of night she would just get up and call for help to be taken to her potty (since she was 2 years). She is so alert when she wakes up around 6:30 am that in a moment she’s up, down the bed and talking while picking her hair elastic from bedside to be tied.

This was a girl, whom until very recently I tried (in vain) to get to sleep more. So this thought of Ms. Montessori is something that I found of immediate relevance.:) TV is surely happy.

  • 3. Speech and use of hands are the 2 most important bodily movements intimately connected with man’s intelligence.

And hence Montessori preschool activities involve usage of hands in different ways – pouring, scrubbing, cutting, sewing, scooping, crushing, color mixing, gardening, droppers..

  • 4. A child is an eager observer and is attracted by actions of adults and wants to imitate them. And hence an adult can be an inspiration for child’s actions.
Well this is something I observe TV doing very often – I, my sis, her teachers, my friends are her favourite adults whose peculiar traits she finds inspiring.

I for one, try to always be conscious of this fact (even before I read Ms. Montessori) that my every action is being carefully watched, processed, at times copied or at others adapted and adopted.

  • 5. Calm and measured movements followed by thoughtful consideration are the marks of a normal child. Adults,as a rule, are accustomed to look upon vivacious, cheerful kids who pass from one thing to another as intelligent. But actually normal intelligent children move about in a calm and tranquil manner.
TV is calm and tranquil, very very thoughtful. And frankly that used to bother me as a mother. As a typical adult, while looking at kids running around happily from one ride to another in a playground or one toy to another and seemingly enjoying every moment, seemed like an ultimate model of carefree, happy childhood to me. While my little one, standing by the side, observing others with a look of ‘whats going on guys?’ on her face, then perhaps mentally gauging the length of the slide and the possible speed with which she could slide down and measuring it up against her own ability to take it before actually getting on it seemed like a too calm and thinking a child for her age. I tried to get her excited by playing along and accentuating my enjoyment (although later I realized that TV was far too smart to see thru my intentions). I had to give up my futile efforts, thinking that that’s her personality (after a bit of coaching from my husband). But on reading Ms. Montessori’s thoughts on this does calm down the mother in me:) And I’m also happy that TV is in a school that believes in this and respects her strength.
  • 6. Child’s environment (including the adults in that environment) should adapt itself to her needs. Adults should not be an obstacle to a child’s independent activities, nor should they carry out for her the activities through which a child reaches maturity.
  • 7. What a child likes (and key characteristics of a Montessori program);

(i) Repetition of the exercise

(ii) Free Choice

(iii)Control of error

(iv)analysis of movements

(v)exercise of silence

(vi) good manners in social contact

(vii)order in the environment

(viii) care for personal cleanliness

(ix)training of the senses

(x) writing separated from reading

(xi)writing before reading

(xii) reading without books

(xiii) discipline in free activity

  • 8. What a child rejects

(i) Rewards and punishments

(ii) Spellers

(iii)Lessons in common

(iv)programs and examinations

(v)toys and sweets

(vi) a teachers desk

9. Mission of parents –

Parents are the only ones who can save their children by uniting and working together for the improvement of society, (one which respects children and their rights)