Around the age of two, the child begins to make great effort physically, mentally, and spiritually. He is doing more than imitating adults. By his actions, he is building the person he is to become. When we intervene, or disrupt, his actions, we are directly interfering with his development. Montessori says that “if his cycle of activity be interrupted, the results are a deviation of personality, aimlessness, and loss of interest.” (Montessori, p. 160)
Studying the Works of Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 15: Development and Imitation
For example, children, says Montessori, need to walk. Walking develops their leg muscles and coordination. It is instinctual to walk and explore both new and familiar places. Unlike adults, children don’t take walks to get places; they walk for the enjoyment of the journey. Montessori tells us that “the child does not walk only with his legs, he also walks with his eyes.” (Montessori, p. 162) Anything that catches his eye is interesting and new: Rocks, leaves, ants, puddles, a meandering brook, or a stray feather call to the child to come, look, and learn.
Adults, however, walk with an agenda. They are often on a timeline of getting from one place to another. They have neither the time nor the inclination to explore surroundings they have seen before, and they rush children to move at their pace. Physically, this is near impossible for children as their little legs are incapable of keeping up. Instead of slowing down, adults regularly choose to put children in a stroller or buggy so they can keep pace.
So what happens to children whose efforts and natural inclination to move are stopped? What kind of message are we sending when we put children in a stroller, remove a large or heavy burden from their small arms, or insist on carrying them up and down stairs? We are telling them that they are not capable and that they must rely on adults to complete tasks for them, tasks that are really instinctual and integral parts of their growth. In short, we are interfering with the children’s work cycle, for the physical effort that they are exerting is indeed their purposeful work. When we remove this intense work from them, we are not allowing them to finish their cycle of activity. We interrupt both physical and mental growth when we stop and impose our own agenda and timeline upon them.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, May 9, 2014.