The Absorbent Mind, p. 221.
When my son was a toddler, he was intrigued by the minutiae of his environment. Ants crawling along the pathway were fascinating to him. Their tiny parade seemed to race from one place to another. As his tiny foot lifted in an attempt to learn what would happen if they were crushed, I gently stopped him, saying, “Ants are living creatures. Let’s watch where they are going instead.” Following their linear progression, we quietly observed them carrying food back to their nest.
The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 21: Children’s Possessiveness and Its Transformations
This type of care and observation was repeated with all living things. Flowers were examined to count how many petals they had or observe the delicate shades of their color variations. Glistening spider webs were viewed as fragile gossamer lace. Birds’ nests were marveled over as new life appeared from tiny speckled eggs. Gone was the desire for destruction, replaced with a gentle reverence for all creatures, great and small.
Montessori tells us concentration allows the child to master control: “once his attention has been focused, he becomes his own master and can exert control over his world.” (Montessori, p. 217) It follows then that lack of concentration is a lack of control: “Without concentration, it is the objects about him which possess the child. He feels the call of each and goes from one to another.” (Montessori, p. 217)
After the ability to concentrate is developed comes perseverance. We see this throughout the Montessori environment by the children’s internal drive to repeat exercises and activities over and over again. This repetition comes from the natural desire to carry through a task that has begun. In children, Montessori says, it is a natural instinct. Adults do it by thinking about it.
So important is it for children to develop concentration and perseverance that “children who have been prevented from developing fully often show character traits that disappear when they become normalized through work.” We cannot force the child to concentrate for his very instinct is to break away from adult control. What we must do is find that which sparks enough interest in the child to encourage him to concentrate on his own.
When given the freedom to be interested in all things, the child does not focus on possessions but on the knowledge of the objects around him.
Possessiveness takes two forms: possessing a desired object and understanding how it works. When the child understands the complexities of the mechanism behind the object, his desire to destroy them is lost. The intellect refocuses away from destruction and the child builds concentration to learn all he can from the object. “This love for his environment makes the child treat it with great care and handle everything in it with the utmost delicacy.” (Montessori, p. 220)
Montessori tells us that, like other undesired behaviors, “we can never cure destructiveness by preaching.” (Montessori, p. 220) This may stop a child’s unwanted behavior for a short while, but it will not deter future repetitions. “Only work and concentration, bringing knowledge and love, can induce a transformation which discloses the spiritual man to previously lying hidden.” (Montessori, p. 220)
The care my son developed for living creatures has always stayed with him. When he was still young and others ran to stomp on a spider, he stopped them by showing them how the spider spun its web. He was hurt when he saw others hurting the tiny creatures in his environment. And even now, at age 18, while he may cringe when finding a spider in the house, he will come ask me to relocate it outside rather than destroy a life.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, October 16, 2014.