The Absorbent Mind, p. 208.
The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 20: Character Building is the Child’s Own Achievement
Montessori tells us that the child’s sensitive period for character building is between the ages of three and six. This is the result of “a long and slow sequence of activities carried out by the child himself between the ages of three and six.” (Montessori, p. 208)
Surprisingly, Montessori says that character building does not happen from our teachings. “At this time, no one can ‘teach’ the qualities of which character is composed.” The reason behind this is due to the fact that one’s conscience begins to function between ages 6 and 12. Up until then, children cannot understand or “visualize the problems of good and evil.” (Montessori, p. 208)
Adults often use the phrase “use your words” with young children when assisting them to solve conflicts, but this is rarely helpful to the children. The idea that children know which words to use to explain their point of view is unfounded. If they knew the words, they would use them! Montessori tells us that not only do children have inadequate verbal skills to solve conflicts, they also do not see anything wrong with their behavior. To them, the end justifies the means. Montessori uses the example of telling a person without legs to “Walk nicely.” It just cannot be done without practice. Giving commands, therefore, is useless.
So, what are we to do? Montessori tells us that “if character were allowed its natural way of formation and if we gave not moral dissertations but the chance to act constructively, then the world would need a very different kind of education.” (Montessori, p. 214) The child forms himself through his work.
We need to prepare the environment to allow the child to fully engage in meaningful work, guiding him to construct his own learning and further, to construct his own character.
If he learns that a complete work cycle includes preparation as well as clean up, he will learn to care for his environment. If he learns to work, he will do so joyfully. “How can we expect them to do their work carefully and patiently, if care and patience are among their missing gifts?” (Montessori, p. 209)
The qualities we wish to see in our children when they grow to be adults must be encouraged at this most tender and vulnerable age. It is only during this most creative period of 3–6 years of age, when they are receptive to them.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, October 7, 2014.