Making Montessori Your Own: Development of the Will {Part 3}

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sarah's back for Part 3 of what may develop into a much longer series on Montessori! She'll finish things up next week, and then I'm hoping to continue the series by giving you a look at some real-life Montessori setups in other homes - if you're interested in guest posting please let me know!

If you missed them, Part I is here and Part II is here. Now read on!

I'm so excited to be back for round three of this Montessori series, despite the slight delay! Since a paragraph is hardly enough space to expand on any of the four planes of development, I'm going to do so now with the first plane because I'm guessing that many of Rosie's blog readers have children primarily in that first plane of development. And what a joy that is, spending your days soaking up the sweet innocence of angelic children... right? *winks*

Young families at my parents' parish still sometimes affirm my family for how well behaved we -- the children -- are during Mass compared to their clan of rascals (their words, not mine), then they ask how my parents do it. My honest answer is that I'm in my twenties and their children are still in the preschool age range -- they must be taught how to behave during Mass and the best, most effective way to teach is by example. I presently have twenty-five students all in the first plane of development; of course I get to send them to their respective homes in the evening, but I can well relate with the angst of ensuring each child receives the utmost care, attention, and protection that they need -- not to mention their behavior when we take them to Mass (which we do, once a week), or simply sitting quietly in the school hallway (because the 'quietly' part happens... never). It's important to understand that children aren't simply going to "know" proper behavior or even respond positively to your corrections. In fact, you can't expect a young child to sit still the entire way through Mass because they just aren't capable of doing so. A child must respond to the force of their own nature; our job as educators (including parents as the primary educators) is to guide them slowly in the development of the will, including the three levels of obedience.

Children develop internal coordination through prolonged attention and concentration (concentration leads to contemplation). Once this has been established, the child begins to reveal what Dr. Montessori referred to as the 'fourth psychic principle' -- the development of the will. Montessori stated, "The will's development is a slow process that evolves through a continuous activity in relationship with the environment" (The Absorbent Mind). The child chooses a task. To complete the task he must inhibit his impulses toward extraneous movements -- a puzzle, for example, or getting dressed. Gradually an inner formation of the will is developed through adaptation to the limits of the chosen task.

Montessori stated, "We do not believe that one is disciplined only when he is artificially made silent as a mute and as motionless as a paralytic. Such a one is not disciplined but annihilated" (The Discovery of the Child). Lecturing a child is of no use. It is not 'moral vision' that gives the young child the strength to control his actions; it is the interior spiritual formation that develops only through exercising the will.

Dr. Montessori discovered that the child's will develops through three stages:

1) repetition of a chosen activity: Once the child's attention has been focused on an activity she naturally desires to repeat it; "if adults persist in interrupting this cycle of repetition, his self-confidence and ability to persevere is a task are severely jeopardized. Constant interruption during the time is so upsetting that it can cause the child to live in a state similar to a permanent nightmare." (Montessori: A Modern Approach)

2) chosen self-discipline: Once the child has gained control of his movements he begins to choose self-discipline as a way of life. This is not an end that has been achieved, but rather a point of departure that leads her to self-possession and self-knowledge. This period is characterized by activity; the child choosing what her inner drive is leading her to, repeating the skill and complying with the limits of reality. Again, a puzzle is a wonderful example to keep in mind here.

3) The power to obey: After achieving self-discipline the will is now developed to the point that the child may start to obey others also. Dr. Montessori referred to this power as a "natural phenomenon that shows itself spontaneously and unexpectedly at the end of a long process of maturation". (The Absorbent Mind)

Adults assist the child's developing will by following the child's natural development. This means not expecting of a young child that which they cannot do and by providing them an environment in which to make choices -- between two 'goods' -- and carry out an active interaction with the chosen task. Again, the importance of order in the young child's environment cannot be stressed enough; from external order the child develops internal order. Without internal order, the child will not be able to follow his own self-discipline and -- later -- obedience to others.

 In the next post, I'll share a few essentials for bringing the Montessori Method into your home and family life.

 Sources used for the writing of this post: The Absorbent Mind, Discovery of the Child (Montessori), Montessori: A Modern Approach (Lillard), and a Montessori handout on the Development of the Will.

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