Chapters 1-3: The Era of the Child

Chapter 1: The Era of the Child

Maria Montessori’s book The Secret of Childhood was published in 1936. She begins by talking about “the progress made in recent years in the care and education of children.” As far back as the 1890’s, new medicine and science shed light on the personalities of children. Studying children gave insight into every branch of medicine, philosophy and psychology. In comparison to other research, “the influence of the knowledge to be derived from children is much greater in that it extends to all human questions.” With this lofty inspiration, Dr. Montessori begins her work, seeking the secret of childhood.

She starts in an unsuspecting place – psychoanalysis. Despite some problems with Freud’s version of it, she believed psychoanalysis could “help us understand the contributions given by the hidden life of a child.” There’s more to our subconscious than just the scary parts. Rather than focusing on the problems, she focuses on the solutions.

Psychoanalysis finds issues present in adulthood can have their origins in infancy. Since these issues are difficult to cure in adulthood, Montessori seeks to prevent them in childhood. By starting in childhood and observing with the aim of discovering those conflicts as children experience them, we work to eliminate repressive conflicts before they fester.

The Montessori method aims to “embrace the whole of human life from the time of birth.” Dr. Montessori and all those who seek to follow her footsteps have taken up the calling “to assist the psychic life of the child.” We do this by giving children the space to work through problems with a safe and understanding adult.

Chapter 2: The Accused

We all want the best for our children. The genius of Maria Montessori comes from her organized method of education. She looked at the old methods and found mistakes. She then looked at the situation with compassion. These mistakes must come from a misunderstanding.

If it’s all just one big misunderstanding, then the correction isn’t so difficult. Dr. Montessori likens it to a dislocated shoulder. Put things back in order and the healing goes smoothly.

The issue we need to re-order is that “in their dealings with children, adults do not become egotistic, but egocentric.” We often take up the role of creator, trying to mold children to fit our ideals. Even if we do so with love, enthusiasm and sacrifice, we unconsciously suppress “the development of the child’s own personality.”

Chapter 3: Biological Interlude

The fear, of course, is that too hands off a technique will let the worst parts of a child’s personality run amok. As we will find throughout her works, Dr. Montessori looks to research the natural world for guidance. She sees everything in the world developing seemingly automatically.

The nature of animals and plants are adapted not only to their environment, but also their place within it. The coyote, deer, rabbit and hawk all live near us and occupy the same woodlands and fields. They all fit together into the whole. Like these animals, “the newly born child has latent psychic drives characteristic of its species.”

The instincts of children take longer to make themselves known. This slowness is a testament to their depth and complexity. Dr. Montessori looks at the inner plan of children with reverence. “Because of its delicate condition, like that of all incipient beings, the psychic life of a child needs to be protected and to be surrounded by an environment that could be compared with the wrapping placed by nature about the physical embryo.”

I see this often when I meet with Lila in the office, or when I’m stopping by the classrooms. We get quiet and listen to children. We try to make them comfortable. Then, once they’ve calmed down, the problems become clear. I’ve seen it in carpool when a young student is missing their mom. It happens in Lower Elementary as the children work to shape their social group. It happens in Upper Elementary and Middle School too as the older kids take their first steps towards adulthood and independence. Every time they figure it out for themselves! We just make sure they have a calm place to do it in.

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