Development Is the Child’s Work

What is a child’s job? 

In Montessori terms, “development is the child’s work,” and that all-important work often looks like play! In behavioral terms, a child’s job is to test rules and boundaries to see what happens when the limits are pushed. Upon closer examination, these are two different ways of saying the same thing.

Learning is Hands On

As I discover more about Montessori learning as a student in the Informational Course, I am repeatedly struck by the reverence that Maria Montessori had for children. She saw both free play and somewhat more structured home and classroom lessons as the means by which children are able to develop their cognitive skills and intelligence. For instance, when a child imagines being a pirate on a beach, he is developing his sense of a different culture and geography. Similarly, as a child repeatedly fills and dumps toys out of a bucket, she is developing a part of her brain that desires order and repetition. Children’s work is to explore the environment and learn all they can through the experiences of their hands, eyes, feet and senses. The adult’s role is to provide a protected environment where the child is sheltered and assisted in this process of exploration and learning.

Hands on with Discipline Issues

In terms of behavior and what we call “discipline,” the child also learns best through his hands, eyes, feet and senses. The trouble is that many parents and teachers forget this truth and want to punish children every time they throw, push, cut or pull something that seems incorrect. Adults would rather have children learn social skills by just hearing the lessons verbally. “Don’t grab that,” “Be nice,” or “Put that down,” we often say.

If we take Montessori’s approach and see this exploration as a vital part of the child’s work, perhaps we could respond differently to these issues of “misbehavior.” A different response could be: “You’re really wanting to touch that. Here, let me show you how to hold it gently,” or “I see you want to touch the dog. Let me show you how to pet him softly.”  Or we might say, “Vases belong on the shelf, please. You can lift the vase gently like this.”

Step Aside and Trust the Child

Montessori helped us to understand that we are not the masters of children. It is not our purpose to require obedience so that we can mold the child into what we want him or her to be. On the contrary, it is much more important to step aside and trust that the child’s work is to develop to his full potential when we have provided a safe, nurturing environment with appropriate tools for learning and supportive guidance.

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