One of Maria Montessori’s greatest insights was that children were born with a natural desire to learn. They didn't need to be forced to learn, or even - and, this will be a topic for another time - instructed. They were, to use a phrase, born with the capacity for independence, for exploration, discovery and self-directed learning. They simply needed an environment in which they were allowed to follow their interests, one that provided just the right amount of nurture, support and guidance.
At the end of the day, however, we don’t live in a world made for children. We live in a world that’s created for adults, by adults. As a child, it can be extremely overwhelming to try to navigate that world, a world at least five times their size. Picture that for moment. Imagine sitting in a room, perhaps the one you are in now, seated in thrones made for kings and queens.
You would feel out of place: awkward, frustrated, uncomfortable, tentative. In a very real way, you would feel unsure of your movements, let alone your thoughts. Well, at least most of us would. (Wink, wink.) Mainly, we would feel out of sync, because our expectations of what things should be like are suddenly misaligned with how things are, i.e.: some of us were not born to adorn royal thrones.
Now, keeping that thought in mind, try for a moment to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Try to imagine how they experience the world, from their eye-level, with their muscular strength, with their fine motor skills, etc. If, as adults, we find the task difficult, imagine how arduous it will be for them.
Independence, then, is the bridge to empower children to become who they wish to become: with confidence, determination, and a sense of hope. Our task, then, is to provide the environment in which children are afforded the opportunity to become independent, whether this is as simple as making sure everything is just their size, and tensile strength, or taking things further, and instilling them with the confidence that anything is possible.
As Montessori never tired of showcasing, how we help children, as adults, is not by overtly helping them, i.e.: stepping in and doing things for them. Rather, it's by creating moments of independence. These beautiful bursts of self-demonstration, of self-learning, where children open the gift of independence...