“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” –Dr. Maria Montessori
Independence starts with being comfortable in your own skin. Although an infant needs to be held and feel the embrace, heartbeat, and warm skin of his parents, he also needs to stretch and feel his body move in space. When we allow an infant freedom of movement he can feel how his body moves without the restrictions of being held, swaddled, or bundled in a car seat. Feeling his body move supports his growing independence as he can build strength and coordination through practice. His initial movements are reflexive and as he notices the small rattles near him and a mobile above him. He starts to purposefully reach toward these objects, with intent to touch them. As he reaches out and he is able to create a chime in a rattle, or a flicker of movement in the mobile, he senses that he can change his environment. His movements have impact on his surroundings. He is motivated to repeat his movements, continuing to reach out toward the world.
This is just the start of independence, and it is the first seed of self-confidence planted in his developing intellect. He experiences that his effort results in change and that he is capable. As his neurons are firing and his nervous system matures, he starts his life with the feeling, “I am making a difference, my presences is felt”.
As he grows into toddlerhood, his internal drive to learn about his world can be fed by real feedback, real experience, and sincere encouragement. He learns that he has the ability to change his environment. He has the ability to move things. He has the ability to communicate and share ideas. He has the ability to create sound and others around him react. Through his efforts to be physically independent, he gains the knowledge that he can have ideas; his own ideas, and he can act on them. A young child may have the idea to build a tower of blocks, or the idea to empty a drawer. He may even have the idea to draw on the mirror with lipstick.
This is intellectual independence. He can make a choice, and act on that choice. He is his own person and he can make a difference. What he also learns during this time is that there are good ideas, and bad ideas; some that we should act on and others that fall outside of what is acceptable.
This feeling can be set very early in life. Allowing young children to make choices such as what to wear, or which park to visit, empowers them to feel their independence in a positive way. It allows you to say yes! And it allows him to feel empowered. When he makes choices like this throughout his day, he is then more open to hearing when you need to set a rule and make the choice. He builds an internal sense that cohesion within the family is gained by each person taking part. The experience of having choice at sometimes and not at others, creates a feeling of security that you are all taking care of each other, and confidence that his voice will be heard.
This need to connect to others and create shared experiences starts early. Young children learn best in community and seek each other out to learn from one another and have shared experience. If this connection to community and desire to master one’s own physical ability is fostered, children grow to build community, to lead community, and make changes in the world.
Independence is important because seeing ourselves as individuals with the ability to make choices within a community that supports us is what allows us to appreciate each other’s differences and feel connected through our individuality. It is independence of thought, strength of character, and self-confidence in one’s abilities that is the foundation of each child’s personality, and each child makes up a vital part of our community.