“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. Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence p.87)
This definition of joy offered to us by Dr. Montessori describes three components necessary for joy.
- the feeling of being valued
- the feeling of being appreciated and being loved
- the feeling of being useful and capable
A Montessori environment, by nature, is a joyful one. Whether we are describing a school or a home, providing opportunities to be joyful supports the growth of each child and the cohesiveness of the community.
The Feeling of Being Valued
The feeling of being valued starts with feeling our presence within a community. Children must first understand they they are individuals and they have an impact on the world. What we do affects those around us. This feeling can be fostered from birth.
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. This freedom of movement allows him to feel how his body moves without the restrictions of being held, swaddled, or bundled in a car seat.
When children feel their body move, this supports their growing independence. He builds strength and coordination through practice. Watching how his hands move 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. He creates the sound of a chime in a rattle or a flicker of movement in the mobile as he moves his hands. He changes his environment. His movements have impact on his surroundings. Experiencing this input, he is motivated to repeat his movements, continuing to reach out toward the world.
His internal drive to learn about his world can be fed by real feedback, real experience, and sincere encouragement. He has the ability to change his environment. He has the ability to move things. He has the words to communicate and share ideas. He has the idea to create sound and others around him react. Through his efforts to be physically independent, he gains the knowledge that he can have thoughts, his own ideas, and 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.
“Being active with one’s own hands, having a determined practical aim to reach, is what really gives inner discipline. When the hand perfects itself in a work chosen spontaneously and the will to succeed is born together with the will to overcome difficulties or obstacles; it is then that something which differs from intellectual learning arises. The realization of one’s own value is born in the consciousness.” (Dr. Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence p.87)
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.
The Feeling of Being Appreciated and Being Loved
A child feels appreciated and loved when he feels cared for and safe. This sense of security comes from the adults around him. Adults set rules and follow through; our words and actions working together, to create an environment of safety. Setting limits helps a young child understand the limitations of the environment.
“Young people must have enough freedom to allow them to act on individual initiative. But in order that individual action should be free and useful at the same time it must be restricted with certain limits and rules that give the necessary guidance. “ (Dr. Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence, Clio p. 73)
In order for a young child to experience freedom within limits, he must first have choice. Choices that are meaningful to a young child include what to wear, which park to visit, deciding broccoli or cauliflower for dinner. These choices empower him to feel his independence in a positive way. It allows you to say yes! And it allows him to feel empowered.
Making choices and experiencing the natural consequences helps provide a child with an awareness of the world and his affect on it. When he chooses to walk near you at the market he experiences the freedom to help chose the produce. When he runs away from you in the market, he experiences the limitation of sitting in the buggy while you shop.
There are some moments when he should not have choice. You will decide for him. However, children who have opportunities throughout the day to make choices are often more ready to respond when a parent makes a choice. The parent is met with less resistance. He builds an internal sense that cohesion within the family creates a feeling of security. You are all taking care of each other. He has confidence that his voice will be heard.
A child needs to move and explore, but must also understand his own limits as well as the limits of the environment. Learning to master his own skills is what allows him the freedom to make choice and then act on those choices.
With the development of intellectual independence he pushes back on the rules. This is his way of “checking” to make sure he can trust the rules. We convey stability and love through our consistency. Always offering a calm and measured response to the “push-back” allows him to know he is safe.
The Feeling of Being Useful and Capable
The feelings of usefulness and being capable come directly from the ability to do things. Children learn to do things by practicing. They explore, repeat, make mistakes, self correct, and then learn to master their movements. The only way to do this is through experience.
In a Montessori prepared home an infant sleeps in a low bed. This bed is free from physical restriction and allows for freedom of movement while sleeping. He learns to move his body; scooting and then crawling. He now experiences choice to move in and out of bed. This space brings comfort in its consistency and familiarity.
The safety he feels in his low bed helps him develop a trust in his environment, himself, and trust in other people; those who care for him. Comfort in his environment allows him to master his movements in this space and feel free to explore. The confidence to explore builds his understanding of his own capabilities. He repeats his movements and concentrates mastering his own body.
A child that is given the opportunity to understand the feeling of hunger and fullness can choose when to eat and how much. Imagine you serve a sixteen-month-old a full plate of food and then you ask him to finish all the food on his plate before leaving the table. This is suggesting to him that you have a better understanding of his hunger than he does. In order for him to understand his need for food and when to stop eating, he needs practice.
Show him to serve himself small quantities from a serving dish. He can then eat what he has served himself. Then offer for him to take another serving. Always offer healthy food choices and he will learn to take the nourishment his body needs. With practice and time he gains the dexterity to serve with utensils, the confidence to repeat, and the independence to determine his own hunger. When he fills his own plate, he can then be asked to finish the food before leaving the table. We cannot ask a child to finish what we have chosen for him without suppressing his own internal feeling.
Mastery of one’s own body is the first seed of self-reliance, planted in his developing intellect; he experiences that his efforts result in change. He now has the knowledge that he is capable; capable of movement, capable of understanding, capable of connecting with others. As his neurons are firing and his nervous system matures, he experiences life with the feeling, “I am making a difference and my presence is felt”.
Dr. Montessori acknowledged that it is not enough to be independent. Independence must lead to a meaningful connection to community. “Two things are necessary: the development of individuality and the participation of the individual in a truly social life.” (Dr. Montessori, Education and Peace p. 56)
This need to connect to others and create shared experiences starts early. Young children learn best in community and seek eachother out to learn from one another. 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.
As parents, we want joyful children. However, we cannot create joy for them. They must do that for themselves. We create homes and schools in which joy is attainable. We build spaces where joy is a possibility. We provide authentic and responsive communities where they will grow; where they will feel their own value, be appreciated and loved by others, and feel useful and capable.