The center of Montessori pedagogy and the foundation upon which all is based, is the revelation of a nature of a child. She observed differently; the one the child had previously been known by a nature so different that journalists of long ago claimed the term "the new child".
Dr. Montessori, through the process of observations, abstractions, putting it in practice, observations again, correcting abstractions, trying something new and so on, gradually refined the environment. Her approach allowed her to observe children's day-to-day interactions with the environment. It created a nuance among themselves as well as new patterns of behavior so the children had a natural environment to experience. Thus she developed a comprehensive body of theory to support her practice. This is the majesty of what came to be called the Montessori Method; a synthesis of theory and practice, each relying upon and profoundly impacting the other.
From her extensive observations of children, Montessori concluded that each individual constructs him or herself. Self-Construction includes the critical idea that must be embraced by adults. It is the idea that impacts our relationship with children and impacts our ability to provide them with the support that they need. We only offer the support that they need. Interference with this process, even when it is well intentioned, tends to disrupt the natural path of development.
There are two reasons why the child should be allowed to act freely, in liberty and we must develop both a science and an art to respect the liberty of the child. First is that the child develops him or herself. The second, relates to their self-development. The child reveals to us the laws motivating his or her work. That is, the psychological laws of his or her life. Liberty in sole meaning will lead to the maximum development of character, intelligence, and sentiment. It will give to us peace and the possibility of contemplating the miracle of growth.
When we consider Montessori's concept of self-construction we must be certain to take into account all dimensions of the human being: physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual, emotional, social, as interference with the psychic embryo. The idea Dr. Montessori conceived and embraces all these dimensions. It can affect the development of the child's psychology.
Every other living thing is bound by its nature. A sunflower cannot grow unless certain conditions are present. It cannot decide that it desires to be more fragrant or a different size and color, and then become a rose. Human beings are different. They are born with certain potentials, which respond to the environment that individuals find themselves. They can live and grow in any condition that they find; hot deserts, humid forests, vast plains, etc. Human beings are unique because they are able to adapt to almost any situation. They take an active part in the development of their humanistic characteristics which are not unalterable and incised into granite, as are the characteristics of all other living things.
New Children Need New Adults
Dr. Montessori coined the word normalized to describe the new children. This is one of the Montessori terms that can easily become meaningless and confusing jargon to anyone not familiar with our work. However, it is important for us to consider the reasons that led Dr. Montessori to create this term.
A normalized child, in Montessori's view, is a child whose natural path of development has been unobstructed. When children are free to follow their natural developmental paths, they manifest behaviors that often astound the adults observing them.
Adults serve children, but they do not constantly teach the children. Adults adopting a Montessori approach to children help the children to develop knowledge and skills, encouraging and assisting them. The adults wait, watch, and are ready to serve. This is the reason we speak more often of the Guide, than of the Teacher.
When we accept that children construct themselves, we have also accepted that motivation and interest are not some qualities that we must stir up externally. The urge to find out, an attraction to certain experiences or knowledge comes from within the individual; not from direct teaching. There is no place for bulletin boards, rewards, punishments, gimmicks, competition, or assignments. There is no place for grades. Though that relates only to the children who met their true nature, those who became normalized. When children are deviated or the classroom is out of control we can utilize these means to guide them to their true nature, normalization. Once the normalization is established and inner motivation comes to life the children will not need this anymore.
In the Montessori elementary environment children set their own assignments with guidance from the guides and negotiate their deadlines. The adult sees if they are having trouble meeting their goals and assists to ensure understanding of the necessary concepts.
The adult must believe in, trust, and accept the power of the child to perform this work. We must have an absolute conviction that children play a central and active role in their own development. The adult observes the children with one goal in mind: identification of what each child needs from us, as that process of individual self-construction is underway.
Children require more than just the influence of an adult. For optimal self-construction to occur, they need a community. Human beings are social by their nature and we know that children learn by absorbing information from their environments. Language and customs, for example, can only be absorbed when they are in use. Both are only necessary in a community. It is this self-construction that occurs within a particular society and setting that leads not only to adaptation, but to the development of specific preferences.
What a remarkable thought: if we could somehow travel back in time to the ancient Sumerian culture, and if we were to bring back with us an ancient Sumerian infant. That infant would grow up to be indistinguishable from every other person in our society. They would speak our language, not Sumerian. They would prefer our foods, not Sumerian delicacies, etc. Likewise, a twenty-first century child from our country would adapt seamlessly if taken back to ancient Sumer, and raised there.
It was Montessori's hope that once the child had adapted to a particular culture, adaptation would continue, the next step in an individual's development is adaptation to the human community. Individuals who take this crucial step have the potential to profoundly change our world; leading toward peace and harmony, which was one of Montessori's objectives.
Montessori discovered that our attempts to directly influence the child's development generally imposed obstacles to natural development. This raised the questions: How can we then support the natural development of children? Is it possible to indirectly serve natural development?
The answer that Montessori found, was not so much in our direct interactions with children as it was in our work to provide an environment that supported each child's efforts to self-construct. This is a conclusion reached decades later by psychologists and educators. They found that a rich environments supported psychological development, whilst a meager environment led to stunted psychological and intellectual growth.
The environment alone was not enough, however. Montessori also discovered that the children must be given freedom to work spontaneously in the prepared environment if they are to achieve maximum development.
We give aid to life. We are not 'educators' in the traditional sense of this word. Our objective is not the transmission of certain doses of information and skills. Year by year, and introduced without reference to the nature of the children with whom we are working. Rather, our objective is the support of the total development of each child. Our curriculum and methods are based upon the changing nature of the child across years of development.
Our role is to serve to the child. As an aid, we prepare and maintain the environment. We make certain that the children are linked to the environment by the means of the Great Stories and the Key Lessons. We must stand back and allow the children to work; moving forward only to introduce a new aspect of the environment, or to assist when the children request that we do so.
Dr.Montessori saw children as the saviors of humanity. With each generation we have another chance to find new answers to age-old and newer anomalies. This chance forever rests in the children of our time. If this objective is to be achieved then we must build our lives around the concept of self-construction. Once we have achieved this state, the work of the child will be empowered. In turn, humanity will be empowered.