I recently came across this quote from Maria Montessori that is exceptionally relevant to the time we live in today and our work within the Elementary classroom environment.
"Society must fully recognize the social rights of the child and prepare for him and the adolescent a world capable of ensuring their spiritual development. In order to do this, all nations would have to reach an understanding, to bring about a sort of truce that would permit each of them to devote itself to the cultivation of its own human members in order to find therein the practical solutions to social problems that today seem insuperable... education is the best weapon for peace."
While it is not within our scope of practice to ensure the stable truce of nations for our children, there is much work that we do within the Montessori classroom to cultivate the possibility of a peaceful world through our work with the children. We support the children's opportunity to practice conflict resolution independently, without the interference of adult knowledge and expectations. This provides an experience of confidence and capability for the children. The reserve of adult intervention also protects the social rights of the children to work through social conflicts with the known understandings of human complexity that they have internalized. If their skills fail at reaching the desired outcome, which creates an opportunity for further learning, we provide language, modeling, and a safe container for experimentation and observation of the subtle nuances of a society.
Recently in our classroom community we have discussed our feelings around the concept of concentration; the individual ability to concentrate and the social obligation to protect and honor the concentration of another. The reflections of the children have been brilliant! Many expressed their experience of concentration, "As if there were a light shining down just on me and what I'm doing.", " The whole room fades away." " I can't hear anything around me even though I know it's there."
When asked how they feel about the work they do when they feel they have done it with focus many responded with, " Awesome!" "It feels easy!" " I feel so good afterwards!" Personally, I interpret all of these responses as joy.
Our class also reflected on the signs that show that someone is working with concentration or focus. This is a deeper level of awareness that the children of the second plane are developing through observation and interaction. Children within the second plane are gregarious and crave social interaction to fuel their inspiration for work. However, they also need the solitude of complete focus on a goal or activity. This is a delicate balance that requires patience, compassion, and most importantly, practice. The children shared with me many signals that someone is inside a moment of deep concentration; " They hold a finger up instead of responding when they are reading a book." " Their eyes are on their work instead of looking all around the room." " They don't hear you when you are talking to them." The children's ability to recognize the importance of the ability and opportunity to work with concentration is phenomenal!
As children mature, their ability to recognize these moments of concentration and implement the social skills necessary to honor and respect the process of another's work begin to grow. The children remember to wait for eye contact before speaking to another. They will pause and give another the opportunity to consider the options before responding. They will notice that a friend is so engrossed in her work that she is completely unaware of anything else, and feel a reverance and awe and compassion for their friend's work.
A phrase of response to social conflicts brought to me recently has been, " You do you.... and all will be well."