Think back to a time when you were a child, passionate about learning something new. Whether it was experimenting with new words, creating art, riding a bike, or how a science experiment worked, it is likely that you practiced repeatedly to a point of great satisfaction. By continuing to have interest and engage in the activity, you mastered the skill without even knowing you were working hard to learn.
Children are born with an innate sense of curiosity. They look at the world with wonder, excitement, fresh eyes, and an insatiable desire to explore their world and learn. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could do something to help perpetuate that wonder and love of learning as they continue to grow up?
The greatest gift we can give our children is to provide them the time and space for their curiosity to work its magic-- to slow down, encourage exploration, provide them opportunities to engage with the world, and be patient. Learning is a natural process that happens best when we provide them with the right conditions and don’t interfere.
When I talk with parents about their hopes and goals for their children, one of the things that is at the top of nearly every parent’s list is that their child is happy and loves learning throughout his or her life. Naturally, in Montessori, we revel in the chance to talk about life-long learning. Our environments and methodology provide the perfect place for every child to learn through interest, freedom to act on their curiosity, and uninterrupted time.
Activities, or what we call “work” in our Montessori setting, is beautiful, orderly and inviting. The materials beacon the children to explore them through their order and simplicity. Every activity is specifically designed to aid the child in learning a specific concepts. No bells, whistles, or complicated instructions included.
With support from a Montessori teacher or “guide,” the child is encouraged to choose work based on their interest and ability. When the perfect balance of challenge and interest is achieved, a child becomes deeply engaged in their work and concentrates to a point where they hardly notice the activity of other children around them. And, this “sweet spot” of engagement, is what keeps the child coming back for more-- to explore new challenges and continue to be interested in the world around them. And to love their work.
The world’s leading researcher on positive psychology and happiness, psychologist, Mihaly Czikszentmikalyi, referred to this deep engagement as flow, or a state of concentration or complete absorption with an activity at hand. He describes it as being in the grove, fully immersed in the task at hand. He states:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
In a world that is increasingly becoming more fast-paced, technology driven, and distracting, there has never been a more important time to provide opportunity for our children to have uninterrupted time. In their Montessori environment, the children have long, blocks of time to be curious, choose work that is interesting and challenging, experiment trying things, fail and repeat.
Step into a Montessori classroom and observe sometime. You will see children engaged with their work, happily learning on their own or side by side with a peer or two. The activities they will be working on will be as varied as the individual children are themselves, chosen based on their interests, abilities and curiosity. And, given uninterrupted time to engage doing things they enjoy, the natural consequence is that they love what they do.