By Tazeen Akmal Jameel
Meet me, I am a child. I have been living on this Earth since the time human beings inhabited the planet. I have inhabited all parts of the world. I have been part of all cultures, all races and all nations. Yet, I am considered a different specie altogether.
Who am I? I am a psychic embryo, a psychic nymph, rich with dynamic powers of intellect. Believe me, I have the power to teach myself. Have you not noticed that I grow up speaking my parent’s language when no one teaches me? I learn to walk and climb, I learn to hold and transfer from hand to hand. I have the power to develop, no matter which race, religion or social strata I belong to, from royal families to the meanest slums.
I just obey in my development, the laws of nature that are common to all. I can use my senses to explore the world around me. They open my way to knowledge, yet, I need you – the adult. My creative energies are fragile, I need loving and understanding response.
Unlike you, the adult, I am not on my way to death. I am on my way to life. My job is to fashion a man in the fullness of his strength who is not the victim of events. But because of his clarity of vision is able to direct and to mould the future of mankind. A man who is oriented to his environment and adapted to his time, place and culture. This is the secret of childhood.
My tiny mind absorbs all my surroundings. I want to be part of you – the adult. Let me see what you do; let me hear what you say; let me participate in your life. Extend your hospitality towards me with respect, as you respect each other. If you want me to learn a habit or acquire a trait, such as politeness, model it for me so that I learn by imitating you.
Let go of your prejudices, I appeal, and make use of your wisdom when you deal with me. Until now you have wanted to dominate me from the outside with the rod, when you could tame me internally by guiding me like human beings. Because of this lifelong conflict with the adult, I have been able to develop only defensive and repressive attitudes. Let me be free and I will reveal myself as a growing spiritual soul. This freedom, which is the birth right of every human being, will allow me to grow in social grace in a disciplined and joyful manner.
It is not what you do for me, either positive or negative, but what you have taught me to do for myself that will make me a successful human being. The education that you plan to give me, must concern itself with the development of individuality in me and allow me, ‘the individual child’, to remain independent not only in the earliest years of my life but also through all the later stages of my development.
So, when I want to try to do something by myself, allow me to try even if I fail. What strengthens any developing power is practise and repetition. Remember, that I can develop well by means of my own experiences. For me this is necessary work. An adult who keeps helping me becomes an obstacle to my independence.
How beautifully Dr. Maria Montessori has given my message to the world, “He who is served or being helped – has injury done to his independence,”
Dr. Montessori also observed that a child always tends to expand his independence. So, let me act of my own accord to handle things and to master skills.
“In every stage of life and every age, liberty is the realisation of the loftier possibilities of one’s energies, independence and perfection,” said Dr. Montessori.
To help me, I ask you to lower yourself and come down to my level and walk with me at my own pace as I am heading for my destination not yours. Please, do not confine me to a small space which offers nothing but frustration to the exercise of my powers. Provide me the opportunity to move as my mental and physical development are dependent on movement. Like my five sense, I am also blessed with limbs. They take me from place to place and they help me to climb, to explore my environment. The laws of nature have allowed me to move in all dimensions. Why do your laws restrict my mobility? Let me develop naturally in harmony with nature.
Did you ever notice that my hands are my chief teacher? They are tools of my intelligence. Like you, and like all humans in history, they are instruments by which I take possession of my environment. Allow me to touch, hold, feel and operate with my own hands. Do not be afraid of my tiny hands stretching out for things that are of no value or importance in themselves. Why do I get this feeling, that the adult has subconsciously erected a defense to struggle against a power that is attacking his comfort and possessions? I actually strive to imitate the actions of my adults, the way they use or handle something just like I imitated their language in order to become like them, to be one of them.
I know the idea of leaving a child on his own is easily stated but there are deeply rooted barriers in the adults’ mind that make this hard to realise. It is difficult to resist the wayward impulses within himself that lead the adult to dominate the child. The solution to this conflict is preparing a suitable environment, by the adult, where I can manifest my higher tendencies by involving myself in activities that lead to the mastery of life skills. There you can safely resist from rushing to assist me in my chores.
Let me a share with you a bit more of the many secrets I possess about myself. I hope they will lead you to an understanding of my mental growth.
One of them is: Order. This is one of the needs of life, if satisfied, provides a real happiness. Order provides an adult with a certain amount of external pleasure but for a child it is something which is quite different. For me, the child, it is as essential as water is for a fish. I have an innate love for order in my environment. When I experience this, I begin to derive principles that enable me to orient myself in my surroundings. This leads to belongingness so that I can master the environment as I grow older. This outside order in the early years creates the inner order in my mind. If it fails to develop it leads to a chaotic mind. You can observe this in my disturbed behaviour and the clutter in any physical environment I am responsible to maintain.
Another important period of my growth is the development of social relationships. During this time, any young individual directs his attention to one’s behaviour and the actions and reactions within a group of people leading to the acquisition of basic principles of human interactions and consideration for one another.
Dr. Montessori discovered these secrets as specific to the first six years of my childhood. It is a special ability to learn, that I acquire when I am very young. It is a period that lasts for a short time till I have acquired a particular trait such as language or the ability to master abstract numbers. Once this characteristic is acquired, this intense ability to learn disappears. She calls my period of intense learning ‘sensitive periods’. A wise adult grabs this opportunity and exposes me to rich experiences for the acquisition of the particular skill before this sensitive period ends. After the sensitive periods fade away, I take help from my inner tendencies that remain with me all my life. These are movement, exploration, curiosity, order, observation, imitation, abstraction, concentration, imagination, activity, exactness, self-perfection, calculation, gregariousness, communication and self-control.
So, prepare an environment built around these sensitive periods and tendencies. I hope I have provided a doorway to look inside me – the child. Let me think, let me feel, let me act, thus allow me to understand the world around me. Let me master it and make it a better place to live for all of us.