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Social & Emotional Development

Social Development Insights from Dr. Montessori

From the moment of birth, your baby began to develop his or her personality. All infants develop this way through social relationships and experiences.

Infants are born with drives that urge them to relate to others and help others relate to them. The first impulses to root and suck, grasp and smile, and gaze and cuddle in the mother’s arms are precisely those needed to establish and maintain closeness. By age three, the little child has already laid down the basic foundations of his or her personality and is now ready to experience an ever-widening circle of adults and other children. According to Montessori’s plan, around the age of two and a half or three, children enter a Casa dei Bambini or Children’s House. Dr. Montessori told students in a 1946 teacher-training course that children “need the society of other children at this age.”

The activities available to the children in a Montessori classroom are “purposive”—they are able to be performed by the children for both selfish and social ends. When children work in this way they increase their level of independence and come to realize that their actions benefit others.

In the social life of a Montessori classroom, children come to prefer one another’s company to dolls, and they prefer “real” utensils to toys. While working with objects such as real brushes for cleaning, and real carpets to sweep, children attain real skills that allow them to participate more fully in life at home as well as at school.

Along with such practical lessons as cleaning and sweeping, the children in a Montessori class learn pro-social behaviors. The exercises of Grace and Courtesy, as the names imply, help children control their bodies and move more gracefully while giving them the courtesies of social life, the “pleases” and “thank yous” that denote distinguished manners.

A casual observer might not notice the richness of the social atmosphere in a Montessori classroom. From age three to six, little children tend to work side by side rather than together. Montessori pointed out that it was because the first essential of the child’s development is not really play at all! Instead, the first essential of the child’s development is concentration because it lays the basis for the development of an individual’s character and subsequent social behavior. Concentration is always solitary, even in the midst of a crowd, and there is no real achievement without it.

Emotional Development Insights from Dr. Montessori

Emotions are the newborn’s first spontaneous expressions. They control the mother’s behavior and establish and maintain significant relationships between the infant and the environment. An atmosphere of love and affection is the most critical influence during the child’s early years of development. The quality of the infant’s environment determines the quality of the infant’s adaptive functioning in that environment.

Emotional factors, such as the child’s close relationship with the adults who care for him or her, help form the child’s personality. By age three, if children are not rejected, they respond with gratitude, trust and respect for those who are willing to help them orient themselves in their world. They evolve a sense of worth, security and a means for emotional expression, along with autonomy and independence. If babies are treated with love and respect within the family and without violence or oppression, they will grow to have confidence and feelings of adequacy.

Children continue to grow in maturity as they carry out certain activities and acquire certain experiences. However, their choices can also be dictated by repressed negative experiences that distort the children’s outlook and cause feelings such as insecurity, inadequacy, inferiority or fear.

A good Montessori primary classroom creates conditions that allow children to manifest their natural developmental propensities. With a prepared environment and freedom to act within it according to their inner needs, individual rhythm and tempo, children exhibit characteristics not generally attributed to them.

The activities young children are most enthusiastic about are those that further structure the personality through the processes of differentiation and integration. When children are able to concentrate, doubt and timidity disappear. The children become calmer, more intelligent and more expansive. When children work to assimilate the environment, their personalities are unified. However, the improvement will be purely temporary if children go back to live in conditions that have not been altered.

Children derive so much joy from constructive activities that satisfy their inner needs, that it seems to onlookers as if they are playing. When they have the opportunity to realize their own development, they become, as Dr. Montessori describe, “supremely happy.” Acquiring new skills and new knowledge changes children; they are no longer discontented.

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