History of the game
This game was developed by Dr Maria Montessori, when she was working with partially deaf children. It's suitable for children around 2 to 6 years of age, though you may well find that children are more ready from around 4. It can be played inside or outdoors.
The story goes that Dr Montessori stood at the back of the classroom of partially deaf children and softly called out the name of every child in turn. When the child heard their name, they got up and went very quietly to her. As their hearing was impaired they had to listen very intently to their names being called and their response was to be quiet in return.
There's another story that tells of an occasion where Dr Montessori went to visit a class of hearing children aged under 5. As she approached the classroom she encountered a mother with a baby in her arms. Dr Montessori spoke to the mother and she agreed that the baby could be taken into the classroom to show the other children. Dr Montessori showed the children and said 'Look, how quiet the baby is, see how still he lies. Can you be as still and quiet as that?' To her amazement, the children mimicked the baby and became incredibly still and quiet. She observed how much they were enjoying this game; and using the same techniques she'd used previously with the deaf children the Silence Game was born. It's been observed that children seem rested after playing the game, as if the quiet and stillness rejuvenates them in some way. Since it's inception it has been a firm favourite in Montessori classrooms around the world. And you can enjoy playing it with your children too.
Dr Montessori wrote about the initial development of the Silence Game in the book The Secret of Childhood:
“One day I had the idea of using silence to test the children’s keenness of hearing, so I thought of calling them by name, in a low whisper, from a certain distance, as is the custom in certain medical tests. The child called was to come up to me, walking so as not to make a sound. With forty children this exercise in patient waiting demanded a patience that I thought impossible, so I brought with me some sweets as a reward for each child who came to me. But the children refused the sweets. They seemed to say, “Don’t spoil our lovely experience, we are still filled with delight of the spirit, don’t distract us.” And so I realised that children were sensible not only to silence but to a voice calling imperceptibly in silence. They came up slowly, walking on tip-toe, taking care not to knock into things, and their footsteps could scarcely be heard.”
How to play
This is a game that can be played at any time of day, and in any place you choose. It can be played with multiple participants. Pick the right moment. If you've never played before then chose a time and place which is calm and peaceful. Set up the child for success. Ask the child to sit down and see if they can be as really quiet. Don't force it. If you sense resistance and that this isn't the right time, then leave it and try again another time. The game is meant to be fun above all else.
If they're interested in playing, then explain to them that to hear clearly, they need to be as still and quiet as possible. Ask them what sounds they can hear around them. If you're playing the game inside, then it may be sounds from the house, such as a washing machine going through its cycle or the cat purring. You might be able to hear traffic in the distance from outside, or the sounds of rain tapping on a window. If you're playing the game outside, then you might tune into sounds from nature, birds singing in the trees, branches rustling in the breeze or a cow mooing in a field etc.
Keep silent for a minute or longer and then ask the child what they heard. Talk about the sounds. Are they soft or loud? Are the sounds pleasant to hear or are they too noisy or overwhelming?
If you find that your children enjoy this game then you can use a bell to signal that the game is about to begin. Or make a card with the word 'Silence' on one side and a peaceful photograph on the other.
How playing the game can help your child
Children love playing this game and there's similarities to mindfulness in it's ability to help children tune into the moment and use their senses to become more aware of sounds around them. It also helps develop control and self-discipline as children learn to stay still and be aware of what their bodies are doing.
We live in such a noisy overwhelming world, filled with so many sounds that can drain us emotionally and spiritually. Many of us rarely have the opportunity to experience silence or to savour the quieter sounds of nature around us. The Silence Game can give children a precious gift that stays with them throughout their lives: the ability to cultivate and appreciate silence.
Playing the game with several family members can be a lovely bonding opportunity. Dr Montessori also believed that develop spiritual awareness.
Co-authored and edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron
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