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Where's the Joy?

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

"Joy is the evidence of inner growth." - Dr. Maria Montessori

Look at his face. Go on......really look. And see what I see. I see a child glowing with the satisfaction of achieving something all by himself. This is 3 year old Rémi, and in this photo he had managed to build an extension to the pink tower by adding the broad stair to it. He spent a fair amount of that morning experimenting with different combinations to see what they could do together. I remained where I was nearby and watched. I smiled with encouragement, but I tried my best to remain a watcher, not an active participant. I can see the sense of satisfaction and joy on his face as he achieved what he set out to do. "I did it!' he said.

Montessori education is often criticised for the fact that the children are busy working, often individually. They are just getting on with things, not constantly talking and laughing. This can lead people to think that the children aren't enjoying themselves in what they're doing. This certainly hasn't been my experience of Montessori though. I find it a delight to see a child's satisfaction with themselves. Though a lot of the time it won't be as obvious as the example above. Most of the time it will pass us by. But when we get the opportunity to really observe the child, without them noticing our gaze, what we will see is truly magical. In The Secret of Childhood Maria Montessori talks about how the "sensitive periods" in the child's development create the inner drive to perfect certain skills or follow particular interests. It might seem that the child is repeating themselves ad infinitum, performing the same activities over and over again, but that repetition leads to perfection and order, which in turn provides joy. Imagine the three year old's passion for dinosaurs. With each new one they discover comes a new name, so important that the child becomes obsessed with saying this wonderful word over and over, until it has become internalised and they find a new dinosaur and a new word.

"When some of these passions die away, other flames are kindled and so infancy passes from conquest to conquest; in a continuous vital vibrancy, which we have called its joy and simplicity. It is through this lovely flame that burns without consuming that the work of creating the mental world of man takes place". - Dr. Maria Montessori

So the joy is intangible and often unseen, but is present nonetheless. As the child moves from infancy, growing in confidence and independence, so this inner joy grows with them. How can we pin it down? Observe the unobservable? Watch quietly and you will see it. The deep concentration, attention to detail, careful movements, almost like a physical meditation. And then, fleetingly, the imperceptible nod of the head, the tiniest of smiles, the look of complete satisfaction when a task has been well done or perhaps just a subtle pause. No fist pumps, no exclamations, just the simplest acknowledgement of an inner evolution.

"Social grace, inner discipline and joy. These are the birthright of the human being who has been allowed to develop essential human qualities". - Dr. Maria Montessori

So help encourage more moments of joy by actively fostering your child's sense of intrinsic motivation. That drive to do something - an activity or task, where the process itself is the reward. A child doesn't need rewards and bribes to do things, when they have this drive. Intrinsic motivation is entwined into Montessori and brings much joy and growth to the child.

Co-authored and edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron. Inspired by the writings of Sonia Quinn, Open Door Montessori Training. Sonia has been a Montessori parent, nursery owner and childminder with over 25 years experience. She runs courses for CPD tailored to Childminders interested in Montessori and Montessori Assistants.

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