Saturday, January 29, 2011

what is a child? part 1

In the last few weeks I have opened again and again to one of the three synoptic passages where Jesus speaks about children. This passage in particular struck me: "Calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, 'Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven'" (Matt. 18:2-4).

Jesus seems to imply that becoming like a child is a bit of a difficult prospect, involving conscious effort ("unless you turn and become like little children"). This is strange. We've all been children, right? How hard can it be? Ultimately, of course, becoming like a child will make things easier for us; indeed, St. Therese's Little Way is ease and simplicity itself (make yourself as little as you can, admit your dependence on God, and He will do all the work that needs to be done in your soul). But the process of becoming like a child, making ourselves little can be difficult in practice.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, in the last few weeks I have also started a new job, as an assistant in a Montessori classroom for six to nine-year-olds. I've spent a lot of time around my kids throughout my life (being the oldest of five myself), but it has been a while since I have had the opportunity for daily interaction with this age group. This definitely seems like the perfect time in my life to engage more fully the question: what are children like and how can I become more like a child? I thought I would focus on one attribute per post for the next few weeks. (As a side note, this question is one which Maria Montessori grappled with and her insights on the nature of children inform the philosophy behind her system of education. I am eager to learn more of what she has to say on the topic, but for now, I'm simply going on my own observations).

The first thing that strikes me is their boundless energy which is in evidence from the moment they enter the classroom at 8:30 in the morning. This energy level is particularly in evidence to me because it is my job to keep it at least partially in check. The children are taught to keep their bodies quiet and modulate their voices, to care for the materials that they use, to keep their conversation related to the work at hand. When they feel that they can't concentrate or can't keep their body still, they can ask permission to water the classroom plants, run an errand to the office, visit the school "sensory room", or even walk or kick a ball in the hallway. That's the goal, anyway. They forget or ignore the rules a lot, so it is my job to remind them. Though their energy level can sometimes get out of hand, it is a joy to see the enthusiasm that they put into their word.

At recess, the energy that is somewhat channeled and focused in the classroom is unbridled for all the world to see. The children are enthusiastic just to be able to move. None of the children stays in the same place for more than a few minutes. Even children who complain about having to go outside soon leave their moping and start chasing or being chased or simply spinning in circles for the sheer joy of moving.

I do not often have energy like that. I do not often want to get out of bed in the morning when my alarm goes off (especially this time of year). Perhaps if I had a consistent bed time like these children do, it would be a little easier. Montessori education works to make sure the children are offered work that corresponds to their level of development and can engage their whole attention. Perhaps if I set aside more time in my life to pursue things that engage my interests, I would be more like these children, energetic and full of life.

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn. 10:10).

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