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Outer Order Leads to Inner Order

One of the lessons gained from the Montessori way of education, which is also applicable for parenting and life, in general, to establish a harmonious way of life.

Imagine living in a city where the landscape changes each day. Every morning when you head out for work, the usual buildings, intersections and other structures are not where they should be. It would mess up your mind, no doubt!

Knowing that we have figured out a stable way of life is a strong anchor for human sanity. Human beings have a natural tendency to ‘orient’ themselves. The primitive man oriented himself to directions and events using the sun and the stars. We try to orient ourselves to the cultures and traditions of a new place. In jobs and in society, we orient ourselves to our position and role in the overall structure. 

A child who has entered this world also has a fundamental need to orient himself to surroundings he knows nothing about. From birth till about the age of six, a child orients himself to his habitat with a meticulous sense of order. To know and find his bearings, a child needs order at a physical and a psychological level. 

Much of the tantrums that parents complain about in young children stems from this lack of order either in

  • Findings things where they expected to find it
  • Having a fixed routine
  • Seeing consistent behavior in the adults

The Montessori environment is built to suit this need for order. It is organized, inviting, uncluttered and aesthetically pleasing. It is based on a few basic principles, which are universal in their ability to create order.

A place for everything and everything in its place

Montessori materials are arranged on shelves based on the category of activities (purpose) they belong to. Children know exactly where to find the material they want to work with. They are shown how to put back the material in its right place before they take the next material. Smaller / new children who need help are assisted by the adult in winding up. Once oriented, children cling to this order, and the environment functions in harmony.

At home, children need the same sense of order and we should try to declutter, have designated places of storage and put things back where they belong.

Less is More

Each material has a place on its shelf with enough free space around. The shelf is not cluttered with excess. The materials are within the reach of the eyes and hands of children. Shelves are lined up against the walls. There is free space for movement, for children to unroll their mats and work. There is no additional furniture or unnecessary decoration. 

Often parents find it difficult to manage piles of overflowing toys and books at home. This not only creates clutter, but impairs the child’s ability to choose, given the array of options available. It is very unsettling for the child.

  • Purge the excess. Let go of all toys that are not age-appropriate, not functioning and are duplicates. Only retain items that ‘spark joy’ (a term borrowed from Marie Kondo, the Japanese cleaning consultant and author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up).
  • Make things accessible: Have shelves that are at the child’s eye level, and stock them with limited toys/books that get rotated every few weeks.
  • What to have: Up to the age of 3, avoid giving ‘learning-oriented’ (alphabets, numbers, etc) and battery-operated toys. Stick to open-ended toys (like blocks), puzzles and toys made of natural materials. When children do pretend play, let them use the actual items around the house as much as they can, example – utensils from the kitchen, broom and dustpan etc. 

Beauty in the environment

A Montessori environment adds beauty by bringing nature indoors. Plants infuse a sense of calm in children. Neutral colors are preferred for decor, to not overstimulate the child.

Predictable Routine

Unlike conventional schools, a Montessori class does not start with a circle time, but usually ends with one or another group activity. Each child comes in the morning with an activity in mind that has held his interest from previous days. He would begin his day by unrolling a mat or getting a chowki, and bringing the material that he wants to work with. It sets the rhythm of concentration and interest for new materials to be introduced because the child was able to exercise his will in choosing (and hence have a control over) what he wanted to work with.

In our busy lives, with sleep times that are not fixed and routines that are not predictable, mornings and evenings become erratic. Children are deeply affected by this as they are not able to orient themselves in the household. Terrible two’s owes its name in a large part not to the child’s age, but to his need to stick to his routine, and not to be in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people.    

Presentable adult who behaves consistently

Children observe their teachers very closely – their attire, behavior and temperaments. The adult, therefore, has a responsibility to dress appropriately and be presentable. It inspires the child to be the same. Children also find solace in consistent behaviors of the adults. The adults in the Montessori environment act like a valet, who comes forward to help when asked but does not offer unsolicited advice. They are firm, poised, confident, encouraging and don’t snap at children. When children see this behavior day after day, it becomes a part of their personality.

This consciously created outer order brings inner order in the child, which he defends with his whole being. He learns to focus. He becomes independent. He feels secure because he has a sense of control.

Consistency, repetition, predictability. This is what young children crave for. This is what they thrive on. By inculcating these in our lifestyle, we can help them grow in harmony with their nature.

Originally published on LinkedIn.


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