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Where's the Joy?

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

Look at his face. Go on......really look. And see what he has achieved. All by himself. This child had managed to build the red Knobless Cylinders, but the last cylinder just wouldn't balance on the top. He spent an age trying to do it, knocking a few cylinders off each time. I so wanted to help him. But I didn't. I remained where I was and watched. He didn't look frustrated, he just picked up the fallen pieces and tried again........and again. Eventually, he slowed his movements down and concentrated on lowering the cylinder delicately. And then at last it was balancing. He couldn't contain his joy at achieving his goal.

Montessori education is often criticised for the fact that the children are busy working individually. They are just getting on with things, not constantly talking and laughing, although this happens too at different points of the day. However, most of the time a child's satisfaction with themselves or their achievements won't be this obvious. 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. Montessori said of this "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". 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". - Maria Montessori

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