by Mamatha Chiruvella, Toddler Teacher

“The child’s conquest of independence begins with his first introduction to life. While he is developing, he prefects himself and overcomes every obstacle that he finds in his path.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

Independence and movement go hand in hand. The child’s every muscle must become active and coordinated; they must act in accordance with one another and there must be order in the action. Dr. Montessori not only identified independence but also could distinguish the successive stages in human life. Even though other living beings enjoy certain stages of independence, they are limited. Conquering successful levels of independence is vital for the child’s development. The people continue to strive energetically toward achieving these successful levels of independence. In human beings independence is not limited to physical aspects only, instead it encompasses all aspects of the development, including the social, spiritual and intellectual levels. These various aspects cannot be isolated. However, the period of development in a young child has been assigned (by nature) the exclusive task of building up independence on the physical, intellectual and emotional levels.

The very first independence is birth. The birth is a momentous event for the child. It allows him to continue to live with the mother, but just outside the womb. His physical needs are taken care by the mother and other adults. The child has already begun certain tasks independently on another level. He eats when he is hungry and sleeps when he is sleepy. The mother becomes the bridge to connect the child to the rest of the world. At around six months of age, as need arises to again achieve other level of independence, his digestive system has certain internal changes. The child is ready to eat solid food and the first tooth emerges. At the same time, the child starts to grasp and bring objects to his mouth with prehensile grip, whereas earlier he was dependent on the adults. He is now independent enough to gather to him the object of interest. Taking first steps is yet another level of independence. The child passes through various stages of developing movement patterns. Development of language is a very lengthy process. The child gains another level of independence with he uses words and actions to communicate his needs.

At around eighteen months of age the child will simultaneously start to use his hands, move in space and have greater control of his language. The young child is a sensorial explorer; he uses his senses to learn. The use of both hands in coordination helps build his knowledge and intelligence. Dr. Montessori said, “The hands feed the mind”. The more the child uses his hands to do purposeful activities, the better he will learn. Every child is born with his inner potential and we the adults have to guide him to reach this full potential. Any environment that has age-appropriate freedom and independence allows the child to develop focus, concentration and gain confidence. It is important to not disturb the child’s concentration when he is engaged with any activity. The concentration is like a bubble, let it last as long as it can naturally. How many times have you heard a child say, “me do it” or “I did it”? The child is asking your help to allow him to do it himself. Have you observed a child repeat an activity over and over again? He is building self-esteem and self-confidence by repetition.

How do the adults help the child gain independence?

As you know, the Montessori philosophy believes in the process of an activity and not the product. The child loves to come to his Montessori classroom because he experiences freedom to be independent in all his tasks. The adult trusts the child and the child appreciates that trust and so the child is not afraid of making mistakes. The child tries to correct the mistake and if he needs help he knows where to find it. He chooses the activities for his self-development. The daily life activities or the Practical Life activities help in his self-formation.

Here are some helpful tips to foster independence: Activities provided to a child must be real and purposeful. Having trust in the child and providing freedom to perform the activity is important. The use of his hands is very important for developing the mind. While manipulating the materials, the child develops his knowledge, concentration and intelligence. Rotate your child’s toys and have a few quality activities available at one time.  This helps also with clutter control and easy clean up. Having toys on the shelves instead of in a toy box provides a sense of order and a place to return the toy. Just like at school, having one toy out at a time helps with maintaining order. A rug/mat provides a boundary for the activity.

The young child is interested in the kitchen so involve the child in cooking with simple recipes. Let them wash the vegetables and peel eggs, clementines, and potatoes. Let the child help with household work. Remember, the child wants to do real work just like you! The child admires the adults in his life and wants to imitate your actions. He enjoys the work because he wants to be involved. The child can help in watering plants, setting the table, unloading dishwasher, making his bed, feeding pets, sorting laundry and folding laundry.

“My vision or the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification from the secondary school to the university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual” – Dr. Maria Montessori