In many cultures of the world parents don’t have the time or energy to be involved in every aspect of their child’s development because they have to devote much of their time to the simple task of surviving and providing their family with the basic necessities of life. As a result, their children tend to develop along a very natural, undisturbed path. True, these children will not have access to the resources that children in developed countries have, but they are relieved of the many stresses that we inflict on our children because of our sometimes misguided or unrealistic expectations. Have you ever seen an African child from an underdeveloped country having a temper tantrum?
Maria Montessori compared human development to development in the animal and plant world. No animal or plant will ever be attracted to anything that is detrimental to their health – they will always follow the path that is beneficial to their well-being. Animals will not take on a predator much larger than them because they know that this would be dangerous. Plants will always reach for and follow the sun. Children follow this same path. Maria Montessori conducted experiments with newborn babies where she placed them on a mattress on the floor. The babies would squirm and move, and sometimes came very close to the edge of the mattress. As soon as the baby got too close to the edge, they instinctively moved away. They were born with an innate instinct to keep themselves safe and to survive.
This innate urge continues from birth to around age 6 or 7 where children are naturally attracted to whatever is beneficial and advantageous to them in their environment. The problems occur when adults intervene. Maria Montessori compared a child’s development to the course and flow of a river or stream. This current of energy will flow no matter what. If rocks or obstacles are placed in the path of the stream, then that energy will deviate from its natural path, but will find a way around these obstacles. These obstacles will only result in it taking longer for the stream of energy to continue on its natural path or reach its destination. Then there is the dam – this will effectively halt the stream in its flow and result in stultifying stagnation.
Children have to be taught about the culture into which they have been born and this guidance from parents is essential to their development. What parents have to recognize is the difference between natural and cultural development. Cultural mores are easy for us to pass on to our children because they have been ingrained into us. Natural development of children is more difficult for us because our culture has removed us so far from this that we have difficulty in recognizing instinctively what is good for our children.
We have to recognize that, while we are essential in our children’s lives, we have to step back and trust that they are developing in exactly the way they should.