It is a very short walk from Max’s classroom to the gym. He passes through the toddler room on the way, and it takes every ounce of self-control he can muster not to sprint the distance.
One day several months ago, one of the youngest toddlers knocked a plant off the shelf. Before an adult could offer help, four-year old Max noticed as he walked back to class from gym. Max found a dustpan and broom, swept the floor, encouraged the tearful toddler with kind words and a gentle pat on the back, then returned to class.
Similar things happen every day. Most of these exchanges between children pass unnoticed, because busy adults tend to notice problems, and because we do not typically watch children with expectation and delight. It is almost impossible for adults to refrain from comment, or the interruptions we call “helping.”
Maria Montessori wrote a great deal about children’s spiritual development, but she did not consider joyful giving, generosity or kindness to be religious concerns. For Montessori, these qualities are acquired in a learning environment focused on the development of character.
Max’s character is the result of strong, consistent, thoughtful parenting and teaching. Max’s parents are hardworking, honest, thoughtful, humble and intelligent. They are imperfect, but they have reasonable expectations for their son. They set limits, and they ask for help, advice and support when they need it.
Max did not need thanks or praise before or after he offered help. He recognized a need he could meet, and he enjoyed the work required. Like his parents, he is strong and intelligent. Like his parents, he is observant. He gives freely, without praise or reward because he has internalized the order, discipline, and beauty present throughout his home and school environments.
Philosophers and theologians call Max’s behavior altruistic, but for him, rescuing a toddler and a plant is a small event in an ordinary day, an opportunity to do something fun. Lacking direct instruction, praise or prompt, Ben gave freely of himself, with delight. Public thanks and praise are beneath him. His joy is complete. Hid mind and his heart remain strong.
Jennifer Rogers at Countryside Montessori in Northbrook contributes parenting tips to this blog. Countryside Montessori holds classes for children from Pre-K through 8th Grade.
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