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The Most Amazing Thing

During the Parent Orientation Evening earlier this year, a father asked, “What is the most amazing thing you have ever seen a child do?” 

We had been exploring the Sensorial Materials, marveling at how the children could learn to discriminate minute differences in temperature, pressure, and sound – perhaps he meant something like that. With more than twenty years of classroom memories in my head, I was surprised that I honestly could not answer him.  The most amazing thing?  I had seen so many amazing things – how could I choose just one?

His question kept coming back to me over the next few days, and I soon realized I could choose one. There was not only one instance of learning that most surprised and gratified me, but rather the one change in a child that I always hope for and watch for. 

I remember the first time I witnessed external evidence of this internal transformation.  A keen observer of the children, I had watched them at Circle as a new activity was presented to them.  They were all invited to try it sometime, and it was placed on the shelf.  As soon as they were dismissed from Circle, I saw two girls heading for it at the same time. One was a little first-year child, perhaps three years old, walking as quickly as her little steps could carry her.  The other was a kindergarten child, two years older, whose longer and faster steps would certainly get her there first. I cringed inwardly as I predicted the tearful disappointment that the younger child would feel when the object of her desire was thwarted. 

Then the most amazing thing happened: that older, bigger girl became aware of her younger classmate, obviously striving towards the same goal. Victory was certainly within her grasp:  with a few extra long and extra fast steps, she could reach the shelf first, block the smaller child with her larger body, and easily get what she wanted. 

But she did not choose to do that. 

I watched an almost pained look cross her face, and then she stopped in her tracks, shrugged slightly, and turned away to choose something else. The younger child was completely unaware of this unfolding drama. She happily got the activity off the shelf and went to work. Amazing!

The most amazing thing I have seen in the Casa classroom is when children become able and willing to choose to do something – or not do something – for the benefit of others, even when it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or disappointing to themselves. Watching the evening news any day will clearly illustrate that this is a lesson many adults do not seem to have learned very well, if at all. 

There are many elements of our Montessori Casa community that encourage children to care about others: having only one set of most activities or materials; no forced taking of turns; no limits on snack serving size. In the beginning, children think only of themselves and their own wants and needs, leading to conflicts, strife, tears, and an occasional cracker shortage. But when that most amazing thing happens – when a child can sublimate his or her needs and act for the good of others –  it has the potential to transform a child, the classroom community, and even our world.

– Ms. Andrea, Casa Two

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