When you visit a Montessori classroom, you will probably hear the children say, “This is my work.” This concept is a foundational principle in Montessori education. I remember a new child’s words to his mother when she can back to pick him up: “Guess what, Mom, we “work” here. We don’t “play”! But how can it be that young children work, not play, in the Montessori classroom?
The concept of work for the young child is built upon Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy of “self-construction.” It is the child who constructs himself, not the adult. It is the adult’s task to nurture and care for the child’s well-being in all areas of his development, but not to take the burden for it upon ourselves. As Dr. Montessori defined “work” for children, the child forms his personality and “builds himself” through his instinct and desire for work (Montessori, 1966). The child is like a beautiful plant, growing and blossoming according to his own biological plan. No one can change him into a different “plant” but yet he can wither or be scorched from lack or excess of care and attention.
In our Montessori classrooms, therefore, our children are surrounded in an environment where they satisfy their instinct of work through carefully-designed learning materials at their own pace. It is through a “purposeful play,” our children acquire skills that help them meet their intrinsic need for growth and development. For example, allowing a child to choose his own work, with as many repetitions as he wants to end the activity, enables the child to not only builds his self-confidence, but also helps him to perfect his inner life – his true desire as a human-being.
I remember hearing an experienced Montessori teacher respond to a parent’s question, “When will my child learn to read?” He said, “He will begin to read when he wants to!” This concept of self-construction is very difficult for many parents to understand because they want to do everything for the child. We must remember, “Whatever a child can do for himself, he should be able to do.” Real love is allowing the child to grow in independence and self-confidence.