Most of our society thinks of children as impulsive and chaotic beings. Dr. Maria Montessori found, however, that even the youngest children display a need for and a sense of order in their environment. The infant needs the constancy of his mother’s and father’s faces; the toddler must have his “blankee” and favorite stuffed animals to go to sleep. The room in which the young child spends most of his time must remain constant in the location of his bed, toys, chair, etc. because his environment is, to him, “like the sea to the fish and the air to the birds”, said Dr. Montessori.
Even young children will see items out-of-place and put them back. This is his divine drive for constancy, as part of his construction, and we must recognize it and allow it to be expressed. A parent once asked one of our teachers, “Why does my son take the front door mat to his room and put his toys on it?” Of course we know the answer: The child loves an orderly environment and has learned how satisfying it is to have a safe place to “work.” Adults do not realize how young children thrive on the same environment, and things always in their place. As Dr. Montessori mentioned, during the period of active construction of his psyche, “the child often feels the deepest impulse to bring order into what, according to his logic, is in a state of confusion” (1995).
One year I allowed about twenty teachers in training to visit one of our large classrooms for a short while, maybe thirty minutes. The adults came in while the children were working, and the new teachers took off their shoes and put them by the double doors. Then they found places around the room to sit and watch. Not too long afterwards, we all looked over and saw two children by the doorway. They observed the twenty pairs of shoes and found the matches for each one, placing them in pairs along the wall.
Although the child appears to be primarily fixed on his external world, he also possesses an internal order in his body. The internal sense of order “makes him aware of the different parts of his own body and their relative positions” (1966). He thrives on a definite schedule of eating and sleeping, playing, and learning. Without it, he becomes distracted and loses concentration.