maria montessori
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INTERESTING TO READ... june 2012

The Secret of Childhood


 
"Sensitive periods", ………..discovered in biology, have a special meaning for us, because they explain many of the secrets of development. 
What is development influenced by? How is it that living beings grow?
Sensitive periods…. offer new means towards the understanding of spiritual development.”
"They were discovered in animals by a Dutch scientist, de Vries. We, in our turn, have discovered them in our schools* in the raising of children, and have used them in education.


These are certain periods during growing beings (i.e. in infancy) hold a special, but short, sensorial capacity, which helps them acquire certain qualities and disappears as soon as they were gained. All features are acquired this way, by means of an impulse, of a transitory possibility. Consequently, growth is not unexplainable, a hereditary fatality residing inside beings, but an effort minutely guided by transitory periodical instincts, which push the developing being towards a specific activity, which is often strikingly different from that of the adult individual. De Vries first noticed the sensitive periods in insects. They have easily noticeable growth periods, because they go through metamorphoses stages that can be observed in experimental laboratories.


Let's take the example quoted by De Vries, of a humble worm, a butterfly caterpillar. It is a well-known fact that caterpillars grow quickly, eating greedily, which is why they are a burden for plants. The caterpillar we are talking about cannot feed on large tree leaves in the first days of life, but only with the small and tender leaves growing at the edges of branches. However, it so happens that the kind mother, the butterfly, lays the eggs, out of instinct, in the very opposite side, in the corner between the branch and the trunk, to protect them from dangers. But who is to tell the small worms that the tender leaves they need are at the edges of the branches?

However, the caterpillar has a strong sense of light: light attracts it, bewitches it, and the little worm starts crawling, as caterpillars do, towards where the light is stronger, the edges of the branches, and finds himself starving amongst the fresh leaves that make a great meal.


And it is strange that, as soon as this period ends, as soon as the caterpillar is grown and can feed, it loses this sensitiveness to light. After a while, light no longer attracts it, it has no effect on it, the instinct completely disappears; the time when this attraction was of use faded, and, from now on, it is to follow other paths, looking for other means of survival.
The caterpillar is not blind to light, but simply indifferent.
These remarks can be very helpful in understanding and educating children. On the one hand, an impulse that encourages, pushes towards acts that surprise and amaze us, on the other hand, an indifference that makes the being blind and helpless. The adult holds no power over these special states. But when the child cannot work according to the norm of his sensitive period, the occasion for a gain is lost, and it is lost for good.”

”The Secret of Childhood” – Maria Montessori (1936) – ”Tiparul Universitar” Publishing House, Bucharest, 1938

*Reference to Montessori schools