Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Magnetism of a Focused Child

After the one student completed her painting of the parts of the flower puzzle (see Jan 9/ 08 post) and left it to dry (labels still need to be written and put in place), a familiar outcry echoed throughout the classroom. "I want to do that work next!" Children are drawn to beautiful work. They are also drawn to a child who is concentrating and focused on a material in front of them. This is articulated by the student/s when they ask the teachers "What is she doing?" "Did I have a lesson on that work yet?" "May I observe them working?" This final question is of course answered by, "You need to ask her/him." There is without a doubt in my mind a magnetism surrounding a focused child

I have seen it again and again, children drawn to the quiet, focused energy of another child. They become almost trance like moving towards it. Their bodies become calm and quiet. They look at the child's work mesmerized. Their silence is only broken when they ask if they may observe. The more difficult moment emerges if another child is already doing that. A competitive element arises. Who is going to get to do the work next? At times, I have seen the child last to arrive on the scene start acting out as if to throw a wrench in the whole scene ultimately disturbing both the observer and the child working. This too generally draws my attention and a discussion is initiated on who is going to be the lucky one to get the work next, a sort of public rehashing of the earlier debate only I have been drawn in.

My first instinct is to move the second child towards an alternative work, this is mostly successful. At other times, the first child observing offers up her spot. "He can observe. I'm going to have snack," might be their solution to ending their own long wait. It is also stated that the work is not completed as of yet and that the child doing it needs as much time as they would like to finish it. This is why we only have one of each material (generally speaking that is) - so that the child shows his/her maturity in being able to wait and observe respectfully and that while waiting for one work a child decides to select another. In this case, the flower puzzle and the parts of the tree puzzle were immediately taken from their shelves. A child was soon busy completing each and each had one observer. In a very few minutes, all of the painting materials were being used and the materials on the botany shelves were being selected by another handful of children. They all wanted to participate in the energy that they had witnessed, "concentrated work"or what Maria Montessori referred to as the child's "great work" of the morning (work often chosen after several easier materials have been used by the same child).

I too am drawn to the stillness of a child immersed in their work. It makes me think of so many things - Maria Montessori's entire text on the spirituality of work, on Kandinsky and his Spirituality and Art thesis, on the famous child doctor and writer Robert Coles and his extensive writing about children and spirituality. Too, let me not forgot "Nurturing the Spirit" by Aline Wolf. I have spent a lot of time over the years thinking about this "transcendent" energy surrounding a single child in the midst of many other active children. It is so important that I, and the other adults in the room, not disrupt them with our own desire to acknowledge it or participate in it.

For the child completing the work, the aftermath of such concentrated work can be identified in the following (although this list is far from complete - rather a sampling of my own observations):
  1. The child expresses that they are very hungry. They generally go right to the snack area.
  2. The child expresses fatigue. They either go to the library and rest on pillows or to the rocking chair.
  3. They want to show everyone their work. They can not contain their pride and sense of accomplishment.
  4. They want to repeat the work immediately.
  5. Depending on how much time that they spent concentrating on the recently completed work, the child leaps to another work of the same level of challenge or greater with invigorated energy.
  6. They spend a long period of time simply looking at the completed work and then after putting everything away, wander through the classroom for the remainder of the day - not settling upon any new work.
As a writer, I have experienced all of the above after finishing a poem or a story. Witnessing it in the classroom, I am convinced it is core to all of the work all of the children are doing. I have so much more to say on this, but now I want to be quiet and think a little more. I will continue this post later (1:20 pm. Sunday)

Ok...having taken a short break, I close with two quotes from "The Secret of Childhood" :

"One cannot see the method; one sees the child." (pg. 147)

"Let us now seek to discover some of the manifestations on the part of the children.

The most pertinent, which seemed like a magic touch opening the gates to an expansion of normal characteristics, is a consistent activity concentrated on a single work, an exercise on some external object, where the movements of the hands are guided by the mind. And here we find the unfolding of characteristics which plainly come from an inner impulse, like the "repetition of the exercise" and "free choice of objects." It is then that the true child appears, aglow with joy, indefatigable because his activity is like the psychic metabolism to which life and hence development is attached. From now on it is his own choice that guides him." (pg. 149)

(9:30 pm Sun.)

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