If you’ve ever been in a Montessori Academy classroom around 9am, you might be surprised by what you see and hear. Young children aren’t usually known for being quiet or overly attentive for long periods of time. However, during the first few hours of the Montessori preschool day, children are highly focused on their own chosen tasks, usually individually, under the guidance of a trained teacher.
While Doctor Maria Montessori didn’t coin the term ‘mindfulness,’ her advocacy for sustained focus, sensory based learning experiences, and practical work, certainly show an affiliation with mindfulness practices.
Mindfulness, as summarised by Angeline Lillard (2011), is a: “Quality of focused attention on the present moment accompanied by a non-judgemental stance.” Simply put, mindfulness encourages a strong awareness of the present, of yourself, and your environment. Mindfulness training has been seen to have beneficial outcomes on adult populations, and has also been determined as potentially helpful to children’s development in terms of developing concentration skills, independence, and intrinsic motivation.
So how do these two philosophies intersect? Montessori favourite ‘walking on the line’ is a perfect example of walking meditation; where the child carefully places one foot in front of the other, exactly on the line. Through this process, children pay attention to the feeling of placing their foot, shifting their weight from one to foot to the other, balancing, and being supported by the floor beneath them. This consciousness of self and others develops into Montessori practical life lessons of grace and courtesy.
In fact, in all activities in the Montessori classroom, children are encouraged to make personal distinctions in regards to the information they receive through their senses as: “The sensory and motor systems connect the mind and the body” (A. Lillard, 2011). In ‘The Silence Game’ the teacher chimes the bell, and the entire class falls silent and listens, as they are encouraged to become fully aware of their surroundings. All Montessori learning activities are an opportunity for children to become more mindful of the world they live in, and how they experience it.
Finally, closely linked to sensory awareness, are the practical life activities, which introduce children to the meaning and purpose of everyday tasks. From toddlerhood, children carry their own food and water to the table, and clean up after themselves, amongst other tasks. These functional goals, created within the practical life activities, allow children to gain self-awareness, as well as an appreciation of the value of the tasks. This again places onus on the child to be mindful of themselves and their environment.
With the ultimate goal of Mindfulness Education being focused on improving a child’s wellbeing, it is easy to see how this partners with the Montessori philosophy to prepare children, not just for school, but also for life. Ultimately, both philosophies work together to build confident and purpose filled children who are aware of themselves, their environment, and their important role as challengers and changers within society.