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One of the great discoveries made by Dr. Montessori was that all humans have certain tendencies or behavior patterns. No matter where we live, no matter our culture or ethnicity, we all follow the same natural laws that lead us to act or react in a specific manner. We are all driven to:
Explore (we are curious)
Realize perfection/Control errors/Improve ourselves
Control ourselves (physically, intellectually, emotionally)
And I would add to this list the human tendency to act compassionately, to show care and concern for other living beings. These are the ways in which we are all similar. They unite us as a species.
These tendencies are present at all ages of our lives but some are stronger than others during different developmental periods. The tendencies also vary in the way and strength in which they appear in different people but they all exist in some form in every person. And it is these tendencies which guide our development; which direct us to take or not to take a given action.
In the child between the ages of 3 and 6, all of these tendencies can be readily witnessed. Children of this age are interested in talking, in using the new words they learn. They want to be with other children, to socialize. They imitate the actions of those around them (so if you eat standing up in the kitchen rather than sitting at a table, your children will too). They want you to do things the same way every time (they are precise) and they want to do the same things again and again and again (they repeat). You can go through the list of human tendencies and easily find examples for how each manifests in the young child.
These tendencies are not simply part of the young child, they are the child’s master. The child is a slave to these tendencies. She must follow them because they are her nature. But that is not a problem because these tendencies lead us exactly where we should go. They drive us to learn, to improve ourselves, to master knowledge. They are our inner guide and we can trust them to help us learn the truth of our existence.
When these basic human needs, these basic tendencies of human behavior are understood and respected, children become what Dr. Montessori called “normalized.” They have a sense of internal peace, joy, tranquility, happiness. They can concentrate. They can choose something to work on and complete the work they set out to do. They can handle frustration and make rational choices. They can adapt. They have self-discipline/self-control, are independent, and are secure within themselves. They have a positive, balanced self-image, have healthy self-esteem, and are aware and considerate of others. They are the person we would all like to be.
When the human tendencies are blocked or somehow prevented from manifesting, children will exhibit abhorrent behaviors like temper tantrums, anger, an inability to concentrate, excessive violence or excessive shyness. For example, if a child is constantly interrupted, if he is prevented from focusing for as long as he needs to on his activities, he will be less able to concentrate because he is not allowed to develop in this way. If one morning we get dressed before we brush our teeth, one morning we brush our teeth first, and another morning we forget to brush our teeth all together, our child may have temper tantrums while getting ready because there is neither order nor precision in their environment. When we see a child exhibiting upsetting behaviors, we must look to see where the obstacles lie. What is blocking the expression of his/her human tendencies? How can we remove those obstacles?