Last week and this week as well we have been practicing "making silence" during our line time. Practicing silence is a standard activity in the Montessori classroom. However, it is one that can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted, so in this post I will attempt to describe how we make silence in our classroom. I will also try to explain its purpose in the early childhood classroom.
First, when we "make silence", I get the following materials from my special "peace bag": our peace candle and stand, a candle snuffer (I love that word!) and my framed "silence" sign. (To read more about the peace bag and our previous activities with it, see this post.)
To begin, I place my little demonstration table (shown in the above photo) in the center of my line (and I have my assistant teacher turn off the lights). On top of the little table, I place the candle, snuffer and silence sign. I remind the children to scoot back so they are BEHIND the line since we will have a lit candle in the center. I light the candle with a match and remind them that the light represents the "love light" of God living in our hearts. I also remind them that when we quiet down and are still we can really feel the love of God inside us. Then, I say the following words (these words are taken directly from the book I've been using; you can view the book here). As I say the words, I model what I am saying and the children copy me.
"I cross my legs. I place my hands on my knees. I make my back very straight. I tell my body to be still. I tell my mouth to be quiet. I take a deep breath. I close my eyes. I make silence and feel the love of God inside me."
NOTE: I am rephrasing the wording of the last line to reflect the Christian beliefs in the school where I teach. You can also say, "I make silence and feel my love light."
Next, we sit in silence for as long as I deem possible. This really varies from group to group. A few students in my Monday morning group started whispering "When can we open our eyes?" almost immediately. I waited about 30 seconds with that group. However, my Tuesday morning group was able to hold their silence for probably a minute or so. When I feel they are becoming "antsy" (actually, just before that happens), I say, "Quietly open your eyes and look at the candle." Then I silently extinguish the flame with the snuffer. I also usually say something like, "If you could feel your love light shining brightly while we made silence, give me a 'thumbs up' so I know." I did the silence activity with my Tuesday morning group right before dismissal. As a result, we were in a very reflective, quiet mood. Because of that I decided to end our time together by singing "This Little Light of Mine" with the children instead of ending with our usual "goodbye" song. I reminded them to go out and let their light shine by doing kind and caring things for others. It was a great way to end our morning.
OK...........now I am going to try to explain the purpose of making silence in the Montessori classroom. Perhaps the most important thing to point out is that the purpose of making silence is NOT to calm down a noisy or chaotic classroom. Nor is it intended to teach young children how to "be quiet". It is not used as a "consequence". Instead, it is an intentional activity with a specific purpose. The purpose of making silence is to help children connect with their spiritual natures. Maria Montessori viewed the spiritual growth of children to be of utmost importance. She has written extensively about this. Young children are, by nature, very spiritual beings. They feel things in very pure ways and their responses to situations are very genuine, untainted by years of wisdom and self-consciousness. Practicing being still and quiet is a way to connect with oneself. It allows the child to develop their powers of listening and awareness. It is a "take time to smell the roses" type of activity.
In the midst of writing the above paragraph, I left the computer for a while to put my youngest son to bed. Part of our routine is that I lie down next to him in his bed for a while. And tonight was no exception. As I lay next to him in the darkness, it struck me that I was, in fact, making my own silence. It is such a restful time for me each night, making silence when I do the bedtime routine. During my silence tonight (I am writing this Tuesday night) I could hear rain drumming on the skylight in his bedroom; I heard the voices of my husband and older son as they prepared for bed. I could hear my older son giggling at his own joke. This little bit of silence each night rejuvenates me and allows me to move on to my next task (on Tuesday night this was folding the laundry on my bed on my way back to the computer to finish writing this post) with renewed energy. As I reflect on this in my own life, I can see even more clearly the value of "making silence" in the life of the young child. Our society is so busy just going, going, going these days. How often do we truly slow down and quiet down enough to appreciate and listen to our surroundings? Not often enough, that's for sure.
During our "making silence" times this week, the children and I have heard crickets chirping outside our classroom walls, the wind whistling, and the chatter of parents waiting for us to dismiss. And, hopefully, we've heard the still small voice inside ourselves, the one that is always available if we are still enough to hear it, telling us: I am here. I am love.