Montessori’s Approach to Education supports Spiritual Development
Just because a child is very young does not mean that they can not engage fully with spiritual life. Newborns are capable of absorbing information from their environment. Montessori believed that a child’s education begins as soon as their first relationship does. This communicates the importance of parent-child relationships and highlights the intentionality with which caregivers should interact with their children. A child’s first relationship is typically between them and their parents, and that relationship will have an immense impact not only on their education, but on their spirit, character, and overall development as a human being.
When a parent or educator interacts with their child, they should act with the awareness that these experiences with their child will have a lifelong affect not only on their education, but on their character and overall spiritual formation.
Montessori Believes Children Remain in a Spiritually Embryonic Stage Until Age Three
One hallmark of Montessori’s theory is that the child, at birth, is still in such a vulnerable and absorbent state of development that the newborn remains in an embryonic stage until age three. Similar to the provision of nourishment in the womb, these early years are the perfect time for children to absorb nutrition from an environment rich in love and trust. This metaphorical embryo consists of the relationships and environment offered to the child during their early years, and should be carefully cultivated by parents, caregivers, and spiritual leaders seeking to raise spiritually connected children. Montessori taught that the information a child absorbs during this period can dictate the trajectory of their development:
This is the marvelous part. In the life of man the first period is one of the greatest psychic activity. It is then that the accumulation of impressions is made upon which intelligence builds itself afterwards.MAria Montessori
Many parents take incredible caution to minimize the potential risks of exposure to harmful environments for the developing fetus, not only avoiding certain medicines and toxins, but also eliminating certain foods from their diet such as sushi, caffeine, soft cheeses, and deli meats, to name a few.
Most parents seek prenatal care and obstetric support. Imagine what would happen if families and community members constructed their newborn’s religious and spiritual environment with a fraction of the same thoughtfulness, utilizing expert counsel and careful assessment. Perhaps this early period of life could be deeply utilized to begin forming and raising children intentionally.
Childrens’ Potential for Spiritual Connection Should Not be Underestimated
One of the foundational beliefs of Montessori’s developmental theory is that “the child at birth is endowed with psychic life.” We should not underestimate a child’s potential to engage in spiritual life. In fact, there may be some points in time during which our children are more in tune with their spiritual side than the adults around them. As loving parents and intentional educators, we should aim to foster and encourage opportunities for our children to connect with their inner being.
Montessori studies highlight the fact that not only can children experience spirituality themselves but they can also inspire spiritual development for other adult community members. In 1939 at the World Fellowship of Faiths, Montessori addressed the leaders of the current religious movements, saying:
From the religious point of view, the child is the most powerful being in the world. We cannot doubt that there is communication between him and the Creator. He is the Creator’s most evident handiwork. We may say that the child is the most religious being in the human world. (Coates 2012).
In the Jewish community, it is common to observe a baby’s ability to act as a conduit guiding others to connect with the divine at brit or bat milah. Babies often also result in a heightened awareness of spirituality, wonder, and awe during childbirth and new parenthood. Montessori highlights the incredible opportunity presented by the early years of Jewish life for a child, as they are highly adaptable, extremely absorbent, and divinely powered.
As brain imagery and data collection technologies have evolved over the last few decades, research has confirmed that spiritual development (or lack thereof) deeply impacts a person’s overall maturation process. Inspired by Montessori’s responsive approach, we can learn to support our little ones holistically, encouraging their journey of lifelong learning and appreciating their sense of wonder and spiritual expression.
Seeking more learning on this topic? Check out Maria Montessori: Pedagogy on One Foot (Part 1)
One enjoyable and impactful way to encourage spiritual development for young children is by engaging in age-appropriate worship. Learn more about Tot Shabbat!
Do you lead the next generation is song? Learn more about how kids learn how to lead in my course Songleading for Kiddos!