NUMBER 228• 17 MARCH 2003 • SELF FORMATION
INDEX OF QUOTES
I once saw in the gardens of the Pincio in Rome a very beautiful child of about a year and a half. He had an empty bucket and a little spade and was busily collecting pebbles from the path to fill it.
Near the smiling child was a distinguished looking nurse, who was obviously well-disposed towards him and who must have been most affectionate and intelligent in her care. It was time to depart and the nurse patiently entreated the child to leave his work and let himself be placed in his buggy. In the face of the child’s resistance, all her exhortations were of no avail. She finally filled up the pail with gravel herself and then put the gravel and the child in the carriage, certain that she had pleased him. The loud cries of the child indicated that this was not so. His shouts of protest at the violence and injustice which had been done to him struck me. What a weight of resentment filled his heart. The child had not really wanted to fill the pail with gravel; he had simply wanted to carry out the exercise needed to fill it and thus satisfy the needs of his growing body. The end sought by the child was his own inner formation, not the external act of filling a pail with little stones. His lively attachment to the exterior world was only an illusion; his vital need was a reality. Actually, if he had filled the pail, he would probably have emptied it so that he could fill it again many times over until he had completely satisfied himself. Before the intervention of his nurse, I had seen him pursuing this satisfaction with a rosy, smiling countenance. Inward happiness, exercise, and the sun were the three rays that had been illuminating that resplendent life.
This simple episode is an example of what happens to children all over the world, even to the best and most dearly beloved. They are not understood because adults judge them according to their own standards. They believe that a child is concerned with external ends, and they lovingly assist him to attain them. Instead, a child is dominated by an unconscious need to develop himself. He consequently contemns anything that has been attained and longs for that which is still to be achieved. For example, he would rather dress himself than be dressed, even magnificently. He prefers washing himself to the pleasant feeling of being clean. He would rather build a house than own one. And he is thus disposed because he must first form his own life before he can enjoy it. In this self-formation is his true and almost sole delight. In the first year of his life a child’s formation is largely limited to assimilating food, but later it consists in stabilizing the psychophysiological functions of his organism.
The little child on the Pincio is a symbol of this. He wanted to coordinate his voluntary movements, to exercise his muscular energies in lifting objects, to exercise his eyes in judging distances, to use his intelligence for filling the bucket, to develop his will in deciding on the acts to be performed, and instead of this someone who loved him, thinking that he wanted to gain possession of little stones, made him unhappy.
Montessori, M. (1967). The Discovery of the Child. New York: Ballantine Books. pp 308-309