Something About Silence
Life goes by in such a blur! Many of us always seem to be rushing from event to event, through our daily schedules—even through vacations! Maria Montessori often talked about allowing children to slow down and at the same time allowing ourselves to see the world through their eyes. Children can stop and find something new to examine after every step of a walk down the road!
In the classroom, the Silence Game is a great way to help children and adults to slow down and listen. This game consists of signaling the beginning of a short time where our bodies and voices are silent and still. As we practice, the length of time we are able to remain silent grows and grows. While this game is often used as part of the Language and Sensorial curriculums as a way to build auditory discrimination skills, it is also an integral part of our Peace Curriculum. We often begin our Peace Circles by “making silence.” We take three long deep breaths, close our eyes and try to be absolutely quiet for a minute or so. We are often amazed at what we can hear when the classroom is completely silent.
The article within this post, “Something About Silence” by Alexandra Chiu, points out that we adults will also be amazed at what we can hear and observe when we turn off the noise and simply enjoy the silence.
Something About Silence
by: Alexandra Chiu
I gave my children the silent treatment this morning and they couldn’t have been happier. We went on a “listening walk” through the neighborhood, planted seeds in the sunshine, studied some dandelions and blades of grass in the yard, and lay back on the lawn looking at clouds. Recently, my family has made a commitment to turning down the volume. It’s just gotten too noisy in our world lately, so we’ve muted many of the noises we can control. I can honestly say that these daily small moments of silence have made a big impact on our lives.
Noises follow us everywhere. The television alarms our senses with fast movements, bright colors and visual “noise”. Computers and video games all invade our senses as well. Even noise we invite into our lives can be overwhelming, if there’s no respite. The cheering at sporting events, chattering of friends and practicing of musical instruments are all welcomed sounds, but when the noise is constant, something important and necessary is missing from our lives. This is especially true for children, who can get overwhelmed and over stimulated.
I’d noticed that in my family, it was becoming difficult for us to concentrate on certain tasks. My children were constantly struggling with one another, and with me, to be heard above all the noise. Near non-stop noise interfered with our lives. For example, I was always talking around my toddler, with the good intention of building her vocabulary. In the car, music usually played on the stereo. At home, we had too many electronic toys that made too many sounds. It took some time to realize how noise had enveloped us. However, during one rare quiet moment in the car, I heard a tiny voice reciting some nursery rhymes as my toddler was looking through a book in the back seat. She was singing “I’m a little teapot short and stout,” as clear as a teapot’s whistle and then proceeded to tell her own little story about a teapot and a giraffe. How often she’d been doing this, I can’t be sure, for the constant music from the CD player had been muffling her voice. Finally, with some peace and quiet, I could hear her. And my worries about how her vocabulary was growing were silenced.
That afternoon, I made a conscious effort to invite silence into our day. We took more of our car trips without music. When our errands were done, we enjoyed a walk to the park without continuous commentary about what we passed. I took the phone off the hook while we prepared and ate our dinner. The following day, I finally got around to rotating the children’s toys, specifically putting away those with batteries. I took out more of our art supplies and just made them available. I let my children go about their work and play without so much of my interference. What a difference it made. I noticed we slowed down a bit. Daily tasks were done with more care and precision, since our attention wasn’t diverted to a sound on the stereo, the telephone, or a toy. More creativity went into the play and artwork. There was less struggling to get someone’s attention and definitely more attentiveness when someone spoke.
Many Montessori classrooms (and usually some of the best) have a special place devoted to silence and peace. The peace table is well used by the children. The table may have some beautiful natural objects such as seashells or flowers for the children to touch, examine and contemplate. There might be a “Zen garden” with sand that can be raked with a miniature tool or with smooth stones to create different designs and paths. Perhaps there is a fresh flower to smell, a bowl of beans to sift between fingers or simply a beautifully decorated paper with the word “silence” written on it. There are multiple purposes for this area of the classroom. The peace table offers children a place to just be. It offers a sense of calm, and well, peace. I’ve seen children use this area when they feel smothered by other children wanting their attention or when they are puzzling through something that has been on their minds. It can be a safe haven and a joyful, personal, meditative space.
Children truly do love silence, and in a Montessori classroom, there is an understanding of the need for and an appreciation of the joy of silence. Children become aware of sound, just as they become aware of smell, touch, and size with the various sensorial works. The Silence Game is often a favorite among children, delighting them as they notice how the silence builds in the classroom person by person. But silence isn’t just a game or activity in Montessori environments. As children in Montessori classrooms choose their work and perform with great self-discipline the various tasks, they look within themselves and find, in a peaceful place, all that they are able to do and be. The emphasis on respect for self, others and the environment that is placed in Montessori classrooms invites children to value everyone and everything they encounter. By offering them time quietly to do things independent of others, they can reflect on this and acquire these values into their own personal portfolio. And because they are given time and space for quiet reflection, they can return to a group as a stronger and more centered participant.
Maria Montessori wrote: “…..the child loves silence in itself; however, there is something to add: that silence dispose the soul of the immobile being to something special, in other words silence does not leave us as we were before. This something special is certainly not an acquisition of culture because complete inhibition is an external state, but it acts upon an internal state. All thinkers and mystics are said to have sought silence because it predisposes to the interior attitude of meditation. As a beautiful environment with light, color, perfume can have an influence on poetical inspiration, so silence gives us above all the surprise of possessing within us something which we did not know we had, spirituality, and the little child tends to feel this interior life, because he is by excellence the interior being. No doubt the child who has experienced it is no longer the same child, but a soul expecting something.”
There are some simple and wonderful ways to share silence and teach quiet reflection to children. Why not try training the senses of your children the next time you’re in the car or taking a walk, scrubbing in the tub, or working out in the garden? There are so many opportunities for inviting silence and reflection into our lives. And just as the Montessori teacher’s most important lessons about her students are learned by stepping back and purposefully observing, parents can, and should, spend time just quietly watching their children. If we allow for quiet times to gaze out the window in silence, we can all enjoy the layers of sounds we find underneath all the noise of our usual world. What grows from the silence within our children and our selves might just be something to shout about!