Perfect silence makes a tremendous impression, it is much more significant than simply not talking, perfect silence is the cession of all movement, including involuntary ones. Montessori uses the term silence to mean the inhibition of all movements, to do this we must establish a degree of comfort, so that we are not fighting the desire to move.
Our lives are dominated by striving for happiness and meeting our needs extrinsically, running from one task to another. Silence allows us to break this state and access a higher state of consciousness in which we are connected to the nature of reality and experience peace. This exercise brings the peace of the meditator into the classroom and our daily lives. Montessori found that the children were delighted by silence so she chose to offer it to them, it is a time to discover a new level of patience, self-discipline, and for repetition and the removal of unnecessary internal clutter, like the shelves in the classroom.
The Prepared Environment is a safe and comfortable place for children, designed to meet their needs, master their energies and use their inherent powers to achieve independence, freedom and find intrinsic meaning in activity. The children are aware of familiar with these surroundings, so they have a feeling of comfort and awareness already this activity allows them to refine their sensitivities.
‘If you combine sensitivity to noise with the love of silence the school becomes a quieter an a more disciplined place’ (Mario. Montessori, The Child in the world’)
At two to three years the child’s ego is in the early stages of development and her interest lies within herself, meeting her needs. The Exercises of Practical Life rectify barriers experienced in the home, allow her to act on her tendencies and develop her capacities, confidence and lay the foundation for participation and contribution as she begins to put away materials and wait for others to become available and complete the walking on the line maintaining her distance from others, she realises that she must co-exist with. Her personality develops as a response to negotiating with her needs and those of others, as her ego establishes itself more fully and she is able to consciously co-ordinate her movements, use language and experience independence she can take care of her own needs and begin to predict and respond to the needs of others. By three and a half to four she is ready to begin the preliminary activities of ‘The Silence Activity’
Now that she is able to meet her own practical needs she is ready to meet higher ones, in line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once her interaction with reality is stable she is able to act at the communal and spiritual levels
‘’Silence of immobility suspends inner life…raising the individual to a higher level where utility does not exist, it is the conquest of the self (Mario. Montessori, The child in the world’)
The ‘Walking on the Line’ activity helps the child to gain physical equilibrium, mastering her movement, co-ordination and balance, helping her to gain emotional and spiritual equilibrium in ‘The Silence Activity’. It also builds on the power to concentrate which is essential to the stirring of creative energies, enabling the child to learn joyfully. Adults have a duty to protect concentration from disturbance, the power to create silence will manifest itself when the conditions in the environment are met. When the child begins the preliminary silence activities she is learning to train herself in controlling physical impulses, strengthening the will to control the ego, the beginnings of self discipline are here.
Montessori recounts taking a swaddled infant into her Children’s House and sitting with the sleeping baby she said to the children, can you be as quip and still as this baby, interested they looked , she drew their attention to the tiny movements of his breathing and fascinated them. Later she challenged them to, ‘make silence’ and was amazed by their capacity to inhibit their slightest and involuntary movements. Since then this has become a beloved activity in all Montessori schools, in which the children reveal a great capacity and eagerness, fulfilling their tendencies and making it a developmental activity. The ‘inner child’ reveals itself as the children practice from intrinsic motivation, it has a strengthening, nourishing equilibrium, the will is harmonised and the child acts help the whole group succeed in ‘Making Silence’ showing a gregariousness desire to contribute to the success of others. The activity is never used as a way to control noise, it is produced by the child’s needs and from self discipline requiring a conscious commitment and not by external authority to control or punish restlessness or to help organise another task.
Before the main Silence activity is given a series of preliminary presentations takes place to ready the children, in which they direct their conscious will to experience different parts of their body and in doing so gain control over it. If a child does not want to participate they should leave the room.
Silence is said to be a ‘delicate perfume’, in the body it can reduce the pain of yearning, grasping, and discomfort as it relaxes and heals, to the psyche it offers relief from futile anxious planning and the disturbance of regret, allowing one to give up the struggle and be content in this very moment and to the spirit it offers a oneness, peace, harmony and a sense of being complete. The silence activity provides a refreshing, experience, connecting her with the alive and stable cosmos. Practice shifting from left to right brain consiousness, Beta to Alpha brainwaves, during the silence activity, thickening pre-frontal cortex which regulates the emotions and body.
To participate in this activity:
At the motor level
- Children need a degree of control over their movements and a developing will so that they can inhibit movement and an awareness and desire to contribute to the groups needs, these will be built up from the ‘Walking on the Line’ activity
- A degree of conscious sensorial refinement is necessary, a highly trained acoustic sense allows the child to hear her own breathing and subtle movements necessary to leave the group treading lightly and graciously as developed in the ‘Grace and Courtesy’ and ‘Walking on the Line’ activities.
- A sense of responsibility, trustworthiness and a desire to contribute is necessary, which requires an empathetic understanding of others and confidence in their peers and the teacher, otherwise relaxing with closed eyes will be impossible. Hence a new child can never immediately participate nor can one who is has not met these milestones as they will not benefit themselves and will detrimentally affect the groups experience.
- Invite the children and when they are settled begin
- Say, ‘There is something we can do together, but only if each one of you help, then we will have a beautiful experience. Sit in a comfortable position’
- When they are settled speak with deliberation, unusual softness and poise, proclaiming, ‘Let us all try to keep our feet absolutely still.
- Pause and repeat (in the effort to keep the feet still they will automatically become silent)
- If any child shows signs of restfulness cancel the activity, saying ‘We will do some more tomorrow’, this is not a punishment, send them back to work even if some wish to continue
- Mention the word ‘Silence’
- Proclaim, ‘remember when we tried to sit with our feet still yesterday, there was so much silence, today we will begin again’
- Let the children sit and say, ‘We will all try together to put our feet and legs absolutely still’, pausing between naming each body part
- Continue in the same way, saying, ‘Today we will try to keep our feet, legs and knees absolutely still’.
- Notice if the children ask about the activity and if they begin to prepare themselves for it spontaneously
- Continue in the same way, saying, ‘Today we will try to keep our feet, legs, knees and hands absolutely still.
- Continue in the same way, saying, ‘Today we will try to keep our feet, legs, knees, hands and arms absolutely still.
- Continue like this, building up the body parts adding; torso, shoulders, heads, facial expression, tongue and finally with eyes gently closed.
- When the children finally close their eyes a silence descends as a rewarding and integrating experience. She feels harmony and awakens from the silence with an ascended spirit, the child creates silence and enjoys her creation
- When the children are accustomed to this introduce the Silence Board, with a picture representing silence on one side and the word written in beautiful cursive script on the other. Show and describe the picture first, then show word, do not read it but pause, letting the children command themselves. Use it when holding a silence lesson so that the children know to stop their work and allow the children to turn it themselves.
Naming the Children in the Silence activity
- Invite the children and say, ‘Today, after we have made silence I will call each one of you by your name, the child whose name I call will come to me without breaking the silence
- Show the card and let them make silence and enjoy it
- Stand at the door and call the children’s names in soft, elongated syllables, pausing between each, loudly enough for the children to hear but without jarring the silence
- On hearing their name each child walks silently out of the door, it may be necessary to call the name several times, do not repeat it but call a few other names first
- Call those children will less control first
- To end the activity sing, hum or use a sound different to the bell that calls their attention to listen and let them continue to work individually
- Do not attempt this exercise before sufficient skill, will and trust exist
- Children will find their own control at their own pace, it cannot be imposed
- Silence is a positive creation of the whole group, within which each child will have her own experiences
- Speak calmly, deliberately and with wonder
- The manner in which they make silence is indicative of their level of normalisation
- The activity has purely intrinsic value