Wandering Is Actually Part Of Learning
Have you taken time out of your day to observe in your child’s classroom, or have you observed in a Montessori classroom when deciding on a school? During these observations you will see a number of things: children working independently, children helping each other, children socializing, and children getting one on one lessons from teachers. These all sound wonderful, but you may see something else that, without experience in the classroom, you might observe as troubling or confusing. You might see children wandering. You might sense a period of disturbance, where the children seem distracted and overly-active. You might conclude that this is a different kind of day, or you may wonder why the teacher does not involve herself more. What you are observing is a very normal and very functional part of the Montessori classroom. It is a phenomenon called “false fatigue.”
You will most likely observe this phenomenon when the children have been working for about an hour or hour and a half. Children spend their first hour of the work cycle getting themselves in deep concentration. After a period of time, developmentally their brains signal a period of unrest, needing a break from complete concentration and focus. This period can last anywhere from five to twenty minutes, where the children become active, more social, and may seem distracted. But, left to their own devices, they suddenly begin to settle again, and another period of deep concentration begins. Dr. Montessori noticed this phenomenon when she first began working with children, and it persists today. It is part of the process when children utilize their own desires and will power to learn. Only when adults interject their will or try to control the period of disturbance do the children then have difficulty getting back to work. By stepping back and allowing the process to happen naturally, the children always move through this period and move onto another period of concentration. It is this reason that a Montessori classroom must have a three hour work cycle, protected from interruptions (such as “extracurricular classes”): it allows the children to develop a deeper sense of concentration rooted in their own internal drive.
You may even notice this phenomenon at home. Does your child occupy himself deeply with an activity only to follow that activity with a period of feeling or seeming unsettled? This is the same phenomenon, and it’s a result of the brain’s need to rest and process after periods of concentration. Your child may ask for a snack or state that he or she is “bored.” Try stepping back and let your child experience this. The less adults intervene and lend their “will” to the child’s activity, the more likely the child will engage again. These periods of rest are not only natural, but essential to the child’s developing mind. Children do not always need to be occupied, and benefit from the moments in between, despite appearing or even feeling unsettled.