My first experience of how much a child craves independence was through my daughter. Contrary to my belief that a child would need much dependence on his/her parents, she showed me otherwise. Her burning curiosity towards activities which we as adults perform as second nature, and her desire to try them out on her own was so prevalent - she would exclaim ‘I want to do it all by myself’ - then exuberate tremendous joy over her accomplishment, boasting ‘I did it all by myself!’ - this unfolded a learning process for me - her desire to discover her environment on her own was so natural, that no matter how much I tried to help her, her desperation to do it on her own would prevail.
Lillard, 2005). Montessori (1988) pointed out that a child’s desire for independence is instinctive and governed by nature itself. This desire begins from the first moments soon after birth, when the infant’s senses start functioning. Montessori devised the first stage of development from birth to six years as the ‘The Absorbent Mind’ (MCI, 2013). She sub categorized this period - the ‘absorbent mind’ into the unconscious and conscious stages of growth - referred to by Montessori as the ‘Spiritual Embryo’ (unconscious) and the ‘Social Embryo’ (conscious)’ respectively (MCI, 2013).
During the first sub-phase (spiritual embryo), from birth to three, the child is guided by an inner drive, a force called ‘Horme’ (MCI, 2013) - ‘Horme belongs to life in general, to what might be called the divine urge, the source of all evolution’ (Montessori, 1988, p76). The child acts naturally, ‘unconsciously’ motivated and guided along by his/her ‘horme’, enabling him/her to develop fundamental skills such as crawling, walking, and talking (MCI, 2013). As Montessori stated in her lectures ‘… All phenomena of childhood, walking, talking, etc., are conquests of independence” (Montessori, 2012, p114). The child’s conquest for independence is instinctive and guided by nature. A child cannot be influenced directly during this period - it is the environment, which influences the child, driven by his/her ‘horme’ (MCI, 2013).
The second sub-phase (social embryo) is from three to six years, when the strong urge ‘horme’, is replaced by will, as the child gains stronger social awareness and develops empathy towards others (MCI, 2013). Ideally, if the child is given freedom, he/she will be able to make more conscious, willful decisions. The child learns to co-operate with other children, form friendships and learn to understand the needs of others (MCI, 2013). This is demonstrated in the case study, when Freddie waits for his peers to be ready before going down to the garden.
Unquestionably, the child wants to learn, is equipped in all facets and “…when we give the child freedom and independence, we are giving freedom to a worker already braced for action, who cannot live without working and being active” (Montessori, 1988, p83). If the child’s freedom to learn on his/her own is restricted or constrained, the natural process of his/her development may be hindered (MCI, 2013).
In order to understand how the ‘favorable environment’ supports children’s developing independence, the ‘Sensitive Periods’ (Montessori, 1966) of growth, first, need to be explained. It is worth pointing out that, the relationship between the child’s sensitive period of growth, and the favorable environment is of great importance, as the sensitive periods are embodied in the favorable environment.
A sensitive period in a child’s life is explained by Hainstock (1997) as a period in which the child is particularly sensitive to learning a new skill and lasting only until the need is...