The lessons children learn in school extend beyond academic subjects. Children learn how to work in teams, how to solve problems, about their own strengths, and about their feelings and emotions. Empathy is an important skill to develop – one that is innate within us, but must be fostered and strengthened as we grow. So, how does the Montessori Method help children become more empathetic?
As in all things, we can look toward Dr. Maria Montessori herself to derive our answer. In the Montessori environment, empathy starts with learning about one’s emotions and feelings. From there, you can start to understand the emotions of others, creating the connections that lead to empathy.
While Dr. Montessori didn’t speak to empathy as a term, she does talk about the building blocks that support social and emotional development and the innate wisdom that exists in each child. Here are some of Dr. Montessori’s writings that inspire our approach to empathy in the classroom.
Children are capable of processing challenging emotions with support.
“In the child is much knowledge, much wisdom. If we do not profit from it, it is only because of neglect on our part to become humble and to see the wonder of this soul and learn what the child can teach.”
Dr. Montessori believed that children possess more capabilities than adults traditionally assume. You can see this throughout her method, but also in the way Montessori educators discuss feelings. Even in the youngest environment, students are encouraged to name, process and evaluate their emotions. This process helps children associate feelings with their experiences in a way that can be applied to their peers in the future.
Montessori guides are charged with being emotional examples
“She [the Montessori teacher] must acquire a moral alertness which has not hitherto been demanded by any other system, and this is revealed in her tranquility, patience, charity, and humility. Not words, but virtues, are her main qualifications.”
Dr. Montessori esteemed the role of teacher and parent. In her eyes, the future of humanity is dictated by the way we raise our children. So her vision for Montessori educators required a high moral compass and the ability to self-regulate emotions. In leading by example, Montessori guides can demonstrate empathy in a way that children can feel. As they experience empathy from their teachers, students can become accustomed to the practice, which allows them to model the behavior in their own relationships.
The Montessori Method validates students
“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.”
When students’ understand that their feelings are valued in their community, they start to value the feelings of others. This creates a cycle of care and empathy that flows outside of the classroom. It builds not only empathy among students, but also encourages self-love.