My three year old is curious, busy (always so busy), energetic, independent ("I do it myself!") and often defiant.
If you watch a child of three, he is always playing with something. This means that he is working out, and making conscious, something that his unconscious mind has earlier absorbed1.
In terms of his learning he is ready, up for anything. Reading, writing, drawing, running, music, nature walks, practical life - he loves it all.
The three year old child is in the sensitive period for; Language, Small Objects, Order, Music, Grace and Courtesy, Senses, Writing and Reading2.
The three year old child is also undergoing a mental maturation, a developing mind, a developing will.
At three years old, the child's awareness of self extends to her mental life. She begins to realise that her thoughts are different to others. At three years of age, the child is more completely aware that others are different from herself. At about three years old, the child reaches the level of development where she can consistently obey, but may still choose not to3.
Apart from being vibrant and full of life, three years olds often go through a stage of defiance. Saying 'no' or simply insisting on doing or having their way. Perhaps often life gets too busy or we misunderstand the three year old. This period is known as the Crisis of Opposition.
Around three years of age, children are able to speak very well and refer to themselves with the pronoun "I"...The crisis starts when children begin to say "no" to almost everything we propose to them, demonstration that they can react in a very different way than adults expect. At this stage, his ego wants to be taken into account and consulted when there is a decision to be made that concerns him. These decisions are simple. They are always related to daily life - to eating, getting dressed and so on - but behind each of these actions lies his relationship with the environment.
Around the age of three this form of behaviour begins to arouse opposition. A power struggle starts, which the adult can appear to win by using verbal or physical violence to end the protest; however, the child loses a precious opportunity to feel he has grown and has been recognised as a person who lives in an environment that takes his opinion in to account.
If adults succeeded in understanding that behind the child's 'No' is the desire to be recognised as a person which is already able to resolve many problems related to him, they might be able to ask for his opinion much more often than is generally done.
There are countless opportunities in everyday life to take children into serious consideration, giving them a chance to understand what is happening, reflect on it and make a choice... It is only their bodies that are small, not their minds or ability to do things4.
1. Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. 2. Tim Seldin. How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way. 3. Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen. Montessori From the Start. 4. Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro. Understanding the Human Being.