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The Period of Maximum Effort and Undertaking Intelligent Activity

The Period of Maximum Effort and Undertaking Intelligent Activity

Otis walking and holding watering can with two hands

I recently published a photograph of Otis lifting a heavy rock in the Photo of the Day. I couldn't remember exactly how Montessori referred to this stage. This stage when children find opportunities for maximum effort. It appears that Otis is right at the peak of this stage. 

Maria Montessori's words (from The Absorbent Mind) are so relevant. It was only yesterday that I took this series of photographs. 

Observation shows that at the age of one and a half a new factor appears of great importance to the development of both arms and feet. This is the development of strength. The child who has become active and skillful feels himself strong... Instead of merely walking, the child likes to take very long walks and to carry quite heavy things.    

The hand which has learnt to grasp must train itself to lift weights and to move them. Here is a child of one and a half clutching in his arms a huge jar of water which he manages to support, but keeping his balance wtih difficulty and walking very slowly. 

But Otis is doing more than carrying a container of water.

We may put it like this: the child's intelligence can develop to a certain level without the help of his hand. But if it develops with his hand, then the level it reaches is higher, and the child's character is stronger... those children who have been able to work with their hands make headway in their development, and reach a strength of character which is conspicuous.

Therefore, it is clear that we must not carry the child about, but let him walk, and if his hand wishes to work we must provide him with things on which he can exercise an intelligent activity. His own actions are what take the little one along the road to independence.

He is undertaking an intelligent activity on his road to independence.  

By observing Otis at the tap I realised I only need to loosen the tap slightly for him to be able to operate it himself. The Montessori mantra here is to provide the least amount of help necessary. A slightly loose tap and Otis can fill his watering can and water the carrots. This is significant because Otis isn't just watering a plant, he is watering food that we will eat and he's doing it by himself - with his own hands. 

I have no training in Montessori so I'm hesitant to write too much about how to observe a child. I've learnt from being a parent that sometimes it's easier to observe one part of the child at a time. While taking these photographs I was observing Otis's hands. I totally block out noise and almost lose consciousness of what is going on around me. I focus on his hands, what he is touching, how he is touching, what his hands are doing, what works and what doesn't. Observing his grip, his fingers, his wrists, his movements.

Watering
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Watering with two hands
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The take home message for me and this eighteen month old is not only to provide activities for the hands such as puzzles and toys but to provide intelligent activity where he can exercise maximum effort. I cannot think of a better way to fulfill this than with practical life activities. Also by observing I can determine the exact amount of help required so that I can provide the least amount of assistance necessary.
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Tomorrow I will put a small bucket outside. I think he will enjoy filling, transporting and watering out of a bucket also. 
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