Surprise!

Scientists recently completed an experiment where babies were shown a series of events. In one, the episode seemed impossible: a ball passing through solid substance. Scientists discovered that this event was remembered more frequently than others.

What exactly does this tell us?

The researchers did not speculate, but since we are not under peer review, we will share our thoughts. Very young children are scientists, continually making sense of the world through observation and their own experiments (to wit: dropping food onto the floor to test their theories of gravity).

When something suddenly does not conform to the rules they have established in their young lives, those instances stand out dramatically, as the evidence in this research shows us. This leads us to two conclusions. First, children are continually self-correcting and re-evaluating their own inner theories of cause and effect. Babies are hardwired to evaluate myriad examples of data and then postulate theories that they never share with anyone, except through actions like a smile or a frown. When something challenges their theories, they remember that event very keenly.

Our second conclusion would support Montessori’s belief that adults should not superimpose their own imaginative ideas on children before the age of six. The research event of a ball passing through solid substance was attractive to the child and remembered more frequently than normal events. Similarly, if a child is exposed to fantasy not of his or her own creation, whether in book or video format, if those events do not gel with the ordinary world, they stand out in the child’s mind as extraordinary. These extraordinary events can then become some of the preeminent memories in a child’s life, relegating normal life to the back burner. Some children then begin to contemplate fantasy more than reality. And when they seek out new experiences, they seek out fantasy rather than reality.

Montessori believed very much in a child’s imagination, as long as his or her imagination was free from adult influences. It is why in the Montessori classroom children can be found repeating math or language exercises over and over with such joy, because we eliminate competing “noise” and give each child freedom to imagine or to construct his or her reality. Over the years, we have seen that Montessori children before the age of six are more interested in reality, not strange events or in make-believe.

There will be plenty of time for fables and myths, after the child has reached the age of six or seven. Then, those stories will be given the appropriate space in a child’s psyche. If those stories are introduced heavily at an earlier age (birth to six), the scales can be tipped, and the child can become more interested in the fantasy world, than in a world where they continually make themselves, and their community, better.

To read more about the research, click here:

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-babies-learning-surprise-20150401-story.html#page=1

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