Written by Frances Peacock
“What the hand does, the mind remembers.” Maria Montessori
If you want to watch a child learn something new right before your eyes, put an object in her hands. Any object at all.
You’ll see her turn the thing around a few times. She’ll feel its grooves and edges. She’ll try to decide if it’s breakable, and she’ll wonder what would happen if she dropped it into a tub of water. She’ll ask you what it’s called.
After a minute or two, she’ll hand the object back to you, and she’ll be able to tell you all about it. She’ll know what it’s made of, how much it weighs, what it smells like, and whether it has any cracks or defects. She’ll tell you if she has ever seen anything like it before.
She holds it for only a moment, but the thing has left its mark. An object in the hand seems to go right through the fingertips. It forms an impression in the mind. It becomes a memory that cannot be erased.
A teacher can actually open up a child’s hand and put in something for her future.
I give a child twenty wooden sticks. He’ll glue them together and make a flatboat just like the sort that traveled the Ohio River in pioneer days.
I pass a girl the plain white paper and the grey pastels that will become the sketch of a winter tree that her mother will frame for the living room.
I hand a boy the gold medal that says he is gifted in math.
I pass around a glass jar that holds a praying mantis. A girl will turn the jar sideways and shake it a little. She’ll look the bug in the eyes and say, “Hello.” She’ll pass the jar to the next person, and she’ll never forget that insect.
All ordinary items, but one never knows what could spark something lovely – an idea a child might reach back for when he’s older, a happy memory he can build upon.
It’s a teacher’s job to find the proper things. I choose what’s good for my students to hold. I place things in their hands, and then I step back. I give them time to discover. Maybe they’ll treasure it.
It’s a big responsibility, to be in charge of little hands. The world is full of a number of things, and many of them are not for children.
In every classroom, the children trust, and a teacher discerns. I’ll put nothing too sharp or too rough in their hands. Nothing too heavy, nothing they aren’t ready for. Nothing that would hurt them or cause them trouble.
Never a stone if they ask for a loaf. Never a snake if they ask for a fish.
Nothing but simple gifts of love.