A Society by Cohesion

By Kala Reyes — Rewarewa Head Teacher, Preschool

A glass breaks and shatters into tiny pieces on the floor; an ensuing silence sweeps the classroom. Cones appear to mark the hazard area, someone hands the dust pan and brush to an adult. Children watch as the broken glass is swept and disposed. A child drops the contents of a tray; a group of children rush to collect fallen objects from the floor and returns it to the tray before going back to their respective work. The 3-6 environment is ripe with these experiences and it is common to see children asking for, or offering support when needed. Dr Montessori dubbed this a society by cohesion:

The curious fact is that the children go to the aid of others only when there is a real need for help, for instance, when something has fallen down and broken, or when there are too many objects to be put away and there is only a little time in which to do it. They never help another child when he is making a constructive effort to do things for himself. As if by instinct, they have it in themselves never to give what we call useless help.1

1 Montessori, M. (1998). Creative Development in the Child: The Montessori Approach Vol 2. India: Kalakshetra Press. p. 70

A society by cohesion is a social structure observed in Montessori environments where children depend on and support each other in a non-competitive way and without the need for rewards. The child’s first 6 years of life is a period of self-construction and this is the best time to lay the foundations of social awareness, while the absorbent mind is at its peak. As guides our job is to help children in their character formation, to become strong and independent social individuals. By social we mean a person who is aware of himself in relation to others. This is different to being sociable or friendly — a person who gets along with people easily. Being social means an awareness of other people’s needs and having the ability to put someone else’s needs before oneself. This is the type of person we want the child to develop into — a social being who is mindful that his actions have an impact on others. Children naturally want to be part of their community; they love to engage with others in meaningful ways. To become contributing members, they must first be functionally independent and this happens through interactions within the prepared environment.

In her book The Absorbent Mind, Dr Montessori cited American educator Carleton Washburne on the importance of the individual’s social integration within his group. “When this has happened, the individual thinks more about the success of his group than his own personal success.2This sense of belonging is very important; when each member feels valued and appreciated, they want to contribute more for the benefit of the group. They feel a great sense of responsibility not just for themselves, but towards others.

2Montessori, M. (2007). The Absorbent Mind. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company. p.53