There is a certain magic and delightful wonder in childhood. It has been recognized and written about for centuries, and there abound many sayings to remind us of this. Perhaps that is why I feel so compelled to defend the child’s position of innocence. Those of us, both parents and teachers who come in frequent contact with children and who are seen by children as minor gods, have a tremendous responsibility to protect the innocence of children. It’s a challenging job because too often we are not sensitive to the ways in which the child’s naivete plays itself out in childhood. Because we are no longer innocent ourselves, we assume no one is innocent. But children are, and we need to appreciate that.
Why is innocence a part of childhood? Why do children have it or need it? They have it and need it because it is a tool for dealing with the uncertainty and insecurity of life when one is rather helpless, as children are. As we have seen recently, fear is paralyzing. Even we adults, who think of ourselves as rational, can feel helpless, vulnerable, powerless, and frightened when we don’t know how to deal with the uncertainty of some events in our lives. These events can be as current as terrorism. But as adults, we are separated from children by the number of years we’ve been alive and by how we’ve transformed those years into meaningful life experiences which hopefully have given us some degree of wisdom. Therefore, when something unexpected happens in our lives, we use our past experiences to make sense of it and to guide us as to what to do next.
Children, on the other hand, don’t have this bevy of experiences from which to derive a sense of power or security. What children have instead is a sense of innocence. With that innocence comes trust. Since children can’t solve the adult world’s problems, they trust that we adults will.
Whether we can in fact solve these world problems is not really the issue here. Rather what is important for us to understand is that our children need this age of innocence and they need for us to respect that. We can show respect to our children by discussing adult topics outside of their ears’ hearing. We can limit their TV viewing to programs that do not instill fear or terror. This may include news programs. We can invite discussions of their fears, questions, and observations. We can refrain from elaborate, detailed answers and explanation to their questions and instead simply answer what they ask. We can try to hear what their questions are and not insert our fears into their questions or amplify their questions by our awareness of the problems. Remember, children are innocent and will usually accept our short, truthful answers.
As children grow older and their awareness becomes educated, they are able to ask more sophisticated questions. We must acknowledge their growing understanding of the nature of our world and answer their questions respectfully, but still with sensitivity to the fact that they still are children in transition to becoming adults. We do not need to tell our older children more than they are asking, but we do need to answer and share dialogue with them that causes them to feel important.
As your children’s educators, we shall continue to keep our school sensitive to your children’s ages, stages of development, and capabilities. We shall do our best to keep your children within the Montessori envelope of education for the whole child.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher