Some people need noise to keep them company, to help them concentrate, or to feel energized. Some people treasure silence or at least the absence of music, voices, tv, or conversation. In NYS it is difficult to achieve total silence, except maybe in the wee hours of the morning when most of NYC’s 8.538 million people are sleeping.
What about children? Children cherish silence and working alone. Maria Montessori understood this and created activities for teachers to do during class time to promote silence. This allowed children to develop their auditory sense, to really listen intently to hear subtle noises.
"One day I had the idea of using silence to test the children's keenness of hearing, so I thought of calling them by name, in a low whisper.... This exercise in patient waiting demanded a patience that I thought impossible."
—Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood
In our visually dominated city, children are at risk of being overly visually stimulated and under stimulated auditorily. Research has shown that children in very noisy environments learn to block out all noises, including speech. This condition prohibits children from hearing the nuances of speech that is vitally important for learning vocabulary and eventually reading.
Montessori suggested that we create a quiet space. Then produce some gentle noises for example, running water, running a fingernail on the teeth of a comb, ringing a small bell. Your child can either be blindfolded or sitting with his/her back to you and guess what the sound is. This type of activity also prepares children to participate in another quiet activity such as listening to a story or working alone.
Children require opportunities to work alone, without interruption or interference from others. Art activities, building activities – almost any activity is beneficial if a child has time to work alone. Self-talk and humming are ways in which some children settle into a place where they are comfortable working alone. They have time, space and quiet to figure things out, to try again and be creative.
Right now, I am sitting in one of my office spaces listening to the cars go by on Central Park West. It is still early enough that there isn’t traffic congestion and horns honking. I do hear the water bubbling and flowing through the filter in the fish aquarium. This sound is delicate and changes slightly every few seconds – like a flowing brook. I can also hear doors and people walking in the hallway outside. Try this activity at home with your children. Sit quietly with your eyes closed and listen for sounds around you. You might even hear your child breathing – how sweet is that?