Dr. Montessori describes in The Secret of Childhood how she discovered the ability of the child to make silence, and to delight in the releasing of spirit. She brought a four month old sleeping baby into the classroom and asked the children to observe how very quiet she was. They couldn't even hear her delicate breathing. Dr. Montessori challenged the children to become as quiet as the baby. Willingly, the children obliged. Soon they were aware of drops of water falling outside in the courtyard, and of the song of a bird in a distant tree. The children each silenced their own movements and produced a collective quiet that was for them a profoundly spiritual experience.
This meditative quiet creates a fourth state of consciousness. It is a liberation. Montessori thought of the silence lesson as a means for bringing children to this level of spiritual awareness. True meditation takes over the whole man, because it places him before Eternal Truth. It calls upon the faculties of intellect, affection and emotion. This experience of willingly and consciously sublimating oneself to the group will release within the children a deeper knowledge of their own capacities.
The Silence Lesson is a group lesson. In regard to the group, it is respect for others. It can be prepared for by many small exercises in listening. Through these exercises children can learn that silence is the cessation of every movement. To achieve silence requires effort and the attention of the will, and maximum control of self-the inhibition of every movement. This silence of movement suspends normal life, and raises the person to another level-conquest of self.
The Silence Lesson should never be played to calm chaos or disorder. Children who might be a disturbing influence can be sent into the garden or another room to do something special.
There are many ways of inviting the children to silence. The teacher can whisper the word "Silence" very softly or turn over a prepared sign that says "Silence" in very beautiful lettering. At first just a few children are aware of the spreading quiet, but soon all the children are quieting their movements and making the collective quiet.
After two or three minutes, when all are silent, the teacher can begin to whisper the children's names from back of the classroom or from just inside the door to another room or the garden. The children may tiptoe quietly to the teacher as their name is whispered. The teacher should call those children first who are least able to remain silent, although you can stretch their capacity for silence by beginning to call them second or third rather than first. Everyone must be called.
After the children have been introduced to the lesson, they may also choose to turn over the sign from time to time when they wish to achieve this spiritual peace.