The adolescent is defined as, “a person in the transitional period between childhood and adulthood”. However, the adjective “adolescent” may often be used interchangeably with “immature” or “foolish.” Dr. Maria Montessori did not see it this way. She believed that adolescents were deserving of the greatest respect as they make this great leap leaving childhood behind and grasping for a new vision of themselves as adults.
We all recognize the physical/hormonal changes that our children experience as they make this transition, but it turns out there is just as much change happening in the brain. In “The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction” by the National Institute of Mental Health we find that “the research has turned up . . . the discovery of striking changes taking place during the teen years. These findings have altered long-held assumptions about the timing of brain maturation. In key ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s. The fact that so much change is taking place beneath the surface may be something for parents to keep in mind during the ups and downs of adolescence.”
What are a few of the findings of these brain scans?
- “Areas involved in more basic functions mature first. The parts of the brain responsible for more ‘top-down’ control, controlling impulses and planning ahead – the hallmarks of adult behavior are among the last to mature.
- In terms of sheer intellectual power, the brain of an adolescent is a match for an adult’s. The capacity of a person to learn will never be greater than during adolescence.”
Through her observations, Dr. Montessori recognized the adolescents’ need for both intellectual challenge and an environment that would give them the time, emotional and physical safety, and community to develop into their best selves. She suggested a community composed of both supportive peers and adult mentors. She envisioned an environment where students could experience both the challenge of hard physical and mental work, and the peace and reflection offered through experiences in nature. Montessori uses the word “valorization” to discuss this work – a discovery of one’s own strength and worthiness.
Montessori offers a different vision of what junior high can be. Observers are always welcome!
“Success in life depends on a self-confidence born of a true knowledge of one’s own capacities, combined with the many-sided powers of adaptation; in fact, on what we have called valorization of the personality.”
– Maria Montessori