"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
To Montessori's surprise, when she experimented with this very first Silence Game, the group of over 40 children waited quietly and patiently to hear their names whispered. After they refused the sweets she thought they might need as a reward, Montessori reflected, "They seemed to say, 'Don't spoil our lovely experience, we are still filled with delight of the spirit, don't distract us.'" Thus the Silence Game came into being.
Playing the Silence Game can give children a sense of joy, achievement, and social spirit as the group works together for a common goal. It also helps children develop a higher level of self-control, which in turn contributes to the normalization of the classroom. In 1930 Montessori wrote that the Silence Game brings "little by little a discipline composed of calmness and inner beatitude." ("The Importance and the Nature of the Silence Game, " AMI Communications, 1976)
All the exercises in Practical Life, especially the Grace and Courtesy lessons, are indirect preparation for the Silence Game. Children learn to control and perfect their movements: pushing in a chair quietly and carefully, walking around a work rug on the floor, pouring the rice carefully without the sound of even one grain spilling on the table.
These activities help children develop concentration and precision, as well as social awareness, as they wait for their turn, without disturbing the classmate who is working. They learn to speak softly in response to the teacher's quiet voice, and to stop moving and listen when a chime is rung or the lights are turned off.
Here are some games that can be played to help children perfect the ability to listen and to still the body:
The Silence Game is best suited for children ages four and up. It should not be attempted until there is certainty of success, and for many classrooms that may be sometime in the spring after months of preparation. You'll know that the children in your classroom are ready to play the Silence Game when they can:
Don't be discouraged if one or two children aren't able to be quiet enough to participate. Your classroom assistant could work with them on a special project outside the classroom.
Many teachers first introduce the Silence Game when the whole class is gathered, in order to explain and practice the game. Older children can model how to get up, ever so quietly, and go to the teacher once their name is called.
Some teachers choose to hold up a card during the work period that reads "Silence" and then wait, as one-by-one, the children notice, stop working, and become still and silent. Some teachers encourage the children to close their eyes. Then the teacher goes to a far corner or walks out of the room to whisper the children's names. When a child hears her name, she goes over to the teacher and sits near her.
When all of the children have heard their whispered names and come to you, you might want to take them outside for a celebratory walk in the garden. Be creative and vary the activities you do after playing this game: group singing, a birthday celebration, or simply a return to work.
Today we live in a noisy world, filled with the sounds of the television, electronics, phone conversations, leaf blowers, sirens, and traffic. Many of us rarely have the opportunity to experience silence or to savor the quieter sounds of bees buzzing, wind rustling the leaves, or a fire crackling in the fireplace. The Silence Game can give children a precious gift that could last a lifetime: the ability to cultivate and appreciate silence.
"When the children have become acquainted with silence...(they) go on to perfect themselves; they walk lightly, take care not to knock against the furniture, move their chairs without noise, and place things upon the table with great care.... These children are serving their spirits."
—Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook
—by Irene Baker, MEd, Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She holds both primary (ages 3-6) and elementary (ages 6-12) Montessori certifications and has taught at all three levels. For over 15 years, she has served as a Montessori teacher-trainer for both primary and elementary levels and has presented workshops for teachers at schools and AMS national conferences. Her work with both students and teachers is infused with the knowledge she has gained from her passions: history, social justice, non-violent (compassionate) communication, nature, meditation, music, and poetry.
—Originally Published 2014