I watched from several feet away as his fingers pinched, released, pinched, pulled, and hovered the eyedropper over the tray. There was no smile; instead, a slightly open and relaxed mouth, tight brows, eyes glued to the current endeavor. I watched as he watched.
The first drips were blue sky. Back again. Changed to lime green. Back again. Changed to swamp green. Back again. Brown. But not just brown. That brown you see when you go outside without your umbrella just to play and squish your toes in the yard and the mud that arises between each one mixes with rain and bits of grass and the glistening surface reflects a bit of sky. That kind of brown.
Color is not just a rainbow. It is, in fact, a kind of special magic that has deep roots in our childhood. There will be no understanding or knowledge of color unless there is first the experience of color, and the time for this experience is in early childhood during the time of the absorbent mind.
“During these years, the child develops his senses, and his attention is therefore directed towards his environment. He is attracted more by stimuli than by reason. During this period he should therefore be methodically exposed to stimuli that will develop his senses rationally and thus lay the foundation for his mental powers.” – Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
These sensory experiences lead to joy. The colors changing magically delights the small child, as he may never have seen red turn into orange or blue to purple. It may make his heart beat faster, his fingers more frantic to repeat the experience again. He may break the spell to laugh out loud.
The experiences lead to knowledge as well. As adults, we can recite the primary colors that combine to form secondary colors. Red plus yellow equals orange. Blue plus red equals purple. Yellow plus blue equals green. To the little scientist engaged in initiating these transformations, it is all new information about the makeup of our world. He suddenly sees the green chair in the living room and purple rug in the bedroom with a new appreciation that comes from a subconscious understanding of its place on the spectrum of color.
Mental concentration is developed, along with character-building patience. What seems to us like a few short seconds to get from empty eyedropper to filled eyedropper can feel to him like hours. The child practices fine motor control with the pincer grip needed to squeeze the eyedropper, of course. This much is obvious. But it’s not as easy as you’d think.
The eyedropper must not just be squeezed. It must be squeezed and released with the perfect pressure as to suck up the right amount of liquid. And then it must be held gently with the barest touch, lifted and held directly above the right spot without falling and clattering onto the tray. One drop must be squeezed out at a time, faster or slower depending on the desires of the person who is squeezing. It is an enormous task to a child who is just learning.
But by far the greatest of these virtues is the way it makes a child into an acute observer, a personality trait that will lead him to profound insights that might be overlooked by other adults. As we watch how each drip can make dramatic changes into a tiny pool of liquid, so we can observe the impact of one individual upon the entire community. In this way, we can see that it is the children who will mold the future of humanity by seeing the bigger picture and exuding the confidence to make a change, however small, for the better of his people.
All this, from a simple color mixing work.
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