THE INTELLIGENCE OF LOVE: A Heart-Centered Approach to Social Emotional Learning
Maria Montessori revolutionized childhood education. However, there is an extraordinary, social-emotional component of her work that was so far ahead of its time that it has not been fully understood or integrated. Maria Montessori saw children as being innately guided by what she referred to as “the intelligence of love.” (1) She believed that children are inherently good, and allowed to develop freely, they feel connected to everything and are naturally caring to each other and the world around them. Hiding in plain sight was her recognition of the “innate goodness” of the child (2), (something which modern science has only just validated in the last decade). She viewed the child as the ultimate embodiment of love and longed for all to appreciate “the contribution the child can give humanity.” (3) She even challenged us to “become humble and learn from the child” (4) in order that the child might “guide us to a radiant future.” (5)
Like so many thought leaders throughout the course of history, perhaps audiences were not equipped to absorb and integrate these thoughts and observations. She wrote: “… it is precisely before what is new that the gates of our senses are shut.” (6) In fact, it’s easy to understand how some of her ideas may have been dismissed as lofty and idealistic - without practical application or purpose in the classroom. I believe this revolutionary component of her work and research deserves to be reexamined in light of what we now know about the science of the brain and the heart, and the importance of developing a strong social-emotional framework in early childhood.
During Maria Montessori’s lifetime, and even today, many adults look upon the child “as something empty… inert and helpless… lacking an inner guide and in constant need of direction.” (7) Maria Montessori turned this viewpoint on end. In her mind, our greatest teachers are so close that they may be overlooked…tucked between our nose and our elbow, is the child. She advocated that for an adult to truly “encourage the flowering of a child’s natural gifts” (8) he/she must become like the child… a wellspring of love. (9) She viewed the child as the embodiment of true love and the hope of salvation. By studying the child, she wrote, “we discover love in all its aspects.” (10) The child, “is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future.” (11) According to her son Mario, this was the most important part of her research. He lamented that schools which:
“... use Montessori only as a teaching method… disregard what she most valued: the contribution the child can give humanity. I have often thought this notion should be refuted because of the confusion it causes, but where can one find a person to speak with sufficient authority? Here is the answer. Let Maria Montessori speak for herself.”
- Mario Montessori (12)
The Breadcrumbs Curriculum breathes life into Maria’s bold vision. It starts by teaching children that in addition to their minds, they have another unique source of intelligence within their bodies: their HEARTS—the treasure in their chest. Breadcrumbs’ emphasis on the role of the heart in integrating key social-emotional concepts is what really makes the curriculum so unique. Children are by their very nature heart-centered, and so they demonstrate remarkable enthusiasm and facility when offered calming, soothing practices required for the integration of head and heart. Each week, they enjoy carefully selected stories that illustrate key social emotional concepts. Guided discussions, songs and playful activities reinforce the material. The children ultimately integrate and “take the lessons to heart” as they walk the Breadcrumbs labyrinth; consider a “take-it-to-heart reflection question”; and record their individual responses in their Breadcrumbs Journals. By tapping into “the intelligence of love” the children connect to their innate, natural, loving, compassionate predisposition, and are able to build a strong social-emotional framework around it.
In so doing, they offer us an extraordinary glimpse of the world through a child’s eyes and a powerful incentive to follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to our own hearts.
1. Montessori, Maria (1966) The Secret of Childhood, The Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY, p.103.
2. The Secret of Childhood, p.133.
3. The Secret of Childhood, p.x. Preface by Mario Montessori
4. Montessori, Maria, (1995) The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, p.293
5. The Absorbent Mind, p.4
6. The Secret of Childhood, p.112
7. The Secret of Childhood, p.16
8. The Secret of Childhood, p. 136
9. The Absorbent Mind, p. 296
10. The Absorbent Mind, p. 292
11. The Absorbent Mind, p. 4
12. The Secret of Childhood, Preface, p.x.