Discover the Child

Discover the Child
"There is a tiny light in the unconscious of mankind which guides it toward better things." "We must follow the child, but we must follow the child as his leader." -Maria Montessori

Friday, March 29, 2013

Priceless Moments

Dozens of times a day I help young children into the car during dismissal at our Montessori school. Sometimes parents are hurrying to finish up a phone call or wrap up a text message when the car door opens. A parent who is feeling nervous about struggles her child is having at school may ask, "How was your day? Were you good today? What work did you choose?" A young child is almost never equipped to answer all of these questions. A child hardly ever thinks to evaluate the entirety of his day. He is living in the moment and right at that moment he is just waiting to be received.

I didn't think much about this daily ritual until I witnessed a father and his three year old little girl lovingly greet each other one day. As I helped her buckle up, Dad turns and looks straight at his daughter with melting warmth and a smile in his eyes and says, "I am so happy to see you." She smiled right back at him and said, "I sliced apples for snack today!" It was a beautiful gift from father to child of complete acceptance. The father had the patience to honor this priceless moment. We don't have many opportunities in a day to receive our children, and it's worth creating space to show your child no matter what happened that day, she is the most important person in the world in that moment. Maybe, if we just listen she will choose to share what is important to her.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Images from a Montessori Toddler House

Leaf Washing- Children exploring movement love to stand on a stepstool to try this activity. Points of interest include carrying the pitcher with two hands and squeezing excess water from the sponge. During the presentation, I support the leaf with one hand, palm up, and slowly wipe the leaf in a downward direction. When my hand is no longer beneath the leaf, I pause with my right hand, move my left hand further down the leaf, pause again and proceed to wipe the leaf. At times we may issue a reminder, "I'll know you're using gentle hands when the leaves stay on the plant."

Cloth Washing- I should have replaced the soapdish with a blue one. The lack of coordination is an imperfection in this picture. This is one of my favorite Toddler materials, especially when we bring the work to the porch on a warm day. The smell of the soap and sounds of the soap rubbing up and down the washboard are wonderful sensorial experiences for the children. I also love the linear aspect of this material. The child follows the sequence from left to right to wet, scrub, rinse in the basin on the left, ring out then rinse in the basin on the right, ring out the cloth then hang on the clothes line. I'm able to place the clothes line to the right of this table, reinforcing this left to right sequence. The children also love squeezing the cloth with a dramatic flair. The mitt is for drying the table, if necessary. Also, an apron is hung on the left. I also include subtle details in the presentation, such as laying the cloth on the diagonal, folding the corner up and flipping the napkin over to repeat on the other side. Ofcourse, it goes without saying these are the napkins we actually use during snack. After all, it is Practical Life.

Window washing is a simple material. It can be hard for the tiniest children to squeeze the sprayer, but the activity has very few steps. The material contains a sprayer, squeegee and mitt. As with all Practical Life activities, we name all of the materials during the presentation. It is nice to use vinegar water at home to actually keep the windows clean, but we just use water at school. The mitt is for wiping the window sill and the squegee. The child will hang the wet mitt on the clothes line and get a new mitt, "For the next person," before replacing it on the shelf.

Hand Washing Table- Usually, this is one of the first few presentations. Points of interest include how to carry the pitcher with two hands, listening for the clink of the pitcher against the side of the bowl before pouring, and learning to empty the bowl into the bucket. We then empty the water into a convervation bucket used for outdoor plant watering. I also demonstrate moving the dishes aside to wipe the water underneath. The wet mitt is replaced, "For the next person." Ofcourse, water is often spilled. For a child that is beginning, we place a small rug on the floor to prevent slipping. Ofcourse, there are plenty of droplets between the sink and Hand Washing Table that provide opportunities for mopping.

Paper Tearing- This activity is not in my album, but we added it because it was a practical addition to our classrom. The children tear paper strips to provide bedding for the guinea pig cage. During the presentation, I place the paper on the table and place my left hand down to anchor the paper, pull the pre-cut tab with a two-finger opposing thumb grasp and place the strip in the basket. I repeat a few times, always pausing after placing my anchoring hand, grasping the tab, and pulling so the child may attend to each step. I love the use of two hands for this material.

A low sink supports independence in the classroom

A coffee creamer is just the right size for indoor plant watering. The child carries the basket to a work stool placed next to the plant. We must demonstrate clearly that water is poured into the dirt. If you ask a toddler to water the plant without demostrantion, that is exatly what he'll do, pour the water right on top of the plant!

There are always opportunities for sweeping.

This tray is set up for carrot slicing. Also on the table is a tray for bread baking and paper cutting.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rather than Praise

What do we do instead of praise and reward our children? When a child comes to us beaming with pride, stop and share fully in the moment with the child. Share his joy and exuberance without words, and listen  rather than speak. We can accept so much more in a moment of connection and shared emotion than we can communicate with a label or an award.

  • A child may feel successful, even if we don't define the outcome as "right." When we don't define success with our praise, a child can experience his own sense of gratification.
  • She may feel joyful about something completely different than what we choose to praise.
  • We wish to encourage perseverance, but we usually praise a job done effortlessly and perfectly.
  • We know children develop skills through repetition, but we almost always praise the child the first time  he completes a task, then ignore or even grow frustrated when he repeats it 100 times. 
  • A child who is interested will stay focused. When we praise the actions we value, the child must choose whether to follow our interests or his own. He loses the opportunity to experience the joy of following and discovering his own interests
  • When we don't describe people as good or bad, smart or dumb, nice or mean, we teach our child to fully accept himself and others. When he asks "Why?" we can say, "He is still learning," or "She forgot to use her gentle hands." We can help him say, "I don't like that!" or we can explain, "You can join us when you are ready."
If we want our children to share with us, then we must listen. If we only praise and validate when a child shares something to be proud of, will our child come to us when he is feeling shameful? If we define a child as smart when something comes easily, will she feel safe trying something that may be too hard? If we define a person as good or bad based on his actions, will our child believe he is a good person when he makes a hurtful mistake?

Our child doesn't need to hear, "I'm so proud of you," he needs to share his joy and see that you receive it.