By: April Powell (December, 2012)
Well, you were right! It happened to me just like many of you said it would. Motherhood has completely changed my life in ways that I never expected (and I really thought I knew what to expect;-). I am now understanding children (and myself) in a whole new way and growing by leaps and bounds everyday. Everything I’ve studied so hard and learned over the last decade I am now experiencing on a whole new level…and it is SO COOL!!!
I have always known that Montessori is so much more than a type of school – it is a mindset, way of living and an education for life. And now I have the privilege and challenge of living it with my own daughter in my own home. I used to believe that the Montessori way of life is easier, but I now see that this is only half true. The result of the work is an “easier” and more peaceful existence with children…but the process isn’t always easier in the moment.
Maebel, my daughter, is now almost 6 months old. She is a very strong, determined, confident and capable little person. Her floor bed, movement mats and low shelves throughout the house enable her to move freely in her environment and give her motives for activity. At this age, figuring out how to control her body is big work. Would it be easier for me to allow her to spend all of her time in commercialized baby equipment? Absolutely!
It takes much effort and consciousness on my part to properly prepare our home environment to allow her to reach her full potential. I think of this extra time and energy as an “investment” on my part. Although it feels like an inconvenience to me sometimes, I am fortunate enough to know that the payoff is well worth the upfront work. In my work I have seen firsthand the results of this way of living with children (in the home and at school).
So what does this way of life look like? What is the paradigm? Here are a few of the key components…
- Respect the child. Many people look at children as puppies that need to be trained, while in reality they are beautiful souls waiting to be discovered. Think of someone you greatly admire in life. How would treat them? How would you listen when they spoke? What words and tone of voice would you use with them? What would you say or do if they did something that you didn’t want them to do? Treat your child with this same level of respect and dignity and her soul will be revealed to you.
- Prepare the environment. To the young child, play is their work and work is their play. So, how do we create an optimal work environment? We must consider the physical and psychological atmosphere and prepare an environment that meets their needs on both levels. In the adult workplace, employee satisfaction is the highest when people feel that their boss understands them and the employee understands what is expected from them (their goal). To increase family satisfaction, set things up for your child that are beautiful, functional and developmentally appropriate.
- Model appropriate behaviors. One of my favorite quotes sums this one up perfectly – “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it” (Clarence Kelland). Our children don’t need instructions, they need examples. Ninety percent of what humans learn is through observation. Model your highest self and your child will become their own.
- Allow freedom within limits. This balance can be tricky sometimes. We must give them freedom to develop themselves, yet be mindful not to abandon or overwhelm them. Children need adults to set clear and consistent limits. With this balance, they learn to trust us and their surroundings.
- Inspire independence. Help a butterfly out of its chrysalis and it dies. It needs the struggle to push the blood and fluid into its wings. We tend to try and shelter our children from any form of struggle or difficulty. Sometimes, the “help” we give offers only temporary relief while creating a greater obstacle in the long run. Dr. Montessori said, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” While safety must always be the first consideration, taking a step back and giving your child a chance to show what they are capable of may surprise you.
- Foster self-discipline. For true long term effectiveness, we need to help develop our children’s internal compass. By avoiding praise, rewards and punishment we encourage self-discipline rather than teaching children to look to adults to make all of their decisions. There is much to be said for the art of asking good questions, engaging in meaningful conversation, and allowing natural consequences.
The result of consciously choosing this paradigm and taking these extra steps now (which is very counter-cultural, by the way), is a child who learns to be confident, capable, self-assured, peaceful, joyful, respectful, pleasant, obedient and happy. In the end, it is much easier on us and living with this child creates a harmonious home for all. To me, this outcome is well worth my initial investment!