Friday, September 30, 2011

The Work of the Child

     When Dr. Montessori talks about the child's duty, she is not referring to chores, or homework, but rather to the inner construction that a child completes in his first six years of life. She refers to the child's work of forming his own personality, developing his intelligence, and learning to use his body. Because the child is what forms the man, Dr Montessori saw the child's inner development as the most important work he has to do, and assisting it as the most important work adults have to do.
One of the things that Dr. Montessori repeatedly uses as an example is language. The child is born knowing only how to cry, and then, by the time he is three, he can speak clearly and reasonably grammatically. For an adult to learn a new language fluently in three years, it would be very hard work even if the adult enjoyed it. The child, on the other hand, absorbs language from his surroundings without ever having had a formal lesson. He listens as an infant, he practices the sounds, and then he builds up the structure within himself before he ever starts to use it. We know that any given language is not inherent within a child because an orphan can be raised in another country and grow up speaking its language rather than his biological mother tongue. Therefore it stands to reason that the child absorbs what is in his environment and incarnates it. The example of language carries through even further because one never speaks another language as well or as naturally as one's mother tongue.
So, in practical terms, what does this mean for parents and educators? It means that we need to perfect the child's environment so as to enable him to do his work. Parents and teachers not only prepare the environment for the child, but live and walk as part of it – so we need to strive toward being what the child needs as well.
Montessori consistently says to get out of the child's way. She tells us constantly that his inner teacher knows what it is doing and all we have to do is remove the obstacles. But what are the obstacles?
Many of them we take care of without thinking. For example, a sick child cannot learn as well as a healthy child, and parents certainly make sure that their children stay clean and try to prevent them from getting sick. Parents make sure that their children have proper nutrition, and adequate sleep. So the physical concerns are already being met. What remains, then, are the opportunities for broad knowledge, hands on activity, and repetition. What we need to offer is a wide range of experience, from real life; very concrete ideas. We need to present them in such a way that the child can access them whenever he wants and use them as long as he wants. Now, obviously, we can't provide a farm whenever a child wants to learn about animals, but we can schedule a single visit and move into slightly more abstract versions like figurines, picture cards, and books. Then, after we help the child connect to the material, we do as Dr. Montessori suggested and get out of the way.
Lack of a material is just as much of an obstacle, though, and remember that adults are part of the environment. We are needed to show how to use the materials, to give language, and to help the child connect with other human beings in a socially acceptable way. For ideas about how to do that, read here.

Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Seven Practical Ways to Help a Child Grow

    1. Look at a variety of activities he is interested in and figure out what they have in common. Then provide more opportunities to reinforce the concept or practice the skill.
    2. Read and talk to your child about real life things like animals, plants, and social situations. Remember, he absorbs everything his senses give him, so offer him a lot of opportunities to absorb things that will help him in his quest to become an adult. Fairy tales are wonderfully fun, but what they offer is not of any use to the child in understanding the world as it is.
    3. If at all possible, don't interrupt when you see that he is concentrating on something, even to praise him or admire his work. Concentration is the means by which a child organizes his impressions in his mind.
    4. Help him learn how to participate in society by practicing being courteous and resolving conflicts. Act out scenarios in which he can practice what he learns with emotional safety; don't do this as a rebuke, but rather as a lesson for when the situation comes up in the future. Make it fun.
    5. Let him do the same thing over and over as long as it interests him. Then encourage him to do it some more, no matter how boring it is from an adult perspective. When a child repeats something, it's because he's trying to understand it or get it right. If we stop him, it sends the message that his standards are too high or his interests aren't good enough.
    6. Give him enough time to do things for himself. This one is often particularly challenging because life is so fast paced. Adults only have a limited amount of time in which to get everything done... but you will do yourself and your child a service if you let him do it for himself, because as he becomes proficient it will save you both time and give him the confidence he needs to tackle greater challenges.
    7. Think about the way you speak to your child, because that's how your child will speak to others. If you wouldn't say it to a friend, think hard before saying it to your child.

    Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    The child's life is one in which work – the doing of one's duty – begets joy and happiness.
    Dr. Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, p 28)

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if that statement described the adult's life, too? It could. The difference between adults and children is that children refuse to do work that doesn't meet their needs. If adults followed that philosophy we would find work joyful, too. Human beings like to work.
    That statement might seem counter-intuitive, but it's true. “Work” is just the act of putting forth effort – and it's enjoyable when we do the work that meets our needs. Think of the hobbies people use to fill up their spare time: gardening, building a car, scrapbooking... they're all just kinds of work that meet the hobbyists' needs.
    A child's work (and play) is anything that helps him explore what his body and mind can do. If we offer work that is just right, he will never feel that work is boring or too hard. Just by following their inner drive, children go from helpless infants to functional, intelligent members of society in only a few years – and this is the work to which Dr. Montessori refers.
    She saw repeatedly that children who were given the means to do this and not obstructed were happy and joyful. She attributed it to the understanding that human beings like to work.
    From all the many years that Montessori has been in action, we have a starting point for meeting each individual child's needs, based on the progress of thousands of children that came before. We observe, and the children themselves tell us what work they need.
    We have a saying in Montessori education, a quote from Dr. Montessori. We say, “follow the child,” because we know that human beings are born to exercise their potential, and we trust the children to know it too.
    Lucky us.

    Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.