Children are mirrors. We hear it so often it's become a cliché... but today, I caught myself doing something I repeatedly ask the children in my class not to do, and I thought, “if I can't follow this rule myself, how can I expect a child to do it?”
Here's what happened:
Little A had chosen the raking work outside. She was supposed to be raking up the rubber chunks and scooping them into the climbing area, but instead she was dragging the rake along the sidewalk. I reminded her to rake in the dirt, so she moved off of the sidewalk and raked the dirt as I had asked her to do.
A few minutes later she was back on the sidewalk. I reminded her again, and again she complied for a few minutes. Then little A took the rake into the garden and started raking the plants.
She had been carrying the rake around for several minutes now, but had yet to make any effort to do the work properly. Now she was potentially damaging the garden that we had worked so hard to grow. I immediately took action; striding across the playground, I grabbed the rake and put it away.
Did you see my mistake? It's one that is repeated probably thousands of times a day across the country: I took something that someone else was using. I stole away her tool, without asking or even apologizing. I turned it into a power struggle that little A had no chance of winning.
It would be easy to rationalize the act; she was using it inappropriately. It would be easy to define the act as a simple enforcement of the rules, or a demand that she “listen” to me (when I would really mean obey). The problem with that logic is that from a child's perspective, what really happened is someone bigger and stronger came along and took what they wanted. There was nothing Little A could do about it, and the motive didn't matter, only the act.
When I sat down to think about what had happened, I realized how my actions damaged the ideal my students and I are working toward. I, the adult, had set the precedent that is is okay to take something from someone against her will.
Here's what I should have done instead:
I should have approached Little A again, and offered my hand (she would have taken it). I should have picked up a rubber chunk,and showed it to her with a reminder that they belong in the climbing area. Then I should have asked for a turn (she would have said yes), and shown her again how to rake the rubber chunks into a pile and scoop them into the climbing area. If she needed still more direction, I could have helped her find a place with a lot of rubber chunks to rake.
Nine times out of ten that approach would have worked, but even if it hadn't, (if she had continued to use it inappropriately,) I could have said, “Little A, you are not using the rake appropriately. It's time to put it away. Do you want to do it or do you want me to do it?” Making that choice herself would have maintained her feeling of control, while still making sure that the rake was not bring used improperly.
I wanted to share my reflections with you because I know I'm not the only adult who sometimes models bad behavior. I've learned, in the last few years, to look for the source of the behaviors I see. Often it comes from me, magnified in their little bodies and repeated throughout the class. When I am calm, steady, and playful, my students are too. I endeavor to be what I want them to learn... and I try to learn from my mistakes.
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.