After graduating with my useless literature degree, traveling in Europe, living in California and hippee-ing it up, I decided after a particularly disturbing LSD trip, to do something useful. So I studied the Montessori method of early childhood education in Philadelphia. It was about the most useful information about children I’d had until I came across Patty Wipfler’s stuff [handinhandparenting.org] that I frequently write about on this blog.
Here’s the practices that I learned from Montessori:
1. Much of her method aimed toward assisting children to develop their powers of concentration. This means not interrupting children when they focus on something or some activity. This goes for infants too. When you are holding an infant, and you notice the baby looking at something, assist her to continue. Don’t move away, move towards the object. If possible let the child touch it and mouth it. [That’s got to have an evolutionary purpose–don’t you pretty much know the taste of everything as you look around wherever you are?] Allow the child to observe people doing their activities as well. This is the time for children to absorb everything around them. [hence Montessori’s emphasis on providing beauty in a child’s environment].
When toddlers or older children are engaged in an activity–a puzzle, a drawing, hand washing, petting the dog, try not to interrupt. Let them continue. It’s respectful but it also seems to allow that faculty to develop normally.
2. Teach, don’t correct. That is, to the extent possible, teach children to do things, practical life as she called it seems to be the most useful in organizing and focusing a child’s attention. Ttry not to correct them as they try it out.
3. Allow children to do things on their own, even if it takes ten times as long. Children love to button, as laborious as it looks to us; they love to do the things they observe us doing.
4. Go on walks at your child’s pace. I remember my first son was able to walk for miles as a one-year-old. But we need to go at the child’s pace. This will not be exercise for the adult. But it will pay off in your child’s ability to spend time on a task.
5. Don’t laugh at children. Don’t laugh at them when they are “cute.” [Laugh with them & help them to laugh!]. Especially, Montessori emphasized, don’t humiliate children. For this reason, she abhorred the practice of spanking children.
Montessori talked about “normalizing” a child, meaning helping a child to relax and focus. Perhaps much of the wild behaviors that we now drug children for could be avoided by following some of these practices, some of the time.
A few days ago, I took the bus to some friends with lots of children and three adults. The children love the bus–I suspect it’s because they can move, they don’t have to be strapped in–and we did fine. Then we had a half mile walk on a dirt road and my 4-year-old grandson, Noah, fell hard on the ground. He scraped himself and had a mouthful of dirt and pebbles. It didn’t make sense to stop to give him a chance to unload the feelings so I carried him while encouraging him to keep crying, reminding him that the tears will help his body heal fast. He probably cried for 15 minutes, much longer than most of us allow our children to do, but at the end of it, he was fine, playful and relaxed.
Another thing about it: while he cried he remembered some other falls he’d had and cried about those too. It was a good way to clean up a lot of old physical hurts.
this is a wonderful article on what to do about losing it as a mom or dad:
My 5-year-old granddaughter saw a video about the amount of plastic floating in the ocean [equivalent to the state of Texas?] and its effect on animals –who sometimes mistaking them for food, eat them and sicken. She felt very worried and decided to form a club. I heard about it while I was visiting my youngest daughter in Seattle. She and her 4-year-old cousin began a letter [Dear government….] but couldn’t get much past that.
Her third meeting yesterday included another 5-year-old and two older children, 9 and 13. The 13-year-old was secretary. I helped by saying, Well what’s the problem, giving each child a chance to state the problem. [“All the plastic in the ocean looks like jellyfish to turtles.” “When people let go of helium balloons, it can pop over the ocean and kill the animals.” ]
and the solutions, “Plastic bags should be re-used.” “Ithaca should ban the use of plastic bags. We should bring our own cloth bags. In Seattle, people have to pay a nickel for a plastic bag.” “We want there to be no plastic in the world.”
Each child got to have her say, be an activist, and get the letter done.