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.