Control the urge to intervene

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Observe how carefully this 22-month old child is trying to string beads together.

Of all our many responsibilities towards children in school, perhaps the greatest one is to develop and protect their sense of concentration. Very often, this is achieved by controlling our adult urge to interfere in their work, and allowing them to correct their own mistakes.

While this is easy to say, it is very hard to do even for trained and experienced Montessori teachers. We have to keep reminding ourselves that struggle is good, that the young child learns best when struggle leads to discovery.

To help foster the child's concentration and independence, Dr Maria Montessori had her own advice for teachers (and parents!):

"I suggested to some teachers that they should wear a belt with beads attached. Then every time they have an impulse to interfere, they would draw a bead along. This is very useful, because when we have an impulse, we must act, and the reaction with the bead is a help. From day to day, one would make observations upon oneself in this way until one came to the point of not having to draw any more beads. We should then find that we had acquired a great calm and sense of repose. Perhaps we should have become transformed within. At any rate, we should have learnt the following: that almost all these impulses to action are unnecessary."

Fantasy & Reality in Montessori

An immediate difference most people notice between conventional kindergartens and Montessori environments is the absence of fantasy in Montessori.

When young children are building their own models of the world based on their formative experiences, is it fair to offer them things that are inconsistent with reality? Rather than providing children with amusing but fake tools, we prefer to offer them the real thing (real mops, brooms, knives, glasses, and so on).

However, this does not mean that Montessori children are discouraged from pretend play. Very often, children enjoy experimenting in different ways: both inside the environment (with the real tools of practical life), and outdoors (with that all-time favourite - sand). But this natural inclination to pretend should not be mistaken for a love of fantasy. Dr Montessori believed that children revealed their unmet desires during pretend play -- no wonder then that children love "making" yummy food in the sand pit!

Movement and Cognitive Development

Nearly a century ago, Maria Montessori pointed out that it was a grave error to think of purposeful movement as something different from the higher functions of the mind. Recent research now shows that movement and cognitive development are indeed closely related.

As Montessori educators, we recognise that children have an need to engage in movement. Purposeful movement is at the center of the Montessori approach to early childhood education, as it confers emotional, intellectual and physical benefits.

If you watch a Montessori environment closely, you will see coordinated movement is everywhere: be it carrying materials carefully, balancing on narrow beams, or carrying and moving chairs without any noise.

As children spend time in a Montessori school, they learn to coordinate their body and place it under the ready control of their mind.

Preparing Children For Life

People often ask us why we have practical life activities in the Montessori environment. How are these related to the child's development, they wonder.

At one level, these activities are great for building fine motor skills, understanding sequential processes and developing concentration in young children. However, we must remember that practical life activities must eventually be PRACTICAL! They have to help equip children for real life.

When our 6-8 year olds stay in school overnight for sleepovers, they put all that practice in practical life activities to use. The children are responsible for planning the dinner menu (they decided on salad & sandwiches), purchasing the groceries, doing the actual cooking (with minimal adult assistance), serving dinner, and cleaning up after.

Speaking as adults, we very much enjoyed the hospitality!

The Toddler's Sense of Dignity


We often forget that children don't automatically understand how to do some self-care tasks (blow their nose, comb their hair, wash their hands) that adults assume are easy. Remember: children really WANT to be able to do these things well & take care of themselves.

This wonderful extract from Dr. Montessori's book The Secret of Childhood, details the deep sense of personal dignity in young children:

“One day I decided to give the children a slightly humorous lesson on how to blow their noses. Since after I had shown them different ways to use a handkerchief, I ended by indicating how it could be done as unobtrusively as possible. I took out my handkerchief in such a way that they could hardly see it and blew my nose as softly as I could. The children watched me in rapt attention, but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly finished my demonstration when they broke out into applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in a theatre. I had never heard such tiny hands make so much noise, and I had no idea that such small children would applaud so enthusiastically. It then occurred to me that I had perhaps touched a sensitive spot in their little social world.

No one really teaches them how they should blow their noses. When I tried to do so, they felt compensated for past humiliations, and their applause indicated that I had not only treated them with justice but had enabled them to get a new standing in society. Long experience has taught me that this is a proper interpretation of the incident. I have come to appreciate the fact that children have a deep sense of personal dignity.”

The Spirit of Self-Reliance


People often wonder why we make a big deal about children taking off their shoes on their own & placing them in the appropriate slots.

Wouldn't it be faster and easier if the adults just help them do it? Of course it would, but that is not the point. In Montessori, the goal is not to just get the act done, but to help the child recognise that they can take care of themselves.

Self-reliance and improved problem solving are important products of allowing children to become independent. Further, indirectly, children build their concentration, fine motor skills and co-ordination by relentlessly using their hands for a variety of self-care tasks.

Most of all, remember that we can help children remove their shoes. But what we cannot do is build self-confidence & independence FOR them. There are no shortcuts to this.