Maria Montessori really 'got' children. She also understood human beings in general. Through her observations, she saw and wrote about many of the amazing discoveries that are today being proved through neuroscience. One of her great realisations was that children need to be connected to the environment around them: that we have to explain the world to them, and show them how to use it, rather than just assuming they know.
One of my favourite times of the year as a Montessori teacher was when new children started and we spent the first few weeks on 'orientation'. This could range from using the toilet, to preparing a snack or choosing an activity, even learning how to hang their coat up or blow their nose. This supported their desire for more independence, and they loved it!
Sometimes we just expect children to know how to do things and how to behave. I remember one parent asking me why her child was struggling with doing her buttons up on her coat. This was leading to frustration from the child, well-meaning offers of help from mum, and a fierce refusal of that help from the child; something many parents and teachers will be able to relate to!
When I asked the mum how she had shown her daughter to do 'buttoning', she stopped, looked surprised and said, "Oh, I didn't think of showing her!" This isn't unusual! We think that by helping the child, they are learning automatically. To some extent, of course, this is true. Children have remarkable minds that absorb everything that they experience. However, to really help them to be independent, we can break things down into smaller steps:
- Identify the things your child is finding hard to do (this could be anything from a young child learning how to fasten a coat, to saying please and thank you, to an older child tidying their bedroom and pretty much anything else you can think of).
- Work out, without the child present, how to show them the skill. You might want to think about how you move (the slower the better), and how to make it feel like an exciting challenge (rather than being told off for not already doing it!).
- Show your child the skill or activity, making sure it is at a time when they are relaxed and happy. For example, if you want them to learn how to say please, it's best to do this out of the blue one day, rather than when they have just forgotten to say please and are feeling defensive. If they are feeling defensive or embarrassed, they won't be open to listening or learning.
- Now you can use this experience as a helpful reminder in the future: "Do you remember what we talked about the other day? Let's have a go at using that now!" Children love the respect that they feel when we use this way of reminding them rather than 'nagging'.
How does all of this help your child? Once we have shown them how to use the things around them, and how to navigate the world, they feel connected to that world. Once they feel connected, they feel safe and secure. Safety and security leads to confidence, a strong sense of self-esteem, and independence.
And these things lead to happiness :-)