Its mid-afternoon on a school day and the 6-9 classroom is empty, save for two 7-year-old boys wrestling on the carpet.
And one Montessori guide sitting quietly nearby.
To a fly on the wall – especially a fly that doesn’t understand Montessori – it looks like that guide is just not doing her job.
Isn’t this exactly what we hear about Montessori? That the children can do whatever they want and get away with it?
To an informed Montessori observer, though, there’s a lot more going on.
A whole lot more.
In fact, that highly trained and experienced Montessori guide is doing EXACTLY what she is supposed to be doing.
As a Montessori parent myself, I know it can be difficult to challenge the norms. To walk a path that is unfamiliar to those around you, and perhaps even yourself, as you choose something different for your family.
But if you’ve already chosen a Montessori school for your child – congratulations! You’re already a trailblazer!
We account for a tiny percentage of parents world-wide, but the tide is definitely turning. Can you feel it? There is a growing movement toward Montessori – both here and overseas, and particularly in Europe – as parents seek out better alternatives for their children’s education. It’s those parents – like us – who are prepared to NOT follow the crowd.
It’s not easy, though.
Sometimes people think we’re a bit strange.
I’ve even had people back away from me at parties when the subject of schooling comes up and I mention Montessori.
Or people make sweeping, unfounded comments which demonstrate (clearly) that they have absolutely no idea how Montessori works. Which is fine. Some people will never choose Montessori so they don’t need to know about it.
But we HAVE chosen Montessori.
So we do need to know about it.
And there’s so much to know! But, one step at a time.
Back to that guide in the classroom with the two boys.
That guide is practicing one of the fundamental principles of Montessori: Patient Waiting.
No, patient waiting is not what you see in the ER at your local hospital. Well, actually it is, but that’s not what I want to talk to you about today.
Patient Waiting is a specific Montessori technique that our Montessori guides use every day to resolve a misbehaviour scenario with our children and it’s something we can do at home, too.
It’s not necessarily your FIRST port of call when a problem situation arises with your child and, in fact, it’s probably about number 5 on your check list of options, and it can be combined with other more active techniques.
But I want to talk about Patient Waiting today because it’s one of the techniques that is perhaps the most demanding on US.
To wait patiently while your child is NOT doing what they are supposed to do, takes enormous self-control on our part.
I’m a ‘Going Out’ Chaperone at our Montessori school and what a revelation it has been to stand back and JUST OBSERVE when I take those children out.
I had no idea until my first Going Out experience just how much I used to constantly direct and control my children.
How is that constant control and direction child-led? How can they possibly learn what to do for themselves if we are constantly telling them what’s next?
I was in that classroom that day when I saw the guide and the two wresting boys (not my son this time, which makes this story surprising in itself).
While I was there another guide came in and asked her colleague – who was still sitting and waiting patiently and not giving the unwanted behaviour any attention – how long she had been waiting.
“Five minutes so far,” she said.
Wow. I was impressed. That’s a loooong time to watch two boys mucking around and not say or do anything.
But – within a minute or two, those boys got themselves organised and got up and joined the rest of the group.
They knew where they were supposed to be.
I’ve no doubt a discussion was had with the children at a later time about what happened that day, where they should have been and the better choices they could make next time.
And that is the clincher.
It was ONLY because they were left alone, that there was even a behaviour to discuss. A lesson to be learned. Reflection. Discussion of possibilities and a different response next time.
Instantly getting our children to react to our desires in our timeframe might suit us pretty well, but it means a missed learning opportunity for the child.
I experienced this myself a few years ago.
My youngest son and I were sitting in the front row with some other parents watching my older son’s weekly gymnastics lesson. My youngest had been keeping himself amused for half an hour, sitting quietly on the floor next to me, drawing and cutting up bits of paper.
When he was done, he came back up and sat next to me and I gently reminded him about the bits of paper still on the floor. He agreed to pick them up, then continued to sit on his seat, watching his brother.
Now, before I understood the power of the Montessori principles, that would have been a perfect situation for conflict with my son.
I would have demanded that he pick up that mess.
But whose timeframe would I have been working to? There was still half a lesson left. What did it hurt if it sat there for a while longer?
Even so, I remember it still took EVERYTHING in me not to ask him again to pick it up – RIGHT NOW.
Especially when I realised I was getting killer looks from the mother sitting next to me.
Perhaps she thought I was going to leave it there? I’ve no doubt she thought I was being a permissive parent.
But I’m a Montessori parent. I’m used to disapproval by those who don’t understand. The misunderstanding out there is HUGE and one of my major motivators in sharing my story and experiences with other parents.
Anyway, the truth is, I was trying the ‘Patient Waiting’ principle out, so I ignored her withering looks and sat on my hands to remind myself not to do ANYTHING.
It’s only because I’ve studied the Montessori methods and I’ve personally made a pact with myself to adopt the philosophies into my life, that I was able to sit there with that mess at my feet.
The other mum wasn’t so cool, however. She kept looking at me, and looking at the papers, obviously trying to send me a message that he should clean it up.
Wow. That mum needs some Montessori, I thought to myself.
My son sat and watched for another 20 minutes or so and then, just as I was about to declare the experiment a flop – he suddenly hopped off the seat, picked up every piece of paper, went and put it all in the bin and came back and sat next to me.
I was more than happy, I was rapt (okay, and a bit relieved – I was so glad I didn’t have to resort to some less-patient tactics in front of that mum!).
This stuff really works!
Not a word from me, not a glance, not a nudge.
No nagging, nothing.
He’d done it of his own volition.
That’s one less fight. One less power struggle to notch into my parenting belt.
You know, each step I take on my Montessori journey – and each step away from my old, ingrained parenting methods – I can feel myself transforming.
You know how the guides often seem….sort of….serene? Not exactly how you’d normally describe a classroom teacher at the end of a school day. But they are! They’re always smiling and calm and speaking to the children with such respect.
When I first started our Montessori journey, I often looked at the happy, smiling guides and thought – I want what they’ve got.
They’ve just spent the day with 20 children and I’ve only got two. Surely I can keep some serenity in my life AND be a parent, too?
Well, we can.
Bit by bit, technique by technique, we can adopt the Montessori philosophy ourselves. And not just in how we parent our children, but how we live our lives.
Patient waiting. It even sounds serene.
Now, I know it’s not always possible to wait. Teachers want to get home at the end of the day, and we need to get to school on time, and to work. There are other techniques for those times and I’ll talk about those in future blogs.
But, just for this week, let’s agree to take this one thing on. Let’s wait patiently – when the lights change twice and you still haven’t got through them. When the phone company comes at 4pm when they said between 10am and 1pm (or is that just me?).
Let’s give our children the extra few minutes to put on their shoes, brush their teeth or find that one thing they just HAVE to take to school today. Without rushing them.
Montessori works in a methodical way – every learned behaviour is a building block to the next – and this goes for ME as much as my children.
Phoebe Child, Head of the Montessori Trust in London, famously said:
“We must be prepared to wait patiently like a servant, to watch carefully like a scientist, and to understand through love and wonder like a saint.”
Montessori is described as success-oriented, through self-teaching and self-correcting, and our Montessori parenting can be the same.
We can learn how to be a Montessori parent and through knowledge and self-reflection, we can self-correct.
Applying these philosophies to our life gives us the opportunity to practice patience, tolerance and respect for the child so we can experience the enormous satisfaction of watching our children grow into confident, well-rounded human beings.
It’s about giving our time and energy, so that we can receive these wonderful gifts.
As we build our knowledge bank of Montessori techniques and protocols, when we have a blueprint to follow, WE are calmer, more confident.
So, let’s do it. Each night for the next 7 days, take stock.
Ask yourself – Did I practice Patient Waiting today?
I encourage you to write it down. We’re not perfect. This is a learning curve for us, too. But the practice of writing it down makes it tangible.
If you’re winning, that’s great. If you’ve missed some opportunities, you can promise yourself you’ll do better tomorrow. We’re aiming for progress, not perfection.
Leave a comment below and then come back in a week and leave another comment and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear how this technique is working for you.
Have a GREAT day with your children today.
Until next week.
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