The Most Maddening Thing about Being a Montessori Parent

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The year was 2013. My husband and I were in a group of other prospective Montessori parents at a school information session and tour.

And I was about to be introduced to the most fundamental aspect of Montessori….but I didn’t know it.

My husband and I knew very little about Montessori (alright, none. We knew ‘zero’ as my youngest likes to say), but we did know that all of the other schools we had visited with a view to enrolling our children had just not felt right.

They had seemed nice enough. The principal always said the right things. Reading awards had been won, teaching staff praised. But nothing we had seen seemed to fit our family – our values and our desire for the absolute best for our children.

We had both attended public schools and by all accounts, were success stories. We’ve both enjoyed gratifying careers but, although we couldn’t put our finger on it at the time, we also felt that something fundamental had been missing from our educational lives. We’d learnt how to read and write, we’d learnt about science and geography and how the world works. But we hadn’t learnt about ourselves.

For me, my passions, my desires and my knowledge of self only started to manifest well into my 30’s. I was always self-driven, but watched in dismay as many of my peers lost their way. Few went on to university and even fewer graduated. Once the structure, predictability and prescriptive nature of school life was behind them, many floundered.

We were looking for something more for our children, but were giving up hope that it even existed. Time was getting away from us and settling for the best of the bunch so far was seeming more inevitable every day.

So it was with this mindset that we were intrigued to discover there was an alternative – a Montessori school. We made the initial call and were invited  to the parent information day, so here we were.

Kicking off the session, the principal told us about something that had just happened to her moments before as she had been making her way to the meeting room.

That particular day was quite cold (by Sunshine Coast standards) and most of us were rugged up in warm jackets to stave off the chill.

As she’d approached a group of children, one of them had greeted the principal with a big smile.

“Good morning, Suzy,” responded the principal. “Aren’t you cold – you’re not even wearing a jacket!.”

“No, Anna. I’m not cold at all, you’re cold, not me. I’ll get a jacket if I do feel cold,” said the child.

There was as a chuckle around the room. I couldn’t help but smile at the child’s cheekiness, and was a little surprised that she hadn’t been admonished.

How little did I know!

That interaction, while innocuous at the time, was my big introduction to one of the cornerstones of Montessori.

The liberty of the child.

It sounds good. It sounds very new age-y and something pretty awesome if we can pull it off. Liberty sounds like something we all deserve and giving our children liberty something we should all aspire to.

Looking back, I shake my head. While I didn’t understand it then, between then and now I’ve learned a thing or two about liberty, and how it can be accomplished.

I often say that knowledge about Montessori is the key. It’s where we get our confidence from as Montessori parents. Whether it’s confidently explaining what Montessori is when asked, being confident in our conversations with our children’s teachers or being confident in our parenting – particularly when it is almost entirely different to how we were parented as children.

Knowledge is the key.

This is true not only when it comes to Montessori. Knowledge and the confidence that arises from knowledge is how we get results in just about every area of life.

Knowledge is what Dr Montessori had when she conceived of the Montessori philosophy. She knew that liberty – the freedom to make our own choices in our lives – is fundamental to human growth and potential and in particular, to discipline. She knew that sensory training forms the basis of our motor training and our intellectual training. She knew that all of these concepts could lead to a rapid, easy and substantial mastery of reading, writing and mathematics as key cornerstones of learning. But, back to liberty. And discipline.

Liberty is a form of discipline.

Now, discipline is another topic altogether and one I’ll cover in future blogs – but know this: Liberty is a form of discipline.

It is only when a child has the right to be active, to have freedom of bodily movement, freedom of choice in his activities and freedom to self-direct his own learning, that he can develop his own inner resources and self-discipline.

It is our role as parents – and the Montessori guides’ role as teachers – to guide activity, not to repress it. We should watch our children, encourage them as they explore their environment and determine what activity appeals to them, and when they have had enough. We can’t decide that for them.

My eldest son is now in a 6-9 environment where they have a number of specialist lessons on one day of the week. These involve ‘one to many’ group teaching which requires high levels of concentration and physical control which he is getting better at all the time, but only because he recognises himself when he needs to take a break.

In a mainstream school, my son would be ostracised from the group if he couldn’t continue to participate, but in a Montessori school this is not necessary. There is no requirement that every member of the classroom is to join a group exercise – the child can join in or not, as long as he is not doing harm.

My son has learnt to recognise within himself when his concentration is wavering and he knows when he is best to take a break and work alone for a while, then return to the group when he is ready. And he exercises this right fairly regularly, albeit with reducing frequency.

A friend of mine also has her child at a Montessori school and recently told me the story of taking her child to visit a very sick relative in hospital. It was a confronting sight for the child, and on entering the intensive care unit, she turned to her mum and asked if she could have a few moments.

She walked to a corner of the room, quietly meditated for several minutes, then came back to the family, refocused and calm. That child is 8 years old. That is what it means, when we encourage liberty. When we encourage our children to know themselves, to know what is right for them in any given moment.

It’s powerful stuff.

But not always easy to implement, in the classroom or at home.

Our Montessori guides are explicitly trained in this fundamental aspect of Montessori teaching. Their skills in holding back, letting children make mistakes and learn from them and to let them find their own way, in their own time are finely honed.

But it’s something us parents need to fully understand as well. It can be maddening, though. Just this morning my son went to school barefoot, holding his shoes in his hand instead. Why? Who knows?! Every day I’m learning valuable lessons about my need to direct and control others, my children included. But I understand the importance of liberty, and my children are learning this too.

What is the alternative? Stand over our children constantly to make sure they’ve practiced for the spelling test, that they’ve remembered their lunchbox, that they’ve washed their hands after going to the toilet?

What happens when they leave school and start university and there isn’t anyone holding them to account?

I remember starting university as a keen 17-year-old and being utterly amazed that no-one cared in the least if I turned up to lectures or not. But those 300-strong lecture theatres soon petered out to less than a quarter of this number by years’ end. Many students lost their way when confronted with the need to be self-motivated. It is such a shame.

So give your children some freedom. Defend their right to be active and investigate their own environment, their strengths, their passions. It is different to how we were parented, and in fact it flies in the face of everything OUR parents know about parenting, but it is so worth our while.

Once you have the right knowledge, you’ll have the confidence to give your children the freedoms they need to grow and to excel. There’s a mountain of research and evidence to support Dr Montessori’s principles, and I’ll touch on this in future blogs.

I’m here to share this knowledge with you.

So, in my weekly blog, that’s what I’m going to do.

My goal is to give you the insights you can’t get anywhere else, insights that will provide you with the information you need as a Montessori parent to strengthen your confidence in Montessori…all without you having to do anything but read my blogs.

All I ask is that you copy and paste this link: http://bit.ly/1RfQ6FL and share it on Facebook and take a few moments to leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you! What do you find hardest about giving your child freedom?

With love,

Chris 🙂

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