My 7 year old son refused to go to school swimming a few weeks ago.
It was the last day of a week of daily swimming lessons – and he announced to his teacher he wasn’t going.
When she asked him why he said he didn’t choose swimming and that the way the lessons are run ‘isn’t very Montessori’.
Two accurate points.
The whole junior primary cohort had spent Monday to Thursday at the local swimming pool and, until then, he’d happily joined them.
Now, on Friday morning, he was adamant.
No swimming for him.
As I read the email from his teacher that afternoon, I have to confess, I did smile.
That does sound like my son alright, I thought.
My son’s guide knows him pretty well after more than two years in the 6-9 environment, so I was keen to read on and hear how this would pan out.
She told him he was right – he hadn’t been given a choice and as the swimming instructors at the pool aren’t in any way Montessori trained, the approaches used in those lessons are not what he is used to.
Of course, my son needs to adapt to ‘non-Montessori’ environments – and he does that very well.
Other than school and home, everywhere he goes – from gymnastics class to kids birthday parties to camping trips with friends to spending time with extended family – are not Montessori environments. He understands that perfectly.
But that day – he was digging his heels in.
Then his guide told him – he DID have a choice.
He could come swimming with the others – or stay back at school. The choice was up to him.
He went swimming.
Of course he did!
This wasn’t about swimming. He LOVES swimming – we swim at our local pool and at the beach all summer long.
He just wanted it to be his choice.
Right now, I’m in the middle of teaching my online course for Montessori parents – The Power of the Prepared Parent: A Montessori Crash Course.
We’ve covered the Montessori philosophy, our mindset as parents, the materials used in school and how our children learn. And this week we covered how to set up our home environment so our children can be as independent as possible.
Next week we are covering communication in a Montessori home, in particular discipline and conflict resolution – all under the auspice of peace education. I’m LOVING teaching this course and the feedback from participants around the world has been nothing short of amazing.
It was as I was putting the finishing touches to the module on Positive Discipline and the importance of choices that I remembered that email from my son’s guide and the resolution of the ‘to swim or not to swim’ episode.
Providing Guided Choices is a fantastic way to overcome opposition and reduce tension between parents and children (and guides and children, too, I’m sure).
It puts less focus on the parent and child – and more focus on the child and the task at hand.
It also gives the child a sense of responsibility – he makes the choice so he wears the consequences – good or bad.
(It’s a similar reason why he makes his own lunch. It’s an important skill and a step toward independence, but it also means he can’t complain about what is in his lunchbox each day!).
I love this quote from American writer Madeleine L’Engle:
“Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.”
Children need choices. Having a choice to make gives a child power and autonomy where they might otherwise have none.
But there are two points worth considering if you’re thinking of trying this at home:
1. Only offer choices you are prepared to live with
You never know what you child will choose – so even it seems obvious what their choice might be – make sure you can live with it either way.
So “Do you want to wear the red or the blue shorts?” might work, whereas “Do you want to brush your teeth now or go straight to bed without a story?” might not give you the outcome you’re looking for (trust me).
2. Always follow through on your choice or limit
So, if you ask “Do you want to go to the park or to the library today?” – confident he will choose the library because he always does (and you’ve got books to return yourself and other things to do in that vicinity) – be prepared to follow through if he chooses the park!
Freedom of choice is a key feature of Montessori classrooms and – if we want our children to experience consistency between home and school – our Montessori homes as well.
Of course, it’s freedom within limits – not freedom to do anything you want – which is why it’s a good idea to have fewer choices, the younger the child.
It’s not about adults forcing children to obey their commands (as tempting as that can be at times). When a child spends every day following the instructions of adults, he loses the ability to think for himself. To know himself and his own interests.
No-one likes a ‘yes person’ (or is that just me?). People who blindly follow the instructions of others aren’t going to be the big thinkers and innovators of tomorrow.
So next time your child says ‘no’ to a simple request to pack up, stop and take a deep breath and consider if there is a choice here for your child to make.
The choice to GIVE a choice, is yours.
P.S. Leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you. Have you tried guided choices for your children?
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