My five year old put on his shoes before we left the house the other day.
I know, right?
Well, for us it was amazing. Life changing, even.
My husband does the school drop-off most mornings (as I was wise enough to choose the start-work early-and-finish-work early pick-up-the-children-from-school-and-cook-dinner hours – while he chose the drop-them-off-in-the-morning-then-stay-at-work-as-late-as-I-need-to hours) – and he thinks he’s got the rough end of the pineapple.
Of course, getting my children to actually walk out of school and into the car in the afternoons, for some reason, is no walk in the park either.
They seriously don’t want to leave at the end of the day!
But then, some mornings (OK, most mornings) – they don’t want to go to school either.
Actually, it’s not that they don’t want to go to school. It’s more that they are engrossed in whatever it is that has their attention at 7.45am and don’t particularly want to put on their shoes, pick up their bag and lunchbox and get in the car.
(Thankfully we were advised by our Montessori school at the outset – strongly now that I think about it – that there should definitely be no television in the mornings before school. I can only imagine how challenging THAT would be. In fact, our children watch very little TV at all, but that’s a topic for another blog).
Back to this week. And my son’s shoes.
He put them on! Himself! With no nagging from me!
I’d love to say that he didn’t need any prompting at all, but he certainly did.
But guess what – he listened. The first time!
Usually our getting out the house routine resembles something like a circus act. A lot of to-ing and fro-ing, comical conversations going round and round, red faces, juggling.
You get the idea.
But this week, I remembered to put my Montessori parenting hat on – and I got down to my son’s level, made eye contact before speaking, and said his name to make sure he I had his attention. His shoes were right in front of him and in a low, calm voice I said: “Mitch. What do you need to do before we can get in the car?”
There’s something about that eye contact, I’m sure. He couldn’t pretend he didn’t hear me (that goes on a bit in our house), he was engaged in what I was saying and as he knew the answer, he gave it to me, almost spontaneously.
“Put my shoes on,” he said.
Then he sat right down and starting putting them on! I felt all Montessori-guide like…you know, in control, but also calm and serene.
What a great way to start the day.
AND – the whole process took about 20 seconds! That’s 9 minutes and 40 seconds less than usual!
As we drove away from home, I was thinking about the power of eye contact and it reminded me of something that happened a few weeks ago.
We went camping over the Christmas holidays and the campground we go to has a lot of ‘regulars’ – families that camp at the same site year after year.
I got to talking to a new family across the way from us who had just arrived and set up that day, and while I was chatting to them, my eldest son whizzed by on his scooter.
‘Hi Cooper,” they greeted him, and I must have had a strange look on my face.
‘Oh, he came over and introduced himself when we got here,” the father of the family said.
‘He actually asked if we needed any help! I couldn’t believe it. Most kids don’t even make eye contact these days.”
It’s hard not to feel a tiny surge of pride during moments like these – although, of course, his pristine view of my son was probably fairly short-lived as my boys do have a tendency to fight and argue over the smallest thing on a regular basis and their camp was well within earshot of ours – so I relished the moment, albeit briefly.
Making eye contact when we are talking to someone is, of course, something we should all be doing, but if you’re anything like me, it can drop off the priority list when we are busy and stressed.
But it’s practiced consciously in a Montessori classroom and once you get in the swing of it, you’ll see why.
It’s why our guides greet our children at the door each morning, make eye contact, shake hands and say ‘good morning’. And why they do the same thing at the end of the day.
It is, of course, about welcoming them into the classroom, or saying goodbye in the afternoon, but – as with everything Montessori – it’s also about respect.
Many a morning I see my son’s guide hold his hand for a fraction longer than the norm until he looks up. She then tilts her head slightly, nods and says ‘good morning’ while deliberately holding eye contact. It’s a good practice for children, and of course, for us as well.
And that eye contact is important. Many children have their heads buried in computer games or are frantically sending each other text messages all day. I do fear that interpersonal skills are becoming lost in this generation of children.
Now, I know there can be specific reasons why some children are not comfortable with eye contact or touch, and that is completely understandable and respected. But, for most children, it is a critical part of communication.
The same goes for us adults.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked out the hard way in my house that no matter how it may appear – or even if there is a glimmer of a response – no-one is listening when their eyes are actually on a book, a newspaper or a phone screen.
Nothing is going in.
In a Montessori environment, guides make sure they make eye contact with a child before speaking – at the child’s level. They don’t look down or bend over, they bend their knees and lower their body to respectfully be at the child’s level. I’ve spent a lot of time in our school environment and I’m always amazed at how physical it is for the guides. Up, down, crouched, walking around the classroom, sitting on the floor, moving around chairs and tables. They are never still. And yet they don’t dominate the environment at all. Such a special skill to have!
This way of communication sends a message to the child that what they’re saying is important to the guide. Before teaching a lesson, a guide will make eye contact with the student, signalling they are ready to begin.
Eye contact is an important part of non-verbal communication and it is taught deliberately in a Montessori classroom.
But it can be so easy to let it slip. To talk to someone whose attention is elsewhere, to answer a question over a shoulder or call out a directive from across the room.
Quality communication is taught to our children as part of grace and courtesy instruction. Our children are learning the value of communication, of REALLY connecting with one another. It’s also an important part of conflict resolution which, in a Montessori classroom, is often undertaken at a Peace Table. Each child is encouraged to explain their view (when they are holding the talking stick) and also to listen to each other, until a resolution is reached.
It seems so basic – but imagine if adults did this in the real world! Not just us parents, but community leaders, world leaders. Imagine if we REALLY listened to another’s view, with an open mind and an open heart, and worked through conflicting views until a resolution is agreed upon.
Maria Montessori said: “Establishing peace is the work of educators; all politics can do is keep us out of war.” How true.
My youngest son came home from school one day last term and announced they had a new activity in his early years environment.
“It’s called Conversation,” he said.
“You turn the egg timer over and talk for three minutes and the other person just listens – no interrupting. Then the other person talks and you listen.”
Wow. I hope that starts rubbing off at home when my two boys try to talk to each other – at once! – and the mutual frustration sets in.
Seriously, though. What an important skill to learn at 5 years old and to practice each day.
But we can also practice quality communication and listening to our children.
The next time your child talks to you, get your body to their level. Look into their eyes and listen to what they have to say. Really listen. And when they’re finished, take a moment to say something to them. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
Who knows, they may even put their shoes on or brush their teeth when you ask them to! This technique alone could save you 15 minutes of nagging in the morning.
I’ve felt my personality transform as I’ve applied the Montessori principles in my life, and I’m sure you will experience this, too. You’ll feel more confident in your decisions, calmer and in control – but without actually having to exert control over our children.
It’s a beautiful feeling.
And when we are calm and confident it creates space for our children to learn and to grow.
Our relationship with our children can be easy – we mirror back to our children what is happening with us. If we’re feeling good, our children will feel good, too.
As we build our knowledge bank of Montessori techniques, each night as we reflect on our ‘wins’ for the day and what we are grateful for, it is an opportunity to also think about the techniques we have learned so far.
We can ask ourselves – did I make eye contact each time I spoke to my child today?
Have a great day with your children today.
Until next week.
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