Being relatively new to the Montessori world (third year assisting, first year of training), I’m discovering some of the unsavory habits I’ve picked up that really aren’t condusive to the optimal Montessori environment. Some of the concepts we’ve covered recently in training, and the reading I’ve done, I realize now I should relax a bit more and let the environment happen by itself.
One concept I know is very difficult, for some reason, is an obsession with telling children “Please go back to your own work!” Only recently did I learn that the power of observation in the child is a necessary occurance. One day while supervising the outside environment I noticed one girl, who was supposed to be raking the playground, was instead watching another little girl paint at our large painting table. They were speaking quite loudly, and honestly, before I could completely think the scenario through I caught my mouth opening and starting to say “Girls…please go back to your work”. However, I told myself to stop and just observe for a moment what they were actually doing. The one painting was pointing to various aspects of her creation, and the other girl was nodding and praising the picture. In less than a minute, the two seperated and went on with their works. I was embarassed with myself – on a usual day I would have just said something to the girls and continued on my way with all of the pressing issues of the children around me. But after reading other Montessori teacher’s blogs and seeing how peacefully they approach their classroom, I decided to actually TRY very hard to not let habit drive me for a day to notice the change.
In a Montessori classroom, a child who is not completely comfortable in the environment might find it very interesting to just walk around and observe the other children working. Seeing the multitude of works available might be a tad overwhelming, so watching the process being done by another child can be interesting for the observing child. I actually have one student now who is a perpetual wanderer. She never gets any work for herself – if she does, it’s because she was requested to do so by a teacher who is tired of seeing her wander tirelessly. (I’m not blaming other teachers here, I’m very guilty of telling this girl to do the same). For the most part she observes quietly but she can sometimes be intrusive to other children. After seeing that all children are in fact different and learn in different ways, I believe I am just going to teach her to respect the environment and materials in use by another student instead of asking her to move on to her own work. A regular classroom where a child is sat in a desk all day shows that a child can learn through observation – perhaps for this little girl, it is what best works for her.
One day when it came time to clean up the outside environment, and to end our work day, I realized I had forgotten about our lunch mats on the clothesline. One of the last things my children do when they work outside is replace our lunchtime placemats to their storage box. Since it was time to clean up I was trying to rush the child who had decided to take the mats down and put them away. I pulled the box from our storage closet, and after opening the box, noticed that the leftover mats inside were placed incorrectly in the box so they would not lay flat. A small scuffle turned my attention for a second, and when I came back to fix the mats in the box the little girl who was going to put them away had stepped between myself and the box. Again, before I could react, I started to say “Let me fix those mats first before you start..” but I caught myself. I stopped, and waited instead to see what would happen. She went to place the first mat into the box from the line, and noticed the incorrectly placed ones. She picked them all up and corrected them herself. It seems something so silly, but really, these children do not NEED constant nagging from us to “Do this, do that”. However, when you’re in the situation, it can be hard to not see that.
One big mental change I’m trying to make with myself is that the children need to be guided, not directed. I can see now how an improperly trained person in such an environment can make more work than is necessary! I can (unfortunately) think of many examples of myself giving unnecessary directions only to have a child: A – do it before I can finish the request; or B – go “I KNOW Miss Nena!” I definitely need to relax, and let the flow of the classroom take over, not my bossy side.