Building the Best Self-Esteem

Browsing Pinterest the other day I stumbled upon a wonderful article about how Praise effects children. (Part 1 and Part 2) As a Montessorian, I know I’ve had my own struggles with learning not to praise in the classroom. Everything around us tells us we should constantly reassure children they’re doing a great job and what they’re doing is amazing. After a while a child comes to expect that praise.

During a Parent-Education night once a parent asked me “What’s the worst habit parents have?” A few chuckles went around the room as I thought for a moment. It went very quiet when I said “Praise your child.” I explained by telling my favorite example of this:

When I first started at the school as an Assistant, I had the privilege of working with the most seasoned teacher in the school who would later become my mentor. One of my first days in the classroom, I was very eager to prove to her I was worth having in her amazing room. I wanted so much to be like her, I would watch her interactions with the children so I could manage them as well as she did.

One day, a girl in the class brought a picture to her, and said what we’ve all heard children say “Lookit this picture I made!” The teacher looked at the picture for a moment, nodded her head, then said “Make sure you put it in your folder to take home.”

I was blown away – this teacher that everyone revered so greatly just seemingly blew-off this little girl! The girl wanted praise, and the teacher didn’t deliver! As shocked as I was by what I saw, I continued to watch the little girl. With a smile on her face still, she walked away contentedly and put the picture away.

Later in the day I approached the teacher and asked her why the situation played out like that. She explained the concept of Over-Praising, and how it affects children’s self-esteem in the long run. It made sense, but I still wasn’t buying it 100%. For a few weeks I continued to tell each child who approached me with a picture “Wow, that’s amazing!” or “Great picture, I love it!”

Quickly I noticed that I was being inundated with children constantly asking me what I thought of their work. One day I had a small circle of children around me asking simultaneously how I liked their latest drawing. It was like a movie where the camera keeps spinning around the circle of faces as the little chorus chanted at me “How do you like my picture?!” I looked toward the Lead Teacher to see if she had the same thing happening to her and noticed she was sitting quietly observing the children around me. She didn’t have any children around her begging her for approval, so what was I doing wrong?  I realized she was right about praise. By openly validating one child’s picture, I had to validate everyone’s.

The parents at that Parent Education night agreed with me then, and some shared similar stories of resorting to “That’s nice, dear” when being shown the 400th scribble on paper. I wish the articles above had been available at that point so I could have directed the rest of my parents to it.

I brought the concept of praise up during my Montessori Training and asked my instructor ways to constructively acknowledge what a child is showing me. Because Montessori is more focused on a child’s self-esteem, you need to redirect the attention to the child’s opinion, not your own. Why does it matter what I think of the picture? Shouldn’t it only matter what the child thinks? So instead of praise, I now prompt with specifics:

  • What are you going to do with this at home?
  • What’s your favorite part of the project?
  • What’s happening here on the picture?
  • How do you feel now that you’ve finished ____ ?

Not one of these statements has to do with my feelings. Ideally we want the child to be happy with what they’ve accomplished. Why should the discussion be about how I feel then? Otherwise, you’re basically saying to the child “It’s only a good picture if I think so.” Self-esteem comes from within, so give children the chance to exercise their own pride and accomplishment.

Do you find it difficult not to praise? Do you continue to praise anyway? Is praise not an issue in your culture? Please share!

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Montessori Throughout Life

I’ve been a longtime reader of the amazing blog The Moveable Alphabet. Susan has an amazing way of writing and dissecting theory and getting to the base of what makes Montessori so awesome.

Lately Susan is a pioneer in Montessori- She’s working at a Senior Care center for seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and is using the Montessori method to help keep the mind active. She’s posted some other resources and examples of this new Montessori movement, and I can’t get enough! It’s so amazing to see how the basics of Montessori are valuable and valid in multiple stages of life. I’m happy to see that there’s been other articles posted about this new implementation, and I’m eager to read more once it becomes available!

Montessori Worldwide

It is definitely a dream of mine to travel the world and visit different Montessori schools where ever I go. What I love about Montessori is that the concept stays the same across the globe. I myself follow many Montessori blogs that aren’t based in North America, many of which I have to use Google Translate to even read! I found the results of countries that have visited this blog to be very inspiring: look how much of the world has come to visit! Say hi, even if you are just stopping in!

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Sum Up Montessori

Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” – Maria Montessori

When I meet people and tell them I am a Montessori teacher I either get  “Oh that’s awesome, I love Montessori!”, or “Oh, I’ve always wondered: What makes Montessori different?”

Phew! Loaded question!

I’ll be honest, I have a hard time summarizing the key points of Montessori Education because I find it all vital and important to the entire idea of it. I realize people just want a snippet, but it’s hard for me to summarize something I love so deeply. I mention how it’s a philosophy of education based on the Teacher following what’s best for each individual child. I try to incorporate how the Teacher’s job is to present lessons in a way that the child gains a love of learning independently, instead of being forced to learn specific things at specified times.

By that point, the person’s curiosity has been either piqued or sated. It’s so hard not to continue going on about it, running the risk of sounding like an obsessed crazy person.

I’d like to know from people who read this regularly or just popping in: How do you describe Montessori? I’d love to hear the descriptions from parents, homeschoolers, even people outside of Montessori. If you’re not sure what it is, tell me what you think Montessori Education stands for! 

Where I’ve been/Where I’d like to go

Where I’ve been: As many other people on the internet, I’ve been splitting my time between pondering for this blog, and starting a business on Etsy- www.magentamoo.etsy.com . I’ve designed a few Montessori Infant materials that I’d like to put up in the shop eventually. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, I’ve always been rather crafty. It feels very pleasing to have a tangible product of your time!

Where I’d like to go: I want to become more engaged here with the people who view and read this blog. It was my hope when I started writing here that I share the Montessori method with those who aren’t sure of what it is, and to spark conversation with my fellow Montessorians. I’ve got so many posts half-written that talk about what my training discussed and how we learned to approach things, but then I question if by posting that I push AMI Montessorians away.  This is not my intention at all! I want us to talk about why we learn different ways with friendly and open-minded discussion. I know there’s a rift between AMI and AMS as well as other schools of Montessori education, and I think that communication between the groups is quite valuable. One of my teachers told us that Montessorians view their training and the Montessori Method as a religion. We defend it fervently to anyone who brings up education, even going as far as disagreeing with other Montessorians who attend different training.  If the education of the child is what’s important, why can’t we get along? I digress – still, I want everyone to know that no matter what training or school of thought you come from (Waldorf, AMI, AMS, Home Based Education, Public Education, ANYTHING) that this is a safe place to discuss and question everything. 

I encourage any and all comments and questions for anything on this blog so long as you keep an open mind and an open heart – for isn’t that what we teach our Children in our classrooms and homes?

Different Styles and Methods

All Montessorians have their own little ways of running the classroom. Some things are not set in stone and are left up to the individual style of the teacher. Methods may be learned in training or from your mentor. Sometimes they’re borrowed ideas from observing other classrooms. What are some of the different areas that a Montessori teacher can shine with their own personality? (aside from the obvious decor) I’m going to examine different areas one at a time, starting with the Snack Area.

The self-serve Snack Area is a truly beautiful part of the Montessori classroom because you see so many fundamentals learned coming together at once. The child must use Practical Life, Math, Social, and Language skills to properly serve themselves. I’ve seen many examples of individual teacher’s snack areas and through my own experimentation have come across many different ideas for a well-loved area of the room.

In my own classroom I generally had two snacks available for the day. One was a self-serve style snack usually for two children at a time. The other was some sort of Food Preparation that involved the child doing all of the work themselves and then serving friends first, then enjoying their own portion.

Self-Serve Snack Areas

A Snack Table at a school I visited during my training. Healthy options are always important!
An entire snack cupboard at a different school I visited. I love the real plates they used and how everything was contained in this cabinet.
This was the snack setup in my classroom. I made a set of the cards seen in the back. All of the cards were color coordinated with the beads from the math area to promote continuity in the classroom and had the appropriate bead pictured. I had a set of 1-10 and multiples of each card for the snack table inside and outside.

The snack area is really an area that is dictated by the individual teacher’s style and the ability of the children in the classroom. I know there are many different ways to set this up, I would LOVE to see pictures of everyone’s tables!