Monday, November 3, 2014

Independence versus Power

As parents, you certainly mingle in a wider social circle than just our community here at Princeton Montessori School. I’ll bet you often get asked to explain what "Montessori" is in your exchanges with others. Whether you are new to our school or not, you may be unsure of how to explain what it is that we do so differently from traditional education. Even the most seasoned Montessori teachers have a hard time explaining it succinctly enough for a brief conversation. It may be helpful to have a better understanding of where we stand in the broad spectrum of different presumptions about Montessori education.

In the Montessori world of education, we often find parents to be of two opposing interpretations as they seek to discover more about our philosophy and method of learning. One misconception is, "Montessori is all about letting kids do whatever they want." and the other is "Montessori is rigid and controlling; there is a set way to do everything." Perhaps you’ve heard such comments. So which is true?

Maria Montessori once said, "Never do for the child what he can do for himself." While we may believe we are helping the child, any time the adult offers unneeded assistance she becomes an impediment to the child’s growth. Our classroom environments and the lessons the teachers give are designed to allow for the most independence possible at each stage of development, building not only a real skill set but the self-confidence and empowerment that comes with self-reliance. We believe in developing thinking and problem-solving skills by allowing children to express their views and have some choice in their day.

On the other hand, we also know that in every stage of development children are comforted by healthy boundaries and adults who are clearly, competently, and calmly in charge. Having all the power is terrifying to a child, and most often leads to undesired behaviors and interpersonal struggles. In our classrooms, there are intentionally set ways to do things as children work with the didactic materials that aid conceptual learning. To quote Maria Montessori once again, "To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom."

The Montessori teacher strives to discipline in the best sense of the word — modeling and guiding children to appropriate behavior but also stepping in when self-discipline is not occurring naturally. Freedom and choice are earned just as real privileges are in the adult world; they come with responsibilities and proof of having been earned. In our work with children, there are rules that they help create for the safety and social well-being of the classroom. However, the teacher is in charge. Montessori, succinctly put, is about providing experiences that lead to independence, self-control, and the tools to learn and be in community. It is this innate drive for independence in humans we want to respond to, not the drive for power.

Related to these thoughts, as a school community, we have two very informative and thought-provoking parent education sessions coming up. One is an internal offering here at school titled "Let Me Do It Myself: Honoring the Will of the Child," led by our very own Rita Brenner. The other is a Commonground event titled, "Who’s In Charge Here?" led by Dr. Leonard Sax. Both of these relate to the topic of Independence versus Power and complement each other beautifully. I invite you to join me at these two events as such important messages are shared!

Details on upcoming parent education workshops:

Who Is In Charge Here? Why Letting Kids Decide is Usually Not the Right Strategy at Home 
Presented by Dr. Leonard Sax 
November 12, Wed, 7:30pm – 9:30pm 
CommonGround Lecture at Princeton Day School 650 Great Road, Princeton NJ 08540

Let Me Do It Myself - Honoring the Will of the Child 
Presented by Mrs. Rita Brenner
November 19, Wed, 8:30am – 10:00am 
Princeton Montessori School Parent Education Series
 “Statements like “This is my work!” “Let me do it myself!” “This is mine!” and “NO!” are shared by toddlers with their parents, sometimes several times a day. Parents don’t need to create a Montessori classroom at home but they can observe how effective language and freedom within limits are managed in the classroom then put to use the techniques that seem to work best for them. Rita Brenner will give strategies for nurturing a healthy independence in your child as he or she moves through this developmental stage. Enjoy sharing stories about life as it is with Infants and Toddlers.”