Last week was our annual teacher conference which is always a nice time to reevaluate my own philosophies for work and life in general. I have worked in a Montessori community for the past 5 years and I try to use the word Montessori sparingly. Not because I don’t agree with the philosophy and method, and not because Maria Montessori wasn’t an incredible woman who did incredible things for education and humans in general, but because there’s a tendency to treat any method as dogma and use it to separate rather than unify. It’s the same reason I won’t call myself a feminist a liberal a conservative a leftist rightest backest frontest Buddhist Christian Atheist hippy hipster punkrock queen. I know my core values. The little details of my beliefs are always in flux so trying to align my entire belief system with a particular group tends to make me a little crazy. There’s a whole bunch of common ground so let’s hang out there for a while.
One of the speakers at the conference talked about the importance of finding the balance between helping the child too much or too little. Where I work, we set up the environment so that the child can successfully complete increasingly complex tasks on his own and we restrain ourselves from unnecessary intervention. A child’s work often looks messy and inefficient to a grownup. But when we step in to ‘fix’ it for him, he is learning that someone else can do it better. On the other hand, there is also a danger in assuming that because a child was capable of a certain task one day, he should never need any future assistance in that task. If a child is able to put on his shoe once, it doesn’t mean he’s mastered that skill. We’ll give him time and space to work on it each time. And help him label his emotions if any should arise: “You’re working hard to put your shoe on. It looks like you’re getting frustrated.” One of the trickiest parts of guiding children is figuring out when to step in. It’s different for each child in each situation but in general we try to give as little help as possible to allow the child to complete the task on his own. Montessori describes it as: “Help me to do it alone.”
“Help me to do it alone.” I’ve been thinking this to myself a lot lately when it comes to parenting. I’m incredibly fortunate to work in an environment where I’m surrounded by childcare experts. Some of these people have been working with children for 20+ years. They’ve seen thousands of different scenarios and are excellent resources for baby information. But sometimes I’ll be at home with Micah, figuring out how to handle a particular situation and all of these expert voices won’t stop telling me what to do. [In my own head, of course.] I’ve learned to say shhhhhhh to all of the voices. I’m incredibly grateful for their knowledge and it has helped me immensely. But quieting the voices so I can hear my own gut is the only method that works for me. Then I can talk to Mike and our guts tend to come up with a pretty good solution. Yes, we will make mistakes. The more comfortable we get with mistakes, the easier it is to learn.