Friday, November 1, 2013

Freedom with Limits...Essential in Montessori AND Parenting

One of the key parts of Montessori is that is freedom with limits (responsibilities, boundaries). This is a Montessori quote I came across:

"Do not apply the rule of non-interference when the children are still the prey of all their different naughtinesses. Don't let them climb on the windows, the furniture, etc. You must interfere at this stage. At this stage the teacher (parent) must be a policeman. The policeman has to defend the honest citizens against the disturbers." (The Absorbent Mind)

Children must never be permitted to misuse materials, be physical with each other, or be disrespectful. Broken objects due to misuse is unacceptable.

Boundaries are important, not only to teach responsibility and respect. While that is important, it is also crucial for showing them that someone cares enough to care about their safety and the safety of others around them. It is the #1 way children process love.

Children should be using materials properly or in a manner that will not break the materials or hurt anyone. Sometimes this takes a judgement call. For instance, while in our grassy field at my school the students began making mudpies with the materials set out for water painting the fence. While this was not the intended use of that material, it did not hurt the materials and they were diligently using them. I allowed that to continue, with the caveat that the dishes must be cleaned and put away properly at the end of their use. However, if they would like to dig with the rainbow streamers (used in dancing), this would most certainly break the plastic. This I would not permit.

Some things, that could be dangerous if misused I would never allow creative use. For example, gardening tools can only be used for their intended use AND used in a very precise manner (never raised above the head, for instance).

Breaking any item on purpose, even if it was already broken and on the way to the trash can can never permitted.

From Smithsonian magazine (September 2002 issue, article "Madam Montessori"):

"The Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, opened January 6, 1907. At first, Montessori just observed. She noticed that the children came to prefer her teaching materials to toys and would spend hours putting wooden cylinders into holes or arranging cubes to build a tower. As they worked, they became calmer and happier. As the months passed, Montessori modified materials and added new activities, including gardening, gymnastics, making and serving lunch, and caring for pets and plants. Children who misbehaved were given nothing to do."
Let me repeat: children who misbehaved were given nothing to do. Getting to work in the classroom/at home and outside with the materials you provide them is a privilege. If they cannot handle doing so with manners, and they know how to, then they do not get to use them. If they do not know how to use the materials, then they need to be given a demonstration on how to use the materials.

I know it is becoming very popular in our culture to never tell a child no, to never hear them cry or allow disappointment. What does this teach them about life? Rules are important in every walk of life, no matter what position you hold. It does children a disservice to not prepare them for how to cope with this, and research shows that if children do not learn how to cope with this as a child (ages birth through age 6) they have far more difficulty learning this later. The brain connections change by this point and much of their wiring is set. Executive functions (coping with disappointment is one of these) are established primarily before age 6.

As educators and parents we are searching for that perfect balance between freedom and limits, between authoritarian and permissive (this middle ground is called authoritative). Research shows that children of authoritative parents/education become the most successful adults and exhibit the most happiness in life. And isn't that what we all want for our children?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our Family Needs Martial Law!

A question by a parent was asked:

My children, ages 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1, have absolutely no sense of how to work together. I'll have the older two work on dishes/cleaning the kitchen together, and all they do is argue and sometimes it gets so bad that one of them starts kicking things, stomping around the house, etc. Each of my children are only concerned with what they want, when they want it, and how they think it should be. We can't run a family this way and my husband and I are at a loss as to how to fix it other than instituting "martial law" which only works for as long as it's in effect and then they go right back to the original problems.

For example, as I was writing this my 2 year old threw a 2x4 scrap of wood at her 4 year old brother because they were arguing about who got to play with a toy car (we're in the middle of a huge house project, which I know has just increased the intensity of the problems, but we already had these problems -- daily! -- before the project).
The only way to fix these problems is either "martial law" or I have to be entirely focused on nothing but the kids, literally every second. The second my attention is taken away from them (even to load the dishwasher) everything starts up again. What can I do????
A little background:We homeschool all of them. We live in a working-poor neighborhood with a crime problem so if they're outside they have to stay within the confines of our yard. My sister-in-law's children are very self-sufficient, to the point that she can be upstairs for hours working and they will watch each other, follow the rules, etc. With my children, if they are not under
constant supervision they steal candy, fight about toys, refuse to do their chores, refuse to play, but constantly say they're bored, etc. We have tried to give them more latitude with what they can do...if my oldest wants to paint, I say "okay" rather than "not now". So, we've gotten better with that, but I don't feel I can say "okay" if he's refused to do his chores first.If it's not what they want to do, they don't do it without a fight :(

Here was my answer:

I'd see where the current fights are happening. Fighting over candy? Remove candy from the house. Fighting over a toy? That toy gets thrown away (or donated, but I wouldn't tell them that, so they do not see donation as a bad thing). Basically, if they do not respect something they cannot have it.

It also sounds like there is a big concern over chores. I am personally very anti-chores. I feel like it is fair for everyone to take responsibility for there own mess, but it is unfair to make people clean up after others. Of course, there are things that must be done by only one person (like taking out the family's trash, mowing, etc), but you can make a list of these in a family meeting and see who volunteers for which task, or if no one does you can make a schedule to rotate those. But as far as dishes, laundry, etc they can be responsible for their own. And-in my opinion, their room is their private space. If they want it messy, that is their business. If they cannot make you clean your room-you can't make them clean theirs. It is a good basic rule- any rules the children must abide by, the adults must abide by as well.

I'd probably start with a big family meeting and let them know that the house has not been peaceful and things need to change. Ask for their opinions on how they think it should change, and of course you and your partner give your opinions as well. No one is permitted to poo-poo anyone's ideas (this includes you-you are not permitted to shoot down ideas during the brainstorming phase, if they say go to DisneyWorld everyday, you write it down seriously). Then you can talk, as a family, about what ideas will work for your family and which will not. Then make a family plan. Meet every week thereafter to tweak the plan as things work out or don't, and to discuss any new problems that have come up.

In addition, when children are feeling squirrelly, it is generally because some need that is not being met. It will take a lot of observation, but try to see what that is for each of your children. When are they working together nicely and cooperatively? When are they fighting? Try to make more space in your lives where the cooperative work is occurring, and less of the times when the fighting is occurring. Put yourself in their shoes. If you didn't feel like doing XYZ and were being made to you'd be in a bad mood. Then have someone push against you (even accidentally), it is going to lead to a volatile situation.

I'd also advise just getting them outside for unstructured time. Dishes can wait, laundry can wait. Meeting there current physical and emotional needs (which many studies show that being in nature fills that need) will cure many of these ills.

I hope this helps any of those out there struggling with the same problems!