Social and Emotional Learning

Bursting the Montessori Bubble

“At what point do you burst the Montessori bubble?” a friend recently asked.  She has two young children in Montessori, but is considering enrolling them in a traditional private school after they finish Primary.

My first thought (as a former Montessori child and current parent and teacher) was, Why would you want to burst it?

Why leave Montessori if you don’t have to?Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 8.20.05 PM

But my friend is not alone in her concern: many parents feel that Montessori shelters children from tests, grades, and competition.  Based on their own childhoods, these parents believe that only a conventional approach to education can provide the tough experiences that will prepare children to be successful when faced with the hardships of real life.

Finding myself at a loss for a coherent answer, I posed the question to pediatric neuropsychologist and Montessori parent Dr. Steve Hughes over dinner.  He looked at me from behind his glasses for a moment, and then asked:

“Which is the real bubble?”

His question was all the answer I needed.

Because the truth is, success in life is not built on a foundation of standardized tests, but on the freedom to make difficult choices and experience their consequences.

Success in life is not built on grades and percentages, but on self-awareness and self-improvement.

Success in life is not built on artificial competition among same-aged peers, but on genuine collaboration between generations.

Success in life is not built on cheating the system, but on having the wisdom and courage to transform it.

In Dr. Maria Montessori’s words…

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?… The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future.  If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities.” 

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Filling the Bucket

An acquaintance recently posted this picture on his Facebook page:

Nice imagery… But how do you fill that darn bucket?  Praise?  Rewards?  A bucket full of “good jobs”, A+, and gold medals?  Honestly, I don’t think it’s the parents’ responsibility to fill the bucket.  Only by letting the child fill it on his own will we ensure that it will never run dry.

The only way we can encourage the child to fill his own bucket is by giving him experiences in which he can find success.  The crawling baby will feel a sense of achievement when he can get out of bed on his own; the toddler will rejoice when he spreads jelly on a piece of bread all by himself; the pre-schooler will know he’s capable when he figures out how to tie his own tennis shoes; the 9-year old will understand his worth when he carries groceries for an elderly woman; the adolescent will lift his chin when he can teach his dad how to fix an engine; the young adult will feel proud when his invention touches the lives of others.

Intertwined in all these experiences are two important concepts: trusting the child and giving him freedom with responsibility.  In each instance, the adult had to trust not only the child’s ability, but also his capacity for problem-solving and assuming responsibility when things go wrong (and things often do when mastering a new skill).  How can the pre-schooler feel successful about tying his shoelaces if we only buy him shoes with velcro (and even worse, insist on helping him with his shoes)?  How can the 9-year old help an elderly person if we don’t give him the skills and freedom to cross the street on his own?  Should we send the motorcycle to the mechanic or trust our adolescent when he says he can fix it?  Must we force the young adult to stick to the career path we think suits him best, or let him follow his heart and mind?

Praise makes the child dependent on you to fill his bucket; trust sets him free to fill it on his own.

So long as you are still worried about what others think of you, you are owned by them. Only when you require no approval from outside yourself can you own yourself. ~Neale Donald Walsch