follow the child
April 23, 2009
Observing big kids (Patrick and our friends) enjoying some freedom of movement at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.
First off, thank you for all of your kind words about Finnian's room! It was truly a joy to put together and I hope that those of you who are interested in the Montessori approach to infancy will be able to find little bits of inspiration there.
From some of the comments left on the last post, I realize that I didn't clearly articulate some of the philosophy behind the set-up of his room, and that this lack of communication must have left some of you with a feeling that I'm an over-planning, controlling future mama! The fault is my own - sometimes I use too much Montessori lingo and I forget to explain the reasoning behind what can seem like a controlled, meticulously planned approach to childhood. In fact, the opposite is true. The overwhelming goal of a Montessori approach to education and parenting is this: follow the child. Our aims are simple:
- to prepare an environment that gives the child a high level of independence
- to observe the child living freely within this environment
- to continually adapt the environment based on this particular child's personality and needs, consistent with respecting the needs of the community/family of which he is a part.
Thus, the goal behind Finn's room and our parenting philosophy in general is not to place our own expectations on him and guide him through life on a short leash, but rather to provide him with every opportunity to be himself and to give him the freedom and space in which he can develop and express his own special spirit. The Montessori approach actually demands the utmost in parenting flexibility, as we are constantly observing the needs of each specific child and trying out new and different ways in which we can make it easier and more interesting for him or her to navigate through and act meaningfully upon the world at large. I loved how Spider Woman Knits put it: "My only advice is that as parents, no matter what our philosophy, it helps to be deeply rooted. Think of trees. So strong with firm and deep roots but they must be flexible and able to bend with the wind." In Montessori the roots are "Follow the Child, Respect the Child," and the flexible branches are the many ways in which we can do just that.
And let me tell you - I know from my years of experience as a Montessori teacher that there are days when this comes easily and is splendidly joyful and that there are days that are chaotic to the nth degree and you come to the end of the day, bonking your forehead with the palm of your hand, wondering if you've made the right career choice because this. is. so. dang. hard!
Of course, as a parent, the road is even more splendidly joyful and even more frustrating and chaotic because of the emotional, social, and biological bonds we have with our children.
We put this room together, not because we think Finn's childhood or our relationship with him is going to be perfect - it won't be. But we plan to use the Montessori tradition to help guide us through the experience, as an ideal to orient us. Every parent can only do so much, and we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves when things fall apart. We think that having an ideal can be a source of encouragement, to help us recommit after rough patches. Montessori is only one of many wonderful parenting and educational philosophies. It may not appeal to everybody, but it is one that works for us and that we have found particularly fruitful.
I'll leave you, then, with some quotes by Maria Montessori:
I don't need to teach anything to children: it is they who, placed in a favorable environment, teach me.
We must give the child relaxation from the continuous direction of adults. So we give them the right environment, relaxation and freedom from orders.
The liberty of the child should have as its limit the collective interest.
One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.
It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has.
The first duty of the educator, whether he is involved with the newborn infant or the older child, is to recognize the human personality of the young being and respect it.
The needs of humankind are universal. Our means of meeting them create the richness and diversity of the planet.