Tala Wagner, a Montessori educator and mom, describes what fostering independence means at home, and how it shapes a child’s work in the Montessori classroom. Read on!
Montessori parents often tout the academic benefits of a Montessori education. Even more worthy of note is the character of the children who attend those schools. It is often said that Montessori schools foster independent, confident children. But beginning the journey of a Montessori parent takes a huge leap of faith. To talk about independence and real items such as knives and glass objects in the same breath might incite panic in families considering Montessori education.
But what are we really talking about when we say independence in the classroom? And what does the term mean for families at home?
Maria Montessori’s own vision for early childhood education was to be an “aid to life”. She wrote that “to aid life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the basic task of the educator”. Many Montessori schools call the adults in the classroom “guides”. Adults in the Montessori classroom do not teach by disseminating information. They provide a prepared environment for children to reach their own discoveries, with plenty of failures and triumphs along the way.
In order to provide a personalized education, Montessori guides spend much time observing each child. They see what a child is mastering, what a child enjoys, and what a child needs more time practicing. So, for example, after months of watching a child handle glass bowls and cups with care, refine their motor skills through practical life works, and spend increasing amounts of time concentrating on works, a Montessori guide might introduce that particular child to bread or cheese cutting… with a knife.
So what is the point in fostering independence in our children (besides letting them use sharp objects)?
Our children know how to solve problems. Independence is an ability to discriminate between “this is tough” and “this is truly beyond my ability”. It is both a determination to trust oneself, and the ability to see getting help as a solution instead of a failure. Independence means empowering our children to trust themselves.
To cultivate a home life filled with independent opportunities, you do not have to be a trained Montessori professional, just an observant and mindful parent. Ask yourself what you can do to help your children help themselves. Do they need more time to get dressed without help or interference? Embrace little mistakes. Is there a low shelf with cleaning supplies so they can clean their own spills? Anticipate their needs. Is there a water source available so they can get their own drinks? Decide what works best for your home and your family. Find what you can do to nurture the independent spirit in your little ones.
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