When I was first researching educational models, one of the main reasons I was drawn to Montessori was the focus on practical life skills and independence.
Early on I could tell how much my son wanted to do things for himself and Montessori gave me the guidance to teach him how to become more independent.
It was beautiful to watch my 18 month old take off his own shoes at the front door and set his own place at the table.
But in listening to a recent episode of Janet Lansbury's podcast, Unruffled, I'm reminded
how I can sometimes push the concept of independence too hard.
I have to admit, the level of independence my son has is a point of pride for me. It's a big part of the Montessori approach that I've latched on to, sometimes forgetting that Dr. Montessori's philosophies were around development of the whole child, with a focus on their emotional well-being.
Don't Call It A Regression...
If you haven't listened to Unruffled before, it's hosted by the educator and author, Janet Lansbury.
She's written the books 'Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting' and 'No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame' and specializes in infant and toddler parenting strategies - mainly communication, discipline, and developing respect between parents and their children.
On a recent episode of her show she had some advice about Montessori-based parenting that really hit home and I thought was worth sharing.
She was responding to a question from a mom that felt her four-year-old was having a major regression.
This child, who had attended a Montessori preschool before the pandemic and was incredibly independent, was now regressing and refusing to do things that he was once able to do for himself.
His mother admitted she was incredibly stressed out about the pandemic, working from home with no childcare, being cooped in her house, etc. and was wondering if these could be related.
Janet had some really interesting feedback for this mom.
She first explained that this wasn't really a regression. The definition of regression is to return to a former state. This is not the case here. She explains that returning to a former, less developed state is impossible for a neurotypical young child, in that, they literally can’t go backwards and erase development.
They can’t unlearn what they have learned.
This toddler wasn't unlearning what he had learned, he just wasn't doing anymore. To label it as a regression, might lead one to believe that the solution is to simply re-teach the skills that a child is no longer performing.
What's more likely happening here is that the stress at home was effecting his emotional state. Rather than regressing, he was putting a pause on some of those skills, and needed a little more help for the time being.
She explained that independence and skill building are a choice that a child makes. Our job is to hold space for it, but not try to push it and make it happen.
What Does Holding Space For Independence Mean?
It means we’re going to give them the opportunity to do it on their own but we can also recognize that maybe today they can't. Maybe today they're too stressed or overwhelmed.
We need to remember that Maria Montessori’s teachings were not just about achieving skills but also understanding the emotional state of children.
Yes, they are amazingly capable. They can achieve all these surprising things when they’re feeling up to it, when they feel safe and calm enough in their home. But when they can’t, they can’t, and it’s not a failure on their part.
So if things have been a little more stressful at home, let's try to have more patience with our children. Even if they don't fully understand what's going on in the world, they likely sense what's going on with us. They're so incredibly perceptive.
Also, you can check out Janet's podcast here if you're interested > https://www.janetlansbury.com/podcast-audio/
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