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Today I want to talk about Independence.
We all want our child to become independent. But what do we mean by independence?
Many parents come to Montessori because their child want to do something by himself.
Others discover Montessori and have the hope that their little one will be more independent – in other words, that she will play by herself for long stretches of time.
When we think about independence, we picture our child being able to dress and undress, pour her own drink and prepare her own snack.
With what you know about Montessori, maybe you’re providing child’s size items and activities to your little one, demonstrate once, then expect her to repeat the activities on her own.
This is where we can get sorely disappointed!
INDEPENDENCE TAKES TIME!
You may have seen cute pictures of children doing Montessori activities on Instagram.
What you haven’t seen, though, is the long and slow process behind that result… Or the mess they’ve left behind!
I too had unrealistic expectations when I discovered Montessori.
When my daughter was a baby, I designed her environment to contain few toys and promote her freedom of movement. She was very contended.
When I completed my training, my daughter was a young toddler.
I prepared our environment and I showed her some practical life activities. She was around 2 years old.
I expected her to do the practical activities on her own, but she was following me everywhere.
At the time I thought she was clingy, but in fact, she couldn’t find what she needed: a guide.
The Montessori teacher is called a “directress” because she is there to guide, not to teach or control.
But she is there, especially in the early years. Her role is to show, observe and offer a carefully planned process to foster the child’s independence.
As a first-time mother and newly trained teacher, I was missing a key element of Montessori education. I just had one goal: 5 minutes of peace! Here is your beautiful environment, be independent for 5 minutes and let me drink my tea!
It seems that our child’s independence is the Holy Grail.
But it shouldn’t be our goal, as Judith Orion reminded me. If you haven’t heard about Judith, she is the directress of the Birth to 3 AMI training programs at the Montessori Institute of Denver.
To quote her, “Independence is not the Holy Grail. Young children need functional independence”.
For children under the age of 3, it’s all about physical independence, the ability to use their body, to strengthen their gross and fine motor skills. It’s about language, being able to ask, to name and to make themselves understood.
Without those basic skills, a child will not be able to pour his own drink.
So, the goal is not to be able to serve themselves a snack, the goal is to develop skills that will later make them independent.
This is why we help them to do stuff by themselves, BUT WE ARE STILL THERE!
We need to be patient, assess our expectations, and support their quest toward independence.
I love this quote from Maria Montessori: “never help a child at a task which he feels can succeed”.
This quote is very famous among Montessori enthusiasts.
Yes, we need to let the child try. But the second part of this quote is important too: “a task which he feels he can succeed”.
If we see Independence as the Holy Grail, like I did, we become pushy, we let our child try to the point of frustration or we feel annoyed that he cannot do it yet. We compare our child to other children.
Ah, again the danger of social media comparison!
We need to follow our own child. What is she capable of doing today? What is the extra step she needs to achieve this particular task? What can we do to support her independence?
Also, check what you could do in the kitchen with a toddler. I deliberately didn’t include ages as you need to follow your own child!
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Carine Robin is a a mother of 2 children. She raises them the Montessori way. Originally from Belgium where she worked as a child psychologist for several years, Carine spent 6 years in Ireland before settling in in the UK. She qualified as a Montessori teacher 10 years ago and has since worked as Montessori teacher and preschool manager. She founded Montessori-family in 2011 to provide opportunities for parents to discover Montessori. She believes that it’s truly possible to implement the Montessori ideas at home to make your house and family life welcoming to your child, her needs and her thrive for independence. She offers parents & babies classes, toddlers playgroups; Montessori home designs, one to one support, parenting classes and online courses.
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