Building independence is such an important part of what parents can nurture in their children and what we, as Montessorians, highly value in the classroom. In the prepared environment of the classroom, it's set up to allow children to be in charge of many, many decisions as they go through their day. Taking initiative, thinking, then finally acting is an important process that children must practice. Practicing being independent is a critical life skill as children will be making very important decisions before we know it and they must be able to discern, think critically, take perspective and finally act after they have thought through options. In our classroom the children make many decisions throughout their day, which leads to building confidence and building independence. As teachers, our role is so important-we have to observe and get to know each child intimately so we can best support and guide them as they develop and become who they are meant to be. Our decision to move in or not is tender and fragile and when not respected, can halt independence and send a message to a child that we don't believe in them. The teachers have to demonstrate self control and patience as we watch children-often times, their choices lead to consequences that aren't desirable, but are important in the learning process such as a mess, or hurt feelings, or a conflict, but that's ok. This is where learning happens.
Children arrive at school each day and they have learned what to do: they organize their items they bring to school (backpacks, coats, snow gear, lunch etc). They watch as other children organize, they get reminders from teachers and are shown how to do it, they work very hard making decisions as to how things can fit on their hook. They check their folder to see if they have any work from the prior day, then wash their hands. As they enter the classroom, they greet their friends, notice any changes in the classroom and get acclimated to start their day. After they wash their hands, they can get started on their work. Some children know exactly what they want to choose, others walk around and think about where they would like to start. Others, may need some support from a teacher to make a choice. As they choose work, interact with friends and ask for or join lessons, their brain is hard at work-To allow children the space (freedom) and time (freedom) to engage their brain/heart/bodies into where they are spending time is such a gift. We want to allow them the space and time to make choices, then experience what that choice brings. There are many built in structures/boundaries in the classroom that children learn to navigate through. I love thinking of the many questions children must ask themselves as they work in the classroom: what work do I want to choose? who do I want to socialize with? is this a rug work or table work? is this a work that requires being done on the tile (water/paint)? how do I do this work? do I need a lesson? who can ask to give me a lesson? how can I communicate with my teachers and friends? can I find a table? what materials do I need to do this work? The list goes on and on.....
Parents can help foster independence at home. When engaging with your child, ask questions rather than tell or direct. Give them opportunity to engage. Instead of just saying something like 'clean your room'. Take them to their room and say something like this: 'I notice you have a lot of clothes on the floor and your puzzle is still out from yesterday and I see that the legos didn't get put back in the bin'. "What do you think we can do about this?".....Children are so creative and helpful-when we engage them in this way, they feel respected and believed in. Give them a choice as to when they can clean it up-'Would you like to clean your room before or after dinner?'.....young children will need assistance in a big task such as cleaning a room-help them organize items into bins or on trays. Less is definitely more-if your home is cluttered with many toys, might be a good idea to scale down a bit. So many things can be overwhelming for parents and children. Engage children in helping out with preparing a meal. Young children can help set a table, help with grocery shopping and preparing food. There are many kitchen tools that are easy for children to use. They will love helping and may even enjoy eating the meal more if they helped prepare it. Children can also be given freedom in what they wear-fill their closet/drawers with acceptable items, then allow them to choose-this is an area they can be creative and be independent. Listening is a great way to learn about your child's likes and dislikes. Giving them freedom to express themselves is very healthy and leads to them having a positive sense of self.
Have fun with your kids-would love to hear how you help your child build independence!