Last week, a parent shared the changes that he has seen in his young child’s behavior since beginning school in September. In particular, he has noticed her movement toward independence. One of Maria Montessori’s most quoted phrases is,”Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
A Montessori classroom is where a child’s independent nature is nurtured. Teachers are there to lend support and a watchful eye and to teach lessons. They are there to create the space for children to learn, on their own time, in their own ways and on their own schedules. What we know to be true is that humans develop on a timeline that varies slightly for each of us. When children are babies, we are looking for milestones such as walking and talking. As they grow, they begin to read, write and demonstrate other, more academic, skills. Their acquisition is also variable.
We expect schools to teach those more academic skills, to demonstrate that they know how to teach children to read, write and do arithmetic. However, the skills that will help children move forward in life and become the self-possessed individuals we hope for are the so-called “soft skills.” We want children to be independent and able to organize their time and their materials, whether they are toys or books. We want them to be collaborators and to work well with others, to be team players whether on a school project or a soccer field. How do those skills develop? Visit a Montessori classroom and watch the children. They respond to the sense of order, the way items are displayed, and the expectation to care for the items they remove. They understand that, yes, they can do it themselves and that what they can do for themselves grows each day.