This article is about a study involving children between the ages of 8 – 16, but imagine if this kind of environment is provided to children as infants all the way through their teen years? The description of the environment offered to the children in this study very closely resembles a Montessori prepared environment. Of course guidance is given and teaching is offered, but it’s based on the interests of the child, not the lesson plans of the teacher.
I recognized these character traits in many kids when I taught in public elementary and middle schools years ago, and it’s no surprise to me that it hasn’t changed or is maybe even worse now than it was then. Along the same lines as an earlier post entitled “Silent Tragedy”, I don’t think any parent sets out for their child to acquire these traits. In my experience, most parents mean well and really want the best for their child, but just don’t realize how they might be harming their child’s development by parenting choices that they make. Parenting is a difficult job, and every child and family is different, but there are some essential elements of childhood development that parents must be aware of and understand in order to really provide what a child needs. It’s critical that parents provide the guidance that the child needs and not always just settle in the moment for what a child wants. As a parent myself, I will be the first to admit this is much easier said than done. But for the sake of our children, it must be done!
Teacher Tom gets it right when he says that children’s play is also rigorous learning, but with joy! I don’t see my job as having to teach toddlers and preschoolers letters, numbers, math, reading, etc. I provide materials for them to learn these things through activities of their choosing. I have never sat my 3 year old down to purposely teach him his letters and numbers but I am observing that he has learned them through play. We count jumps on the trampoline, or vehicles that he has lined up near a railroad crossing on his wooden train tracks. He makes letters of the alphabet with his magnet toys and blocks, and tells me the letters he knows when we are out in the car seeing buildings or trucks with big signs. He learns about measurement and physics through play in the sandbox, and he learns about balance when he creates obstacle courses either for himself to climb on, or for him to drive his toy cars and trucks around on them. Learning is fun for children and always a joy, for them and for me, when they learn through play!
I agree with this author about what is happening with trends in childcare these days. As a daycare provider, I have seen many children and families come and go and have observed children who are being stressed out by parent behavior and children who succeed because of parent behavior. Nobody has all the right answers, but there are some things that become clearer to me with each passing year, and with each new child and family that I meet. All of the parents mean well and try really hard to raise their children well, but despite their efforts, many parents don’t realize just how much some of their behaviors are negatively affecting their child.
If we want children to become independent, we have to give them opportunities to make choices and understand the consequences (good and bad) of those choices. If we want them to become problem solvers, they need to be given opportunities to solve their own problems. We need to give the child language and examples on how to solve problems, but we can’t step in all of the time to solve the problem for them.
If we want children to have a positive self esteem, we need to give opportunities for them to do everything possible by and for themselves, and offer only “necessary” help. Then, praise can be given for real accomplishments, and guidance given to learn ways to cope with failures. The most important is not to be afraid to say “no” when what a child wants is not what the child needs. When you know that saying” no” will result in a tantrum, it’s tempting to give in to the child because you don’t want to put up with the tantrums. But this is what the child needs – clear and consistent boundaries and limits. Children also need opportunities to learn patience, build will power, and to delay gratification. They aren’t naturally wired to do this before the age of 3, but can learn it if given the opportunity. Oppositely, they will learn to develop a sense of entitlement if clear and consistent boundaries are not set.
Many parents don’t like to hear this from me, just as the author states about her experiences at the beginning of the article. I’m sure it sounds like I am being uncaring and mean to the child, but this is what the child needs; a parent and a guide, not a friend. Nobody wants to hear a child screaming and crying, of course. We automatically think surely this means that the child is stressed and hurt and we have to step in and help, and do something to get the crying to stop. But a crying child does not always need to be picked up or have all of his problems solved by an adult so that the crying stops. A crying child needs “necessary” help and a lot of guidance, and the opportunity to solve a problem, in order to resolve the crying, by himself. Sometimes this is just being given the opportunity to learn how to calm himself down in order to begin to talk about how to solve a problem together. I’m not saying a crying child should be ignored, and of course sometimes what the child needs is hugs and to be comforted physically. However, if we always step in, the child will always rely on an adult to solve his problems, and will never learn to do this for himself, which ultimately leads to insecurity, anxiety, lack of independence, and lack of self-esteem.
When a child is given what he needs he develops self control, self-esteem, independence, and a real sense of security so that he can go forward and explore the world without fear or anxiety. And then it is truly a joy to be a guide in their growth and development.
“Kids learn to be self-sufficient, independent thinkers by figuring out how to react to uncomfortable situations. But how will that happen if they’re always comfortable?
Love your kids, but let them bleed a little. Let them fail. Let them figure out how to act when no one’s watching, or at least let them think no one’s watching. They’ll thank you for it later.”
As an early childhood care provider I do feel pressure to be sure that children are learning every day. At the same time, I know that learning happens every day, no matter if it can be measured in any significant way or not, and no matter whether there are high quality interactions and materials provided or not. But obviously, with quality interactions, conversations, and developmentally appropriate books and materials provided, quality learning does happen every day, again, even though it cannot be quantitatively measured. This is what I strive to provide, and to achieve, as a “measure” of my own success, so to speak.
At such a young age (under 6 years), and arguably at any age, learning should really not be so measured. So I agree, we should stop trying to “make” everything educational, and just let “education” happen naturally through freedom of exploration and play. Children naturally want to learn about their world. Let’s be sure to let that happen naturally and not squander their natural love of learning by trying to “force” learning.
I am a teacher by profession, and I agree with Teacher Tom here, who shares his wisdom (and wisdom from Mister Rogers) about the volunteer parents caring for the children in his cooperative preschool. Give children freedom to learn through playing and trust the love and care that thoughtful parents bestow on all of the children in their own child’s community. This is a strong foundation for a lifetime love of learning.
“It’s love and play that form the foundation of a good education. Without that, the rest is worse than useless, it’s meaningless.”
Parents who understand this concept don’t expect their infants and toddlers to bring home great artistic products, displays, reports, etc. on a daily basis. It’s difficult, because parents want to know what their child is doing every day in their absence, and what he is accomplishing in the long term, even and especially, at this young age. But, at this young age, children need space and opportunity to explore and create, with guidance on the “how”, and not on any kind of finished product to show off daily accomplishments. Those kinds of “accomplishments” may not be serving them much purpose in the long run, despite their popularity in childcare centers throughout the U. S.
In the right environment, your child is making huge accomplishments every day, especially if there is not a finished product to show off at the end of every day, week, or even month. Often the “finished product” is a result of how well your child follows teacher-centered instructions, not an indication of his knowledge or his physical and creative developmental acquisitions. Without the finished product being forced to completion and display, the child is learning about the process of artistic materials such as why markers, crayons, paint, and pencils, work the way they do. And how the paper fits in to the process of using those materials. He is learning about physics when he is continuously rolling cars and trucks around the environment.
It takes a lot of faith and trust in your childcare provider, and some reasonable amount of daily, weekly, and monthly communication on their observations of your child’s development, even if it’s to say, “This week he was just continuing on with driving the cars and trucks around the floor, table, couch and windowsill!” Your child is gathering useful life skills from these activities, be it processing something relatable such as what he sees in traffic, or something much more abstract such as developing reasoning skills, or concentration.
Maria Montessori calls this the “Secret of Childhood” – we may not understand what is the driving force behind the child’s seemingly obsessive needs to repeat seemingly trivial actions, but when there is concentration present, it should not be disturbed, regardless of the adult’s understanding of it. The child is learning – regardless of our ability to put a label or a finished product on the end of the task in order to have a product to show to prove that learning has possibly or apparently occurred.
The way this mother discusses the topic of toddlers “sharing” toys, is very much in line with the Montessori philosophy of “sharing” and the same that I strive to practice in my in-home daycare. Toddlers don’t really have a concept of “other” as far as feelings or emotions. They just aren’t capable of that right now. So, a toddler who doesn’t share is a “normal” toddler! It’s really fruitless to try to get toddlers to understand the concept of sharing this early in their development. And let’s face it – the idea of “sharing” in and of itself is not so simple. I talk to the children about their frustrations when another child takes something or has something that is desired, and help them to begin to understand, but demanding that your toddler (or someone else’s) “share” could be really damaging to them emotionally, rather than helpful or polite.
Yes, this sounds like a really harsh thing to say, but when you think about it, you will realize that your child needs every opportunity to practice and ultimately “learn” how to concentrate, if concentration is an important skill that you want your child to develop. And I’m sure that this is an important skill that you wish for your child to develop. It is for me.
(I’m putting “learn” in quotes only because it’s not generally something children actually learn how to do…it is natural for them to do, and generally “taught” out of them because of adult interference. Albeit in the name of love, wanting your child to develop important skills, and thinking you are helping…
With this concept in mind, understand what Teacher Tom (and myself) are trying to say… give your child some space to learn on his own, to just “be” and explore his world. Yes, if your child approaches you with an object, a book, a picture, or pointing to something in the environment that is interesting to him – talk to him about it! And by all means, be the instigator of interesting experiences. Count the numbers, name the colors, etc. But when your child is “in his own world” exploring his surroundings, don’t interrupt with stupid questions.