Monday, March 15, 2010

Continuation of previous post

Someone left the following in the comments, but she had her email address in it and I wanted to avoid it being stolen by spam programs! So, here's her comment:

I'm having such a hard time with this "child freedom to choose his own work and rhythm". I began using the Montessori method with my 8 yo this semester. I love it, he loves it but I feel that he needs to do everything quickly enough so he could catch up. We began with the 6-9 curriculum. He's a very smart kid but extremely lazy. If I don't pressure him he would play all day long. We usually plan goals for the week that include almost every subject. I "let" him choose but end up convincing him to do a little from every subject. As days go by I start getting anxious by all the work he needs to complete. And, of course, I end up telling him what he need to do to met the goal. I know I'm doing it all wrong but don't know how to change this. I would love to hear from you soon.

My response:

There is a difference between pressuring and putting limits or providing a structure. Saying, "Mornings are work-time" is a limit. Yes, someone could claim it's coercion, but we're not talking about unschooling here! Think of it more as "freedom within limits".

*You are free to choose any math work you want.
*You are free to ask me to show you something.
*You are free to help me with my own projects or to ask help for your projects.

*You are NOT free to go play with Lego.
*You are NOT free to go play outside.
*You are NOT free, etc.

If you have a look in "The Montessori Method" (the book), somewhere near the end, there is a schedule of the opening days of the Montessori preschools. They were very structured and routine. As days progressed and students became more self-directed, the schedule kind of disappeared a bit (although some basics would stay, like lunch, of course!) because it was no longer needed. But the non-self-directed child DOES need some structure, some routine, and so the beginning of a year usually starts very structured.

I have found in my home that I periodically need to "start over". It's not just that the schedule has fallen apart, the work has fallen apart, too. And to be honest, I still have not been able to get my 9yo son to work consistently; part of that is my own lack of consistency, part of it is who he is--while my daughter could work three-hour mornings at that age, I think he might go crazy LOL. We're working on building it up. Back to my point, when things start falling apart, I either rewrite an old schedule/routine or I make up a completely new one and we start over. In a classroom, the rhythm of the sheer number of students helps pull back "into line" those who may be waning. At home, there's a bit more of a concerted effort.

At 8, your son is probably very capable of sitting down with you, discussing the issue with you ("It's important to work on improving skills and so we must have a work time. I'll be working, too. What kinds of things would you like to do during work time? Here are some of my ideas. Etc."). Know that you will probably have to do a lot of presentations/showing him things at first, inviting him to come do something with you, or giving him a choice between, say, a science lesson or a language lesson. Provide limits!

Some people like to have more limits than Montessori would insist on and have their children/students have a certain requirement each week: 5 language works need to be done, 3 science works, 4 math works, etc. One thing that can be helpful is using a chart or a journal for tracking what's being done. With a chart, you or he can just write in a little something about what was done or even just put a checkmark. The next morning, you can have a look at how much got done or what got done. If a child doesn't have any particular passion at the moment, then they can be guided into, "I notice you haven't done any math at all this week. Do you want to work on something you've already done or would you like me to give you a lesson on something new?" Some schools use a journal system, where the child writes down the time he starts working on something, a very brief description of the work, then when he's done, he writes the time he finished.

The best thing you could do for yourself is to let go. :) Goals do NOT have to be met. I had a goal of improving my German to a point to spend a year in Germany after university. I then started seeing my husband and we got married right out of university. I didn't fail at my goal; my goals changed. There's nothing wrong with that.

Try to hold your tongue on the convincing; try to kick out any thought of "he's behind." He's not behind. God has not written something somewhere saying that this Montessori work or that knowledge needs to be known by Friday! It's our own fears that cause us to try to convince our kids that more has to be done, that it has to be done more quickly, etc. Maria Montessori knew this and one of the things she insisted on was that teachers constantly work on inner preparation, to be aware of the things *inside themselves* that would get in the way of the child's development.

If you want to think of it in another way, if you want your son to learn to be self-directed, he needs you to learn to let go more. The more you decide, the less he does.

Create some reminders for yourself. Start your day seeing yourself respond exactly as you would like to respond to him. Remind yourself that it's not the end of the world if he doesn't get as much math done this week, or even this year, as you would like. Remind yourself that Montessori elementaries were originally 6-12, not 6-9, and so there is lots of time to cover everything. Remind yourself that not everything needs to be covered. The goal is to have children who love learning, know how to learn and can do it independently, right? The Montessori curriculum is the means of doing that, not the end in itself.




Correne said...

This is brilliant! I often say that I don't really care WHAT the kids are doing, as long as they are doing something productive. I find that a perfect day is when they are absorbed in work or projects (or play, depending on the age).

I have one child who can easily dream up projects to work on, another one who needs a lot of suggestions but is basically willing, and one more who never wants to do anything and often complains of being "bored."

I like the idea of "freedom within limits," that they can choose any available work, but that playing with Lego or going outside may not be available. I have always swung between unschooling ideas and a more structured approach, never sure what I really believe. This is like the perfect compromise.

Thank you!

D. said...

You are welcome! I take no credit for "freedom within limits", though (only passing it along), as it's a Montessori "mantra." ;)

D. said...

I should have added some more common Montessori-acceptable activities:

You are free to take care of the environment (cleaning, organize, declutter, etc.).

You are free to do cooking (albeit, possibly supervised).

You are free to do things like learn how to maintain your bike, etc.

You are free to learn how to take stains out of clothing, or to do your laundry.

You are free to sew.


These are all "practical life" activities and would all be seen as wonderfully accepted activities!

Correne said...

That is a good point. I often tell the kids that if they don't want to do schoolwork, that there is plenty of housework available, but they usually see that more like punishment, rather than a perfectly acceptable choice.

I suppose I could change my tone so they truly feel free to tackle household projects.

D. said...

It doesn't even have to be a change of tone. You could all sit down together and write up a list or chart of anything that counts for during school time. That way, when they're complaining about what to do, you can just direct them to the list and say there's plenty to choose from and you're confident they'll find something they'll enjoy.