Tuesday, April 3, 2012

MontessoriSeeds: Right Perception Coupled With Discipline

(My first blog on discipline is important to read before this one)
In the book "The Tao of Montessori: Reflections on Compassion" by Catherine Mc Tamaney, she has a great quote with regards to discipline and perception.

If we have neither sufficient experience nor love to enable us to distinguish the fine and delicate expressions of the child's life, if we do not know how to respect them, then we perceive them only when they are manifested violently.  ~ Maria Montessori

This falls very nicely into the concept of the pendulum needing to stay more in the center.  So many of us have misperceptions both of Montessori and more authoritarian perspectives on parenting such as the ones that John Rosemond seems to express (I will say that John Rosemond does have some similarities to Montessori's philosophy).  Yet, on a different note this just goes to show how well Montessori 'got it'.  This blog is about helping to dispel some of these illusions.

First, I want to start with the concept of right perception.  By right I mean as accurate and as educated of a perception as possible.  A whole new experience occurs when we sit back and observe our child.  We have to peel away the attachments that come along with observing to get to the core of what is going on.  When you observe an object such as an apple, your mind automatically forms attachments to that object, judgements.  Observe it for what it is, what you see, not even what you perceive on an atomic level.  Sure atoms are so compact that it makes this solid sitting in front of you.  However, you are not observing this.  Just like you are not observing the child's inner feelings.  You are observing a reflection or opposite reaction of what is going on internally.  Remember, observe it for what it is, not for what you judge it to be.  That is the start to a helpful and 'right' perception. 

Right perception opens your mind to prepare the child's environment in such a way that his or her needs will be met, discipline will be found, and the child can move on to fulfill the next internal need.  Montessori believed that deviations in behavior simply come from internal needs not being met.  Think about how you respond as an adult in a given situation when your needs are not met, or how you want to respond but have the will-power, hopefully, to choose not to. 

In talking about needs, we have to talk about right perception.  There is a difference of course between a child's needs and his or her desires.  We are not respecting the child if we are giving into their desires.  As adults, we also have a duty to not give into our children because it is easier for us.  This is what Montessori is also talking about when she says respect the child.  Give the child the opportunity for success, and you will know you have successfully done this when the deviated behavior is not longer displayed. 

We are supposed to discipline our children, teachers and parents, are meant to help the child teach themselves.  That is discipline.   When an adult gets angry and punches a hole in the wall or worse, think about what the consequences are when that happens.  Think about the possible logical and natural consequences.  Does someone go up to the adult and say to him or her, "Aw, you must have felt frustrated, let's talk about a better way to handle that for next time buddy?"  I really do not think so.  We are doing the elementary aged child and older a disservice if we do anything other then give them natural and logical consequences.  Grounding them for a week with no television has nothing to do with punching a hole in the wall.

Change your perception and discipline will come.  Not only for the child in the classroom or at home but for the adult as well.  Believe me I know that no one said it would be easy.  However, it is possible to have fun with it.  Think of it as a mystery game that you have to figure out.  It is a life puzzle.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Patience is a Virtue

In this fast paced present day world there is no time for patience. Or so it seems, especially in a traditional classroom. However, I think many people are beginning to recognize we cannot afford as a society microcosmically or macrocosmically to not exercise patience and other virtues for that matter. In my mind, this is what separates the so called “Montessori community” from the mainstream community. It is my contention that pretty much every parent and educator realizes this, at least in the back of their minds.

Presently, it is those Montessori parents that have the courage to allow guides to exercise patience and other virtues in themselves, and give their child or children the gift of a good Montessori centered education. More parents have come from public schools this year than any other year to observe my classroom. Upon listening to the radio, experiencing the many visits from public school parents, and speaking with public school teachers, I can’t help but believe the tides are changing.

How amazing it would be to experience the end of “Industrial Revolution Education” in the United States. What an incredible experience it would be to witness the integration of true Montessori education and the like. It does not have to be just the ideas of Montessori, as there were many great thinkers that also contributed to her works and thought similarly to her. But, how marvelous to be a part of a time where education could possibly be about the child throughout our mainstream education system.  I recognize many things need to occur for all of this to happen. I would like to introduce something that I have known, yet had not more fully experienced until this past month. It has to do with patience as a foundation in the guide’s ability to educate.

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ~ Plato

I believe that patience is something that can never be completely attained, but is rather something that needs to be practiced and exercised daily, as you would a muscle. This especially holds true for parents and teachers. So, at best, by being harsh and forceful with a child you are temporarily controlling. One must discover with patience how to amuse the child and, as Montessori says “seduce the child”. As Montessori parents, this is what you are giving us (Montessori guides) permission to do. You are giving us the time to observe, to persuade, and step back to let your child’s genius express itself. I humbly thank you for that trust and opportunity. I know of no other place that allows this to unfold.

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think—rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.”
 ~ John Dewey

Many say we want this for ourselves and our children, but we are afraid to go on the path that it takes to get there. It may be difficult to let go of our personal experiences of education. A part of us knows, we had things that were missing when we were growing up. One of those things was a pure enjoyment of going to school. How many parents can say math, language or science was their favorite subject in school? How many of you enjoyed lunch, gym, or snow days more? Meanwhile, I am constantly amazed at how much so many of the children in my class love school and learning. They are overtly happy to be here. It is even hard to get many of them to leave at the end of the day. This does not happen just in my class, either. I have had the same experience in several Montessori classrooms in several different states. In addition, many of the teachers I trained with told me the same thing of their students and the students of the classrooms they observed.

This brings me back to the practice of patience, not only with our children but with our selves. Maria Montessori says, “We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master.” Over the past month I have really been able to digest this quote more than before. It had a bit of a negative connotation for me until now. Admittedly, I have my own stigmas and expectations. Taking it a step further, I have assumed expectations in my mind that you have for each of your children. But, something magical happens when I can briefly forget all of that, and place myself as the servant to your children. It is my duty to put my personal feelings, and about what I think your possible feelings are, aside. This way I can observe and persuade based on their interests as objectively as possible.

"As soon as children find something that interests them they lose their instability and learn to concentrate." - The Secret of Childhood:: Fides Publishers, 1966 :: p. 145

After all that is our goal, for your children to concentrate. No one truly concentrates on anything other than what interests them. At some point throughout the six years of elementary your child is to experience all of that which is in the prepared environment and more. Believe it or not, I have to remind myself of this for you, when those warranted and engrained fears creep in. Is my child reading fluently and comprehending by the end of second grade? Does my child know all of his or her times tables by the end of third grade? Can my child name all of the states, capitals, and spell them correctly by fifth grade? Is my child writing paragraphs and paraphrasing correctly for report writing by the end of fourth grade?

"Our task is to show the way to discipline. Discipline is born when the child concentrates his attention on some objects that attracts him and provides him not only with a useful exercise but with a control of error." - The Absorbent Mind :: Clio Press Limited, 1994 :: p. 240

Here, Montessori is expressing what the Prepared Environment does for the child. It also leads to an interest of exploring the world. For example, some children expressed an interest in art and went to the art museum in Philadelphia after researching different works of art in the classroom. Several children have done research on Leonardo Di Vinci and are now planning on going to his exhibit at the Franklin Institute. It is awe-inspiring to be a part of the experience of so many different children, and to see what happens to them, as they become inspired and concentrate.

There are three things that tend to cause a child to act out or not do as we would like them to do; they are overstimulation, tiredness, or boredom. The hard part, what most don’t have patience for, is deciphering which one it is, and then figuring out what to put in front of the child for him or her to discover. We give them the environment and what is in the environment and they make the discovery. When it comes from them, or when they believe it comes from them, they own it.

As I stated earlier patience is a virtue. Without it, we cannot achieve what we want for our children to achieve. I believe you’re giving the gift(s) of patience and other virtues to your children by sending them to an A.M.I. Montessori classroom. You are giving me the gift of experiencing it and being a part of it. Let’s take this opportunity to remind ourselves of all of this, relax (but not too much), and smile.

Discipline For The Elementary Aged Child

Any age person needs discipline in order to be successful and fulfilled.  Discipline is often a misunderstood term with a negative connotation.  Modern definitions of discipline relate to punishment, control and order.  However, this is not what discipline means in its originally intended form. 

When someone has discipline they have the ability to motivate themselves regardless of a negative emotional state.  Someone with discipline demonstrates will power, the ability to work hard and is persistent. Parents and teachers have a duty to instill discipline.  However, because of the many gimmicks out there, the misunderstandings of what works short term and what works long term, and the ignorant guidance of many so called professionals, our parents, children, and teachers are struggling.  It seems to me that as a generation we are experiencing a pendulum effect.  It is up to us, the parents and teachers, to keep the pendulum from swinging and find the balance in the middle.

The generation that grew up until the late sixties experienced 'punishment', 'repression of feelings', 'order', 'structure', and 'complacency'.  Then in the seventies there was more of a swing in the pendulum.  The protection of feelings took precedence.  Thomas Gordan had a best selling book with a theme that highlighted what many professionals were starting to share with parents and other professionals.  The message was that since children do not like being told what to do, they should not be told what to do.  Also, if parents continued to be authoritative, their children would fill the offices of psychologists when they became adults.  So, there was a stream of acceptance of feelings and disregard for the controlling of those feelings.  This in turn lead to a pitfall of children that did not learn discipline.  These two extremes have lead to exclusivity, anxieties, and a need to hang on tighter to one of these two ways of raising our children. 

With all of this said, discipline for the elementary aged child can best be instilled with the right understanding and application of freedom and responsibility.  Dr. Maria Montessori had an incredibile understanding of these concepts upon studying the development of numerous children throughout the world.  To be free is to not be under the control of some arbitrary power, but to be given the freedom to only be restricted by ones own limits.  The adult should create this safe and 'free' environment in the classroom and at home.  Adults should purposefully create the environment for the child to be free within.  Montessori calls this the prepared environment.  Freedom and a prepared environment alone minimizes a child's mental and emotional abnormalities and struggles.  Responsibility is another piece to this puzzle which brings about self-discipline. When a child is taught and can distinguish right from wrong, and be held accountable for his or her behavior either by themselves or the adult then they can have more freedom.  Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand and consequences for given actions should be natural or logical for the sake of teaching discipline, being taught in and of it self, not to control a behavior that the adults wants.  Montessori taught that teachers should be guides for the child to act freely and responsibly in society with discipline so that they may be successful contributing members.  I think parents should be guides too.  No one said it was easy, but no one said it was impossible either. 

Please know that there is a lot more to be said and learned then what is written within the contents of this blog with regards to Dr. Montessori.  This is simply meant to be a seed for others to enjoy and to do with it what they will.  A lot of the information disseminated within comes from my experience, understanding, training and research.  I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to your comments.