I hope the holiday season was wonderful for you and that somewhere in those days your were able to find a way to take care of yourself. It’s a valiant cause, taking care of oneself, yet one we all too frequently postpone. Amid all of our responsibilities we can’t seem to find the time for ourselves. Perhaps as children we were never taught how to care of ourselves. I don’t mean how to dress or feed ourselves, not that kind of taking care of ourselves. I mean taking care of our inner person as well as our whole person.
Maria Montessori was very concerned about teaching children of all ages to become independent and ultimately able to care for themselves. So we find that at our school even little children are active in pouring their own glasses of water, getting snacks, tying their shoes, buttoning their sweaters, and zipping their jackets, while the older children camp overnight and set their own tents. There are many lessons of practical life that are taught to the students at the Center so that they feel competent, become competent, and learn to take care of themselves.
But there are ways in which we also teach children at our school to take care of their inner selves, their emotions, their feelings, and even their thoughts. We begin by giving voice to their feelings. Initially we help them find the words to express their feelings, and then we give them the forum for discussing these feelings. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just ARE, so children of all ages need to feel safe in talking about how they feel.
So often we adults are worried about our children’s physical safety, but we at the Center are vitally concerned about our students’ emotional safety as well. We know that at different times in the child’s life vulnerabilities emerge. Without giving attention to these periods of risk for our children, without creating a protective cocoon for not only the very small child but also the emerging adolescent student, we do in fact put their development at risk, and ultimately we put their emotional stability in jeopardy. We think that by providing education for the inner person we are in fact educating the whole child and contributing to the child’s safety in the world. We further believe, and have been supported by our experiences over the years, that children and budding adolescents can learn to make good decisions about how to take care of themselves if only caring adults spend time teaching them.
Not only do we give words for feelings, we also give places for feelings to be handled. In our classrooms we have created special areas where children can find repose. We call it our self-quieting place. We might use a corner of a classroom for this space. It will have in it something upon which the child can sit or lie down, and things of comfort, pillows perhaps, a book or two, special notes to read, maybe little boxes with interesting items to touch or hold, or a head set with a choice of CD’s. Usually the self-quieting place is an out-of-the-way place, a place where a child can find solace and can comfort herself without interruption.
A child might choose to enter the self-quieting place when he’s upset or mad, sad, frustrated, or lonely. He enters at a time when he needs to take care of himself. He stays as long as he feels necessary. We also spend time discussing with our students how to engage in encouraging self talk so that hopefully the child tells himself something helpful as he lingers there, something like, “I’m a good child”, or “even though mommy isn’t here, I know she loves me right now”, or “I’m able to work out this problem, I can do it”, or “I just need to persevere.”
Many of us parents fall in love with the primary Montessori classroom where we can see our children active and happily manipulating Montessori didactic materials. But it’s a myth to think that Maria Montessori’s greatest contribution was to the small child. Her vision included plans for taking care of and educating older children as well in not just a safe physical space, but in an emotionally safe and trusting setting where feelings and emotions could be accepted and explored without fear of ridicule.
We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the genius of Maria Montessori, who gave us the blueprint for educating the whole child through the ages of growth: the toddler, the primary-aged child, the elementary-aged child, and the middle school student. What we do with her blueprint is our choice.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher