Building Independence and Confidence
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Dr. Maria Montessori
So much of what we do in Children’s House and in Montessori education is based upon building independence and confidence. These go hand in hand, because as a child builds independence and internalizes this, the result is confidence. As adults in their world we have everything to do with assisting them in this activity and we play an important role in knowing just how much help to offer, which is a tricky line to walk sometimes. If you offer too much help, you are unconsciously saying to the child that they are not yet ready/competent for the task. The idea is to offer enough help to set the child up for success. We call this process scaffolding, which is offering just enough help so that the child is able to do the task. Here is a good example of scaffolding; a child struggles to zip his rectangular shaped lunch box after lunch clean up each day. He is capable of packing everything away himself, but is challenged by zipping- in fact he can zip, he only struggles with the corners. The teacher then should only zip the corners. The child is encouraged to do all he can, the teacher will assist him with only the inch he cannot zip at each corner. In fact as this dance each day happens, one day the child will realize he has zipped the entire lunch box all on his own.
The fact that I am lucky enough to be a teacher and a parent affords me insight into both worlds, and I thought I might be able to offer a few suggestions for home that may build some independence and confidence at home that connects to school.
-Have your child be responsible for their backpack, lunchbox, and outdoor gear daily, and their green folder and rest time belongings (and Literacy bag when your child is in Kindergarten) weekly. They can clean everything out at the end of the day and repack for the next day.
-Make a space for clean-up. In the classroom, children are responsible for cleaning both wet and dry spills on tables and floors. A similar set up can be arranged at home.
-Position a container of water or juice in the refrigerator that makes it possible for them to serve themselves.
-Include children in “family chores”. I recommend everyone pitching in, not working to earn allowance. This builds an idea that everyone does their part rather than “I am doing it to earn something.”
-Consider limiting quantities of items for the children so that everything has a place. This creates ease of clean up for them. (100 Legos are easier to pick up than 1000)
-Many families choose to rotate toys regularly to make it less overwhelming for children.
Watching young children grow and become independent and confident people is my favorite part of being a Montessori teacher and a parent. Many of these tasks seem like just that-“tasks”. However, for the child at this age who is learning the very basics of living, these are the skills that actually build self-confidence. As the child feels what it is like to be successful, then they decide that “work and practice” are “not so bad” because the result “feels pretty good”. These are Practical Life lessons that the child will carry on into academic areas as well. The ability to stick with something and finally be successful with it, even when it is your lunch box is a big deal. As adults, it’s our role to be guardians of that space by allowing ample time and practice for the task.