Homeschool Montessori Q & A, Part 3

Here’s the last of the questions from the recent Q & A at the early childhood learning forum at 4RealLearning (this forum has since closed and they have a Facebook group instead). I will be on vacation for the next week, and I’ve promised my family that I won’t blog (it hurts to stop!), so you’ll have to wait a little while to see me again.

More great questions:

Q. In what ways can we nurturing and socialization in our homes between older children and their younger siblings?

This question makes me think about this wonderful Montessori school in Warrenville, Illinois, called Carmel Montessori. (They don’t have a website that I can find, or I’d link to it).

The director at my last school was friends with the director at Carmel, and we did a school swap where all of their kids came to our school for a day, and all of our kids went to their school for a day. Carmel is a school/farm, with an Erdkinder (high school) program like Maria M. outlined but is so rarely seen.

Anyway, when they came to visit us, we were totally taken aback at the way the older kids took care of the younger ones. They held their hands, carried them, helped with shoes, wiped noses, etc. It was like a sibling relationship without the sibling rivalry. We were in awe, and felt like our own school hadn’t done a very good job of cultivating that kind of closeness.

Doing it at home is probably even harder, because of the sibling dynamic. I would suggest that the older one be given certain specific tasks to help the younger ones. It can be a presentation (a puzzle, or bead stringing – something simple), and/or ongoing tasks like helping with coats or shoes.

Isn’t there some kind of proverb that when you take care of someone, you begin to care for them? I don’t think the caring attitude will necessarily come first. Sometimes the actions precede the feelings. Children may have to be given instruction, at first, on how to work with their younger siblings, but after awhile I think it can become a habit.

Q. “How are we keep ourselves from getting in the way of the child’s work process? I know that a properly prepared environment is very important, but I was mostly thinking of the mistakes that some might make by imposing their will over that of the child.”

A. This is one of the hardest components of being a Montessori teacher. Resisting the urge to step in and help, adjust, instruct, etc. when a child simply needs to be left alone.

One time-tested trick is to sit your hands – or put them behind you – so that you don’t interfere or intervene when they are struggling to work. I try to talk less when they are really concentrating, not more, which is SO hard for me.

I try to move out of their way, both literally and figuratively. I put myself in their shoes and picture a giant person reaching in to do something that they know they could do if they had more time. I am constantly working at it and thinking about it.

Q. “I want my children to learn to teach each other. How can I best go about it? I want to show them that teaching and learning are lifelong things!”

A. Let the older kids prepare a simple practical life activity for the younger ones. Let them practice the presentation first with each other. Keep modeling the idea that we are all learning new things all the time. My favorite things to say to my son are, “I don’t know, let’s look it up!” and “Wow, I didn’t know that!” They will become life-long learners when they see you read, talk about things you learn, and get excited about new things,

When we are out and about – like last week we went to the Adler Planetarium – I am just as likely to say “Cool!” when we see something neat. I will try all the activities that are set up for kids. It’s like we’re learning together, not me taking them out so that they can learn while I watch and supervise.

Q. “Could you explain a bit about the idea of the “absorbent mind” and how that changes as the child ages? How should our teaching methodologies change to reflect the intellectual changes in the child?”

A. The Montessori method is set up to take into account the changes in the child’s mind. If we follow the natural arc of materials and presentations, much of the work is done for us.

Technically, the “absorbent mind” only refers to the first six years. As recent technological advances have shown us, the mind is often curiously closed to certain things (speech, sight) if the opportunity to develop it wasn’t there in the younger years.

Think of it this way: in 0-6, the mind is taking in enormous quantities of information, mostly as sensorial experiences. Petting a cat, looking at a leaf, smelling spaghetti. The child doesn’t need our input, they need us to provide a framework for the millions of sights, sounds, and other impressions they are taking in.

The 0-6 materials provide that framework, giving a child context for hot/cold, heavy/light, etc., as well as giving them the vocabulary to label all the things they see around them (3-part nomenclature cards).

The 6-12 child is in a new stage of development. No longer are the senses being flooded with new info. They’ve petted many cats and seen thousands of leaves. Now they are ready to partake in the knowledge that humans have cultivated and catalogued through the centuries: names of countries and continents, and facts about each one; specific information about stars and planets, about weather, about language. Now, it is not so much about naming, it is about explaining.

That is why the 6-12 version of nomenclature cards replaces the control card with the “definition” card. It’s not enough anymore to name; things must be explained.

Basically, if you follow the sequence of the materials, always observing and looking for the readiness of the child, the stages will fall in place on their own.