Encouraging independence in children – some thoughts

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I was reading another chapter from Montessori vom Anfang an, and was impressed by the authors’ observation that children need to learn independence very early on, but parents often find it hard to let them go – with unhappy results for both parts.

I stopped reading for a while and searched backwards in the text for how many times this concept was brought up. My impression was that children grow up so fast that parents have little time to get used to a given relationship with them. Children are born so helpless and dependent from their parents, then they learn to speak, move around, use objects, take decisions, interact with others: they change so fast! My heart understand parents who remember vividly their kids as babies and miss dearly those months. It must be so difficult to accept that your children will walk progressively away of your protecting arms, and there is no way to completely save them from suffering.

I must say that this is one big reason why I don’t feel ready to have children. I am afraid that I won’t let them grow as fast as they need; or worse, that I won’t see my bias. With children in kindergarten I have hope to become a good teacher, because I can treat them as people, like I try to do with everyone, but with that extra responsibility of my role. I am afraid to become a mum and become over-protective: “my children come first, no matter what”. Or, on the opposite, I am afraid to treat my child in a way that I find fair, but that others (that child included) don’t find affectionate enough.

Big thoughts… they make me worry quite a bit, but I am also glad that I think about these topics. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments!

The radar – a way of paying attention to others and being focused on your task

I have been visiting a Montessori preschool this week, and had my usual joy in observing without participating. I appreciated how the two teachers had all twenty children in mind, and moved from one to another to attentively guide them in a given exercise, gave ideas for further work, paid attention to all children who asked for a moment of it; and the children were calm and mainly focused on their occupations, called the teachers only seldom and always got an answer – even a “I’m busy now, but I come to you when I am done”. I found that profoundly calming, and a wise economy of communication (and noise. It was a smallish room with 20+ people in it, no way that everyone can talk simultaneously and be heard. Think of how restaurants can become incredibly loud!). If children grow in this two-way attention, they know that each call gets a feedback, so there is no need to call ten times in order to hope to be heard once – or worse, to make sure that the other person hasn’t forgotten you are there (how many children I have seen crying or calling their parents repetitively, without any more hope to be heard, but attempting to get attention by being annoying).

I reflected on that point on my way home. Some time ago I wrote a note about the ways of paying attention to someone else in the background, and be responsive when this person actually starts interacting. I experienced how some friends switch between full attention to me to full focus on something else, and I always felt as a nuisance when I interrupted them with the start of a conversation. There was no concept of background for them, there was no chance to me to pick the good time to chime in.

On the other extreme the radar process could take too much of the foreground space: I could pay attention to everything and get distracted by every new input. I find this exhausting, and disrespectful for the current task, that must pray that nothing pops up while it is being dealt with.

The sweet spot could be hard to reach and it depends much on how the inputs behave (some would like to get attention immediately, others would prefer to never disturb…), but I have seen people doing that with such a mastery that I am totally confident it can be done by everyone, with a bit of practice. My drum teacher can keep an eye on me when we play in the orchestra, such that he invariably spots if I’m lost, and we can debrief the concert afterwards with great accuracy. I strive to reach that ability when I will finally become a kindergarten teacher. I have experienced how relaxing it is to be in someone’s radar and to know you can ask for a moment of attention, so I definitely aspire of being that attentive kind of person for the children.

Doe Pair – by Carl Monopoli

Book recommendation: “The night worker” by Kate Banks, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben

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I read this childrens’ book in its German translation, “Nachts auf der Baustelle”.  I have been fascinated by the accurate and yet dream-like illustrations, the richness of technical words in simple sentences, the nightly atmosphere of the construction site. I could almost feel the freshness of the air, the silent city around, the noise of machines, the starred sky.

It makes a great present for a child, or an adult who loves construction sites and proudly defines himself an umarell.

See more of Kate Banks’ books on her website!

On being helpful to children

As today I have been guest in a kindergarten classroom, I had a lot of time to observe children, busy with so many things that only a child can think of. So full of energy, so willing, so curious, so cheerful. So random and still so focused; so unfinished by grown-up standards, but so crystal clear in their intentions and expressions.

Why should that be a limited time of human life? How to keep the spirit of childhood alive, all life long, together with adult capabilities? This is for me an open question, but luckily I have live examples to study and follow (childhood as a state of mind? – stay tuned for another post…).

I have been thinking at what kind of help adults can give to children, to support their growth. I identified three big cornerstones: acceptance, strength and knowledge. I assume that there can be more, but I cannot think of less than these three.

First, I feel that I have to accept the child as it is, if I want to be helpful to him/her. Any shadow in this acceptance means that I would try to correct something that I consider wrong – and this will be harmful. I don’t hide that it’s very difficult. It’s so ingrained in us, that teaching means correcting. A good pupil is an obedient, predictable pupil, right? But there are treasures hidden behind the “good pupil” mask. Only by allowing the child to be spontaneous (i.e. noisy! bold! disobedient!) I can really know him/her and find ways to give support. Authority and understanding don’t share the same boundaries. From an authoritarian point of view, I would allow disobedience; but I could also be giving space to the child, because my goal is to understand him/her better. I am the only one to know if I am allowing disobedience because of my personal failure in making me respected.

Then comes strength. I have to be strong, to effectively support the child when he is afraid or unsure; my inner child cannot be afraid or unsure of the same things as the child I am in care of. The child will invariably spot it and will not trust him/herself in facing the difficulty alone. Wouldn’t you do the same, if a guide in a foreign country showed fear in entering a particular place?

Last but not really least, comes knowledge. I have to be capable in the tasks I show to the child, so that I know how much I have to rectify when the child tries to do them. With increasing experience, one leaves more and more space to trials and errors by the learner itself, because one trusts that he/she will find a good solution on his/her own – or to say, a good solution will become self-evident.

Thank you children for humbling me, cheerfully; thank you, children-adults, for showing me the way.