Encouraging independence in children – some thoughts

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!

Teaching: building bridges

I have been thinking about the differences between good and ok teachers, and I came to the conclusion that two things are important: showing passion for the topic, and being able to build bridges between known and unknown, for the students to cross. I would like to explain more about this latter point in this post.

Ponte em Paranaguá Raí Nagaoka on Flickr

When I explain something, I need to be aware of what the other person knows, because otherwise I would build a bridge between two unknown topics, that are not connected to anything else. That bridge will therefore be unuseful and will likely deteriorate before any other bridge will be built nearby. A big chunk of information I learned from school stayed, sadly, like cathedrals in the desert, away from my everyday life, precious in theory, but disconnected and quickly forgotten.

It happens that other people find a bridge by themselves, and are enlightened and proud of that new connection. I have learned to avoid judgment on how far-fetched is that connection for me – for example when I introduce a classical composer to some friends, and they connect it to medieval movies they have seen. I could correct them, because the composer has no relation whatsoever with the time and location of those movies; but the main effect is that the bridge is lost. That long bridge is a connection, nevertheless; when a new composer will be presented to these people, they will already know one of that time: so one new bridge could be added to the network, or as an intermediate point on the existing bridge. Condemning bridges is usually a bad move, rarely something positive. Of course if a bridge is misleadingly connecting two things, I point it out; but I try to offer an alternate connection.

That’s why I take extra care in asking other people what they know already, so that I can present the new topic to them, by walking with them on bridges they find meaningful.


On obedience, on teaching

I was very inspired by K’s blog post about teaching and understanding other living beings (people and animals that people find similar enough to them to be able to establish communication).

I should quote the whole post; except a few references to her own life, all her words could have been written by me as well. I am astonished at how our minds wander in the same landscapes, along several years now; I find her thoughts written almost at the same time when they surface in my mind.

I wish to append another line of thought to her reflections. Now that I am fine with not judging, with a gentler way of helping others find their way, when should I do that? I am very often confronted with clashes of ideas between me and my current pupil(s). One clever “trick” is to offer an apparent choice. For example I a young child to walk in my same direction, and he shows that he wants to go another way. Then I can offer the choice to go in hand with me or walk alone – in both cases, in the direction I have chosen.

This solution avoids conflict and still gives the child the possibility to make a choice. Still, not the one he initially wanted, the choice of direction. I am sometimes myself (yet) too unsure myself, and I am not able to drop the child’s idea in favour of mine. Maybe is a matter of experience and time, but I don’t want to become a guide that is too sure of his own ideas, and drops others’ ideas by default. I wish to keep doubt about my judgments for a little longer.

Of course it very much depends on how crucial are these choices. If I am reasonably sure that the child is leading a happy and fulfilled life, and at one moment of the day just wishes to play a little longer, sleep some more, scream and sing aloud, I don’t feel too guilty if I limit his liberty for a moment with my decision (the more, when there is a small life lesson attached). But I want to keep an eye always open for the cases when a disobedience is a sign of something deeper, that requires attention and not simply correction.

There is something of that kind also in my orchestra, where the conductor has (always had?) the ability to let us comment on a piece and tell him how we want it to sound like. This doesn’t diminish the respect we have for his opinion, quite the contrary.