Monday, June 6, 2016

Montessori: Let Children Make Mistakes

I recently wrote this piece for our school newsletter and wanted to share it with you, since so many of you are parents, too! 


My oldest son is in PK4 at Magnolia Montessori For All. Recently, his teacher let me know that he got a little injury in class. He had purposefully been using a pin puncher incorrectly. 

A pin puncher is a slightly sharp object that is used to punch out a shape. It is designed to strengthen a child’s hand in preparation for writing. My son had gotten a warning from another child about how to use it properly, as well as from the teacher. Still, he insisted on using it improperly. He ended up accidentally sticking his finger. 

At this point, you are probably wondering, “Where is she going with this story? How is this possibly a positive thing to highlight about the school?” While this story seems like it’s about my son getting hurt, it’s actually about the importance of teaching our children that they are trusted, that they must be responsible with their freedom, and that there are real risks if they are not. 

One of the most important things to learn in life is how to handle freedom with responsibility. After all, life is full of choices—choices that will bring us up or bring us down. Once we are adults, no one can make those choices for us except ourselves. 

In Montessori, we do everything in our power to guide children to learn how to make responsible choices for themselves—choices that bring them up in life. We start this process very young because it takes a long time to teach children how to handle freedom well. If we want 16 year-olds to be able to drive a car on their own responsibly or an 18 year-old to wake themselves up and go to a 9am class in college, we have to give them real opportunities to be responsible for themselves and to be careful as they are growing up. 

Teaching responsibility is difficult because it means our children will sometimes fail, face disappointment, or even get hurt. But when we allow them to experience these things over an extended time in a gradual way, they build the confidence and resilience they need to be successful in college and the world beyond. 

Photos courtesy of Hank & Tank Photography (my husband!)

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Sarah said...

Yes, a thousand times, yes. While I love Montessori for many reasons, this is one of the principles that resonates most strongly with me. Thanks for sharing.

Vanessa Kairuz said...

I love your husband's work. If you guys ever happen to be in VA, please stop by and tell your husband to bring his camera!

Kate said...

It's a bit radical to say these kinds of things because people imagine negligent parents giving their kids ultimate freedom, or they think of the nightly news covering a toddler-escapes-through-the-gorilla-cage scenario. In the first case, every Montessori parent will tell you that giving your kids freedom means you work a bit harder as a parent. It's not for the faint of heart. You become the invisible safety net that tries to mitigate big disasters - and it takes vigilance.

In the second case, it's sad to say, but yes - sometimes a toddler escapes into a gorilla cage. But we can't ask such rare and terrible occurrences to dictate how we live our lives - because then we'd never ride in a car, fly in a plane or walk across a street.

Thanks for sharing this story. It's always a bit risky to say that it's "okay" when freedom leads to a kid learning a painful lesson, but many of us agree with this principle and believe it's making our children more mindful, intentional and resilient citizens of the world.

Virgie Jebe said...

True! Thankyou for sharing this experience. I've been trying to convince parents to allow mistakes when the child learns things, somehow Montessori had made it possible for us teacher to build the sense of being responsible for their own choice. Yet not all parents agreed this eventhough they put the child on a Montessori preschool. I will share your article for sure. Thankyou very much.

Sam Posselt said...

Great post!
Love, a Montessori Mommy

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