Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why is my child misbehaving? -- The role of the adult in the Montessori classroom

Where is the misbehavior coming from? Misbehavior arises from an unfulfilled need.

What is their unfulfilled need?  Is it protection? Am I not protected their need for uninterrupted time? Am I giving too many rules, leading to too much misregulated behavior? Too many rules serve my needs and not the needs of the child.

Are the children lacking nourishment? They may be lacking the materials they need in the form that they need it. Are we providing materials to the child in the way that they need at that time? Are we bringing all items of human culture and creation? Is their choice of activities and materials, in the protocols we set up? We are doing it first, through the environment, and sometimes directly.

Do they lack stimulation? Do we need to stimulate a certain outcome in the practice of certain skills? Have we stimulated attraction to certain objects which would satisfy their natural curiosity?

Without meeting these needs in the environment, we will not be able to observe in the Montessori environment. If we try to take on the roles which should be served by the materials or the environment, we will be impinging on the natural order of development. 
The Role of the Adult

With the new perspective on the child and her task, with a new understanding of what then is our responsibility-- the formation of the whole child-- it is the logical consequence that the role of the adult is very different from the traditional role. We have grown up with the perspective of the adult who knows so much and the child that knows so little and has to receive so much information to become a functioning member of society. The old idea is the teacher as the giver or information and the child as the taker of information. We must acknowledge the child's self-constructive powers and the very different role of the teacher, which is to serve the development of the child. What must we do?

How does the preparation of the environment happen? In the womb, the uterus is lined and waiting for the egg to implant; the mother's body makes changes to accommodate the new life in anticipation of a need. It is the same with the class. The class is also prepared before the need will arise? We must understand the stages of development of the child, which is not a linear progression. It happens indirectly, long before a task is to be completed.

The child, the developing being, is growing through a trifecta of the agents of education: the prepared environment, the appropriate materials, and the guidance of the adult.  The prepared environment, rather than being the classroom only, must be understood in the broader context of the home environment and the broader society. The carefully and thoughtfully prepared materials constitute the means of development. In the context of children today, the properly prepared materials are more critical, as modern, mechanized household environments do not give children opportunities to work with their hands in the basic human tasks of the home. There is a dishwasher, not a chance for children to hand-wash. There is a clothes washer and drying, not laundry. Allowing children to participate in these "laborious" tasks is a critical part of their capacity to participate with society. We must expose them to a variety of elements of human culture, in as much as is available, to put them in contact with the varieties of work of the human being.

It is a moral issue to deny children the best in human culture and replace it with plastic items which will be treated disrespectfully. We can give the child beautiful and even fragile objects and teach them to honor the items in their space-- not indestructible plastic things. Beautiful, fragile items of human culture allow the child to appreciate the human effort that went into the objects around them, to cherish the items in their space. To connect the child through objects made with human hands enables a spiritual sense of connection human creation.

The hand-made materials from the teacher are more attractive to the student than anything printed off or pre-purchased, because they convey a sense of human connection. It is a personal offering that speaks to their spirit. Ten items that I make will be treasured much more than an entire shelf of items ordered. It says, I have made this effort to meet your needs. As a tenet of the Montessori Method, we have a responsibility to bring the best of human culture to the child.

In training ourselves for this work, we are committing ourselves to be the best kind of helpers that the child needs us to be. We examine the attitude and manifestation of the spirit that we bring into the classroom. I would never say, This is just a child's thing. The child deserves reverence, and so do their tools. Deep in the unconscious mind, almost all adults constantly express a disrespect for children, because we received this arrogance and pridefulness from adults, while we were children. We must be vigilant to unlearn the disrespect for the concept of just childhood, something insignificant just for the child. Even to admit this requires a great deal of humility and humility in front of the child. Every time I receive a compliment about how I am doing so much for the children, I must say, This is the children. I am doing nothing here but providing the conditions for them to flourish.

Charity is love in action. Our love shows itself in furthering the work of the development of the child. And the spiritual preparation for supporting the work of the child should be done through the scientific study of the development of the child, or else we will only have good intentions, poorly executed toward their growth. Observation allows us to understand each child in the context of what we know about development. The adult human is the only living agent of education, operating through the materials and in the prepared environment. As much as possible, we delegate that supported development to the materials and the prepared environment, because we are the most powerful agent. This is the practice of the principle of subsidiarity, to offer help in the least overt way, just by creating the environment. We will only directly intervene when the materials and the environment are not serving the full needs of the child, to show the child something new. We must become comfortable with the idea of not operating directly with the child but becoming the background for their development.

There are tasks that only the teacher can do. Only the adult guide in the environment can observe each child for the needs of their development. We record our observations, to ensure that our own emotional filters will interfere with proper reflection. Only on the basis of observation can I prepare to provide for the need of the child.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas.

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