Thoughts & Reflections
Look around a Montessori classroom, and you might notice a chair or two off to the side, or somewhere unobtrusive. Perhaps it’s near an adult-sized chair, or in a quiet corner.
This isn’t a time-out chair. We don’t do time-out. We wrote about this over on Medium. Time Out means I’m just done, and really, I should put myself in time out, take a break or a breather if I think one is necessary.
The chairs around the classroom are Thinking Chairs. No, that’s not a sugar-coated version of Time Out.
There are many reasons to use a Thinking Chair.
Perhaps I’d like to sit and think about what work I’d like to do.
Perhaps I’m having a hard time remembering how to move in the classroom. Is this a place for running? Hmmm. Let’s go sit in the Thinking Chair, and watch how the other children move around the classroom. That’s right! This is a place for walking!
“A fundamental difference between the Thinking Chair and Time Out is the ownership involved.”
Perhaps I’m feeling frustrated, or cranky, or tired, or simply not wanting to be particularly pleasant. That’s allowed. You’re welcome to have all your emotions. Whether it’s tied to a situation, such as painting not being available, or Mom dropping you off instead of Dad, or not getting to wear sandals in the snow, or simply the side of the bed you work up on today, or low blood sugar, or being human, we all have all our emotions. However, we don’t get make others feel bad, just because we are; we don’t get to hurt, because we’re hurting.
Let’s go sit in the Thinking Chair. Would you like to tell me what’s making you feel so frustrated? I hear that. I can tell you’re feeling cranky about that. Sometimes I feel cranky, too. Would you like a hug, or perhaps to be left alone?
The Thinking Chair is a safe space. Space to ease into your day, to spend just a few more moments waking up, to dip your toe into the water rather than crashing in head first. Space to reflect, to observe, to prepare. Space to warm up or to cool down. Space to breathe.
When we’re feeling confused or unsure what to do, when a first choice wasn’t available, we can stall. You’re all out of turkey?! Suddenly, I can’t think of anything else to put on a sandwich! What else do people eat for lunch? My plan is derailed and it can be hard to think of alternatives.
“We all have moments when we’re feeling a bit unpleasant.”
Children are just the same. If you have a plan or an idea, and it’s not an option for some reason, how do we catch momentum again? The Thinking Chair. Walk away from the shelf, get some space in order to gain some perspective, pause and be able to make a choice, rather than feeling overwhelmed and lost.
We all have moments when we’re feeling a bit unpleasant. We say thing we regret, or treat others unkindly because someone made us feel small, or take our lack of sleep or low blood sugar out on someone else, dear loved one or random stranger.
Children are just the same. The Thinking Chair gives space and breathing room. When we’re feeling unsociable, someone walking too near or simply breathing too loud can set us on edge. When we notice a child is feeling this way, we might invite her to take a breath, to identify how she’s feeling and what she needs. Or maybe she’s already said something unkind, brushed up against another when she would typically walk around, gotten a bit cranky when snack wasn’t available yet. When you’re feeling ready, you’re more than welcome to select your work. When you know what would be helpful, when you’d like to talk, when your heart and your body are calm, please let me know!
A fundamental difference between the Thinking Chair and Time Out is the ownership involved. In Time Out, I will tell You when you’re ready to rejoin us. You are excluded until I deem it appropriate. In the Thinking Chair, you’re in charge of when your body is settled, or when you’re ready to walk, or when you’ve decided what work you want to do.
We all sometimes have a bit of a hard time identifying when we’re out of whack. Part of our responsibility as educators is helping a child notice when they’re just a bit off, not being their best self, having a hard time selecting work, forgotten how we move in the classroom. We name what we’re noticing, aid the child into noticing and identifying, and provide an outlet, an opportunity to evaluate, a path forward, always with full membership in the group.
It’s not punishment; it’s self-regulation. It’s the education of the Whole Child.
Written by:Charlotte Wood