Happy Children are Successful Learners
Thoughts & Reflections
We’ve had countless conversations with families about the transformations they’ve observed in their children, and each one is unforgettable, special.
When families tell us what they’ve noticed about their child, they don’t begin with, “She finally understands math!” or “He’s reading full sentences!”
Most often, what amazes families so much they pull us aside or send us a note, taking time out of their day to just be dumbfounded by the light they see in their child, are qualities, not abilities.
She’s just so happy!
He is so kind.
She’s so confident in herself.
He’s so calm in his routine, and it’s just so easy.
They’re always sort of surprised. Like they woke up one day and this magic just kind of happened, and they can’t believe this is their child.
We hear wonderful stories about formerly quiet children making friends in foreign countries without any common language.
Stories about two-year-olds tending to even younger children, Mother-Hen-ing them around, making sure everything is okay.
Stories about children acting with kindness and patience, using polite manners and words their parents weren’t even aware they knew.
The academics of Montessori can be measured. The intangibles, the internal skills a child acquires being in this special environment, are immeasurable, though equally, if not more important.
We have a phrase. Happy Children are Successful Learners. We mean it, too. We respect children, and we show them this from the moment they walk in the door. Everything is child-sized. We get down on a child’s level to look them in the eye, to shake hands, to say, “Good Morning, I’m glad you’re here.” We mean that, too.
“We want this to be a home to the children here, a safe place, where each child feels a warm sense of belonging, safe to learn and grow and make mistakes.”
The Montessori Classroom for young children was originally called the Casa Dei Bambini, or Children’s House. This is where we got our name, Baan Dek, which means Children’s House in Thai, the native language of our founder. We want this to be a home to the children here, a safe place, where each child feels a warm sense of belonging, safe to learn and grow and make mistakes.
We have a rule, that the actions of any child cannot harm herself, another child, or the classroom. The desires of One cannot outweigh the well-being of the Whole. Children feel a strong sense of belonging to the group, and thus hold this as sacrosanct.
Take, for instance, Washing Dishes. A child might enjoy a snack with a friend, and place their glass plate in the bin for dishwashing, noticing a whole stack of dishes that need to be washed. This is his responsibility; if not me, whom, if not now, when? He only ate off one plate, but he gets to wash all of them, scrubbing furiously, creating a mess of bubbles and water. He stands with plates askew, the rack filled with more than it is intended for, since we cannot walk away from our responsibility.
In this moment, even the youngest child feels his weight, his importance in this group. There is a strong and sincere sense of belonging. These are my People. Once you are part of this, how could you ever act in a way that would be a threat to any one child, to the wellbeing of the whole?
Children can use any material that they have been shown if it is available on the shelf, and they return it to the shelf ready for the next person to use.
There are so many hidden rules in this simple phrase. You cannot pick something you haven’t been given a presentation on. Which is why, even our youngest children on their first day, can dust anything. You can always care for something, even if the concept is still years away. Who am I to say don’t touch the beautiful box??
You can only choose something on the shelf. As long as you are using something appropriately, no one will come tell you you’re done. You’ve buttoned enough. It’s someone else’s turn to sweep. Dan has been waiting patiently for the Cylinder Block, so don’t you think you should share?
For a child who is exclusively following her development, that inner voice telling him to build, to try, to master, these are threats, threats to her development. Who are we to say that you’ve shown an appropriate level of mastery, that it’s time to be done? How many times have I made a judgement about what a child appears to be doing, only to be put in my rightful place by deep thinking, creativity, compassion, by a world view only embodied by someone so tiny and uncalloused.
Instead, when we give children space, time, and respect, they are at-ease, peaceful workers, humming around the classroom like a flawless machine. When you feel no anxiety about when someone is going to take your Red Crayon (whatever form that might take), you feel no need to impose yourself on another. There might be disappointment, but there is also mutual respect. A letting-go of the anxiety of everyday life, the busy-ness of being a child in an adult world.
After all, if you are in a chaotic space, if you are worried about your safety or about someone taking your work, how could you ever attach to anything academic?
The peace of a child is not a byproduct of this work, it is what makes everything else possible.
Written by:Charlotte Wood