Well, even for someone as opinionated as I am, it is hard to answer such a question. But, I do think “good” and “bad” are “bad” labels for children’s behavior.
For one thing, much of what children do is experimental; they are small physical and social scientists. “What will happen if I drop this biscuit on the floor?” “What will happen if I toss this block at my Mom’s head?” “What will happen if I pull this person’s hair?” Our main job, is, always, to teach, with words and with actions. “I can’t let you do that.” (Get them out of the chair, away from the blocks, away from the hair, and let them have their feelings about that.)
For another, you know that you often do “bad” things for “good” reasons, and vice versa, like the video of the little boy comforting his little sister after he slapped her in the face. It is hard to know the thinking behind something. Is it good to get an ice cube for Gramma’s drink? Yes. Is it bad to climb up the refrigerator shelves with your muddy boots and to leave the refrigerator open so that the dog can eat tonight’s dinner? Yes. Is it bad to take your sister’s doll? Yes. Does it make it okay to hand her a a spoon to play with instead? Maybe, let’s see.
This also puts all morality into our heads, and not in theirs. It reminds me of the scene in Harry Potter when Mrs. Weasley says: “RON! I’d better not catch you doing that again!” And he replies: “You won’t (catch me, that is.)” We want children to have their own experience of morality. To me, we learn this when others tell us how what we do effects them. This is why “I messages” are important in communication. “I am frustrated that I washed your laundry and you let the dog sleep on it. Now it is dirty again. This time you will help me wash it.” It may or may not be “good” or “bad” to make a bed for the dog, but it effects you. Children are the best teachers of each other in this way. It is almost completely ineffective for us to tell children what is hurtful or harmful to other children, but very effective for children to tell each other. Although it takes a lot of time.
This also allows us to stay on the child’s side :” I see that you are sad that he said that he didn’t want to play with you after you took the ball. Why do you think that is? What could you do about it? You can try again another day.”
I was having a conversation with a mom at school about experiencing new cultures, and how uncomfortable they can make you. (And yet our own culture: country or family, no matter how crazy, feels as comfortable as a pair of slippers!)
It is the beginning of the school year, again, and, again, we have 6 new families. After two weeks of school, I think some (all?) of them think I am nuts. They may NOT feel comfortable; they may feel unsure, judged, lost, scared, annoyed….Who the heck am I to ask them to trust this process? Why was this a good idea, again? I tried, so hard, to write and post and talk about what we do, and they thought it sounded great, and yet….
it is good to remember this, because, after 20 years of doing this, it feels natural to me (most of the time.) So, here are some thoughts about what we do and why we do it, and a reminder that we (at Mary’s School) are NOT trying to make you feel turned inside out. Well, maybe we are, but there are reasons behind it:)
1) It is all for the children (well, almost all.) Some of it is for us, and some is for you 🙂 We believe that children are happier when they feel competent, and that the way to feel competent is to learn to be competent. And, much of the time, that is EXACTLY what we cannot do for them. Think about the first day of a new job, and what a fumblefingers you felt. But you had to go through that to become the firefighter, computer programmer, contractor, lecturer, editor, therapist, toilet-cleaner, gardener, plumber you are today! There are no shortcuts to this, and it starts as small as pulling off your own socks.
2) The good news is, children are hard-wired to struggle (and ) to learn. To struggle, and to struggle to learn. Remember how many times they fell down when they were learning to walk? Montessori has a great passage about this in The Absorbent Mind; that we know children can work hard, because they learn to WALK and SPEAK A LANGUAGE (or two, or three), with no stickers, punishment, rewards. They watched and listened and figured it out! That’s what they’ll do at school, too, as soon as we get out of their way, and they get out of their own way.
3) Everyone has barriers to learning. Everyone can be too extroverted, too introverted, too fast, too slow, too loud, too quiet, too angry, too compliant, too busy, too distracted…So, the good news is that EVERYONE IS WORKING HARD AT SOMETHING. It seems that the children pick up on this instinctively at some point, that everyone is (was) struggling, so that this is a safe place to struggle. I hope the rest of the places they are are safe for this as well.
4) And, everyone needs help. 4b) Everyone needs to learn to ask for it.
5) Everyone can give help. 5b) It is often good to wait until someone asks for it.
6) As a child said last week, to a child who wanted their mom: “Don’t worry, your parents don’t know everything!” (Bwahahahahaha! What did that mean???) Well, I think it meant that other people can help you with stuff, too. How can we have 6 new two year olds in the class every year? Because there are 12 other teachers in the room, besides the 3 adult ones.
7) Everyone needs to feel that we believe that they can do it. Lucky for me, I have seen children figure things out for a long time; it is literally mind boggling what children can figure out in three years! I don’t worry much about young children any more. However, as with the children, I cannot make parents feel better, much. I can only ask them to trust themselves and their children. It is very hard to watch parents struggle. Much harder than watching their children struggle. I remember being a parent of young children. I AM a parent of grown (gasp) children. They still struggle. I still have to have faith in them. It is still hard. And I still can’t do it for them, even by giving advice, most of the time. Even though I am SO SMART and have made SO MANY MISTAKES that they could learn from.
So, that’s about it, in a nutshell. And the materials are just a means to and end, so it doesn’t matter much if your child is painting pictures, washing their plates or counting to 100, the process of learning is in there.
Welcome to a new year.