A child at work

dsc_0220_41(I often learn what I think when answering a question :). This is an answer to a prospective parent who asked: “Why do you call it “work?” (what the children do.) Such a great question!)
While I am wide awake, I will answer about “work”: Montessori was a medical doctor, not a “teacher” and worked at first, as a doctor, with children who were not expected to learn; this was around the turn of the century and we don’t know much about what diagnoses they had, but they were lumped together as “idiot children.” She noticed that, not only could they learn, they seemed to want very much to learn. “Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment. We call this process the work of the child.” She noted that concentrated “work” (purposeful activity, self-chosen) seemed to allow deep contentment. As these children had a variety of disabilities, she found (from doctors in France who were working with the deaf) and made what we call “materials” which were self teaching and sensorial in nature. Much of what is in the classroom was designed by Montessori over the years as didactic materials for children to explore (the movable alphabet, the sandpaper letters and the math materials are some of the most wonderful of these, I think).

She found, after observing children with a variety of these “materials” (many of which she would try and discard) was that they seemed willing and eager to practice many skills with a suitable materials (tracing, buttoning, counting), and, again, seemed to get great satisfaction from perfecting skills, especially when the activities were self-chosen.

It is not a free for all, though, and we limit those who are what I call “messing about” because they are obviously bored. Our goal is for the children to find something engaging.

I also often note that adults think that children are not doing “anything important”, and so tend to interrupt them. I think this is another use of the word “work”, to imply that, if a child is sitting and watching a cricket, or drawing a line, or pouring water, to watch and see if it is “work”; i.e., something deserving respect and not interruption.

Of course, “play”, as in “play an instrument, or sport” is something that takes a lot of “work”, but, in our culture, “play” with children usually connotes “not much”: “just playing”!

If the room was “quiet” which I can’t imagine, it was because, at this time of year, everyone has generally learned how to come in, find something intriguing, and get to it, at least for a little bit at a time. I do think that there is a hum, a bit like a beehive! I think you asked about ages; we started with a brand new 2 up to a brand new 5, and our goal is about 6 2s, 6 3s, and rising Kinders. The classroom is multi-aged so that there are all abilities together (everyone is good at something, and learning something) and, mostly, so that the oldest children can be mentors to the youngest children. Over the three year cycle, everyone gets to go from being mostly a learner to being often a teacher. Oh, so, yes, the point is to commit, if you can, to three years, so that each child can end up as a triumphant teacher!

Anyway, I am off to bed, and I am quite sure that this is more than you ever wanted to know about anything, ever; I do love thinking about this stuff so!


Privilege and responsibility

independent childWe have jobs in the classroom. The teachers have jobs (subtle ones, and not so subtle ones, like, watching someone use the stapler, using the teacher scissors, helping sad people, giving suggestions, stopping some behavior). The children have jobs. We have a “job board” with “sticks”. On Monday, if you are one of the oldest children, you pick a job and a helper. Your job is to do the task, to help the classroom, and to train the younger child how to do it. This ranges from hanging wet napkins and folding dry ones to setting up dishwashing for snack plates, to feeding the pets.

Each child goes, in the classroom, from incompetent and clueless to competent teacher, in 3 years. I recently watched a five give a lovely, patient lesson in napkin folding: “Bottom to top, and side to side.” with great warmth and kindness. The 2.5 year old was enthralled, as a child can only be by an older child.

The child “who was in charge of napkins” becomes “the napkin leader”, who hands out napkins at lunch. This is a coveted job, that carries prestige, as seen by the children. Over the third year, the oldest children are willing to share the prestige, and often allow their helpers to be the “napkin leader.” This is a fun transition, sharing privilege, because you know what it feels like, and are willing to share it with others.

I could say a lot more about this, but it is another lovely aspect of the multiaged classroom.

At home, make sure that your child feels responsibility for something, so that they can experience the privilege of being competent. Children often feel that they are always needing help/deserving service. Let’s help them graduate to feeling empowered and capable.

RIE (respectful parenting) makes life easier- Janet Lansbury


“I have relaxed so much as a mother and as a wife. I can enjoy my kids without having to live up to anyone else’s standards. I have learned how to actively listen. To do less. And observe more. I’m happy. I’m proud of being a mother. I love learning and can admit when I have more things to learn.” – Tracy

The beauty of Magda Gerber’s Educaring Approach (commonly known as RIE) is that the results are as helpful and exciting to parents as they are beneficial for children. Recently, in a RIE – inspired discussion group, parents shared their positive experiences and discoveries in response to a question from a parent new to the group: “For those of you who have been implementing RIE concepts for a while, would you care to share an example of how your children are different (in a good way), and which RIE tenet you attribute that success to? I’ve organized the responses in categories that reflect RIE’s focus and benefits.

1. Natural Motor Development: Fosters agility, grace, self-confidence and a love of learning, while also bringing joy to parents and kids.

Erin: My son just turned one, and I’ve watched him develop on his own without all the coaching, propping, walking, and devices that I’ve been encouraged to use by conventional doctors needing to mark a box showing my son was “on time” for certain milestones… He’s so confident when he starts doing anything. It’s remarkable to observe. I have friends stressed out about whether or not their kids are walking, and my energy is spent watching him try.

Emily: What has been huge for us is natural gross motor development – not propping babies into sitting, doing tummy time, or “walking” them by hand. I did things the conventional way with my first child for the first year, then RIE from the start with my second child. It’s been amazing and wonderful watching them develop their skills, muscles, and problem solving without props, “aids” or devices.

Teagan: Like Emily, natural gross motor development has been a big one for us, too. Watching my now nine-month-old learning to roll, crawl, walk, and now run and climb all on his own brought him and us so much joy. He moves with such confidence. I have observed that both my son and my friend’s 12 month old who has also been raised with a RIE approach both move with ease and grace. They have very few accidents (actually, my son has never hurt himself whilst learning to walk!) and do not have a false sense of security when it comes to things like steps and uneven surfaces etc.

2. Self-directed play: Develops physical and cognitive skills, fosters creativity, imagination, psychological health, a strong sense of self, and gives parents time off!

Jinny: For me, the benefits of RIE are so numerous, but the one I love most these days is listening to my 3.5-year-old during his morning play. The conversations he carries on with his toys are music to my ears. His focus and imagination are delightful to witness. It’s my favorite time of day, and I attribute this benefit to over three years of making space for independent play, which involves setting up a safe play space with open ended objects and consistently giving my son the time and space to explore these objects without my leading or entertaining.

Kesha: In addition to enhanced gross motor development, I particularly enjoy the self-directed play of my 11-month-old. He is able to entertain himself for up to an hour or more as long as he knows where I am if he needs something. This is good for his mental and emotional development, but also a huge perk for me to be able to have time for myself.

I will add that at one year old, my son also very frequently receives comments about how happy he is or how “good” or “well-behaved” he is. I think his personality type (being emotionally sensitive) might not receive comments like this without RIE’s influence in teaching me to respect him and allow him self-directed play.

Erin: All around my son just seems well adjusted and capable, and people comment on how happy and alert he is. I think that is due to me learning to communicate every step of the way and not giving him mindless toys. (I actually discovered RIE while pregnant when I was researching NOT giving your children too many toys). He’s paying attention to the world, not a screen or a piece of plastic shouting music notes at him.

3. Modeling rather than forcing manners: Encourages authenticity.

Tracy: I have a four year old daughter and an 11 month old son. I’d say my daughter can play independently. She takes initiative. Gets ready with minimal direction. Treats people kindly and with respect. Yet it’s never been demanded from her. We only model. Yet she says please, thank you, excuse me, and you’re welcome.

Lucy: I haven’t ever told my child to say thank you or please, just modelled it, and although she doesn’t say those words at the moment (and a friend’s baby says ‘ta’ every time they touch something), I feel so proud that my little one shows genuine appreciation for things and wholehearted generosity at times. I much, much prefer rare, genuine gratefulness than ta by rote.

Rachel: I had several spontaneous kisses from my 18 month old son tonight, unprompted. I make a special effort not to force kisses FROM him. Tonight, I felt this was him being particularly affectionate (not sure if it was, but I like to think it was more than a game!). Before RIE I would have probably made kisses/affection towards one another more routine (hope that makes sense!)

Erin: My one year old son is able to show affection because he wants to, not because we force it (we caught him kissing the dog the other day, and it melted my heart).

4. No need to micro-manage sibling struggles

Kaitlin: The sibling dynamic is another big thing for me. Seeing their genuine relationship form is so rewarding. They are so authentic with each other because they have never been forced to show affection or apologize. They already work things out on their own, and I don’t have to referee. And the unprompted affection melts my heart.

5. Respectful limits: They are freeing.

Kate: It’s not just about the kids. It’s a win-win kind of philosophy for me in so many ways. It’s given me the confidence to choose and set effective limits, and the words and actions to do it. Having these limits helps my three year old feel loved, safe, and calm, even if he needs to flip out about it first. It’s given me space to do my stuff while my boys enjoy their own company (even the four month old), and it’s given them freedom to do that. It’s also given me the gift of trust in my children and who they are becoming, and a little more trust in myself as a parent. All of these things on a good day. On a bad day, it gives me the tools to analyse what went wrong and the inspiration to start again.

Erin: Choices! I learned that setting limits is important, but giving choices is too. I have been able to develop ways to safely let my son have freedom while at the same time creating the safe boundaries that he needs to be able to learn and explore. I could go on and on!

6. Trust in our children’s competence is as much of a blessing for us as it is for them.

Kaitlin: In addition to all the things mentioned, I think a big thing is that I feel so much more relaxed about the long-term. I mean, I still have hard moments just getting through the day and keeping my cool sometimes. But I trust that these little people will learn what they need to and make their own choices. I don’t feel responsible for filling them up with the right information or experiences. I trust them so much and love watching them learn how to make good decisions

7. Accepting and acknowledging feelings: Fosters psychological health and emotional intelligence.

Kasia: My son is now almost 4 years old. I have an amazing friend/RIE resource person who lives nearby and has been a mentor to me concerning parenting. I was introduced to RIE when my son was born and loved it then and still now. The biggest thing I can appreciate and that serves my son is allowing him to have his feelings. By giving him space to cry and even have big tantrums when they come, his feelings are heard and for the most part supported (I do also make mistakes and lose my patience at times, but mostly try to support him). I have noticed over the past six months especially that if he is able to let his feelings out, be heard and supported through that process (instead of going to time out or me yelling), he is able to “recover” and get on with his day. He doesn’t have melt down after melt down all day long. My son does have off days for sure, and when he’s sick or extra tired it’s not easy. But I see so much support and respect though RIE. Especially being a “boy”- it is important to me that he learns about feelings and how to recognize and handle them as he gets older. Most importantly, that it’s okay for boys to express themselves.

Tracy: Both of my kids can read people very well. Acknowledging and accepting all feelings (good, bad, and ugly) has allowed my children to develop an emotional IQ that might even be higher than mine.

Ryan: There are numerous benefits as everyone has said, and I have observed these qualities in my kids, but also — articulation of self-confidence and feelings. My kids are three and five and a half, and they will come and say, ” I’m feeling really frustrated, I need some help;” or when someone is trying to tell them how to play with something, “You can choose to play with it that way, but I’m going to choose to play with it this way, and that’s ok because it’s my choice”.

Anna: My son recently turned two. We’ve noticed that his emotional reactions (eg. when upset or even injured) tend to resolve quickly, and then he moves on completely. We believe it’s because we offer genuine acknowledgement and comfort without trying to downplay his experience or distract him. He doesn’t need to over-exaggerate his feelings to get our attention, because we’ve never made him feel that only certain things are “worth crying over”. We also appreciate his spontaneous gratitude, affection, sharing, and cooperation. RIE principles have not only helped him to have these traits, but have also helped us as his parents to notice, appreciate, and enjoy them.

Rebecca: My daughter is three and a half. I’ve grown much more comfortable with her various ways of expressing her feelings. It was so freeing to let go of the need to fix negative feelings. And it seems odd to say to you that these moments of supporting her in her negative feelings are so rewarding, but it really does feel like this is what the parenting relationship is all about.

“A respectful beginning is an investment in the future of the relationship between your child and you, your child and others, and in your child’s exploration of the world.” – Magda Gerber, Your Self Confident Baby

I share my own experiences practicing Magda Gerber’s Educaring Approach in

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting (now available in Spanish!)

Parent Resource: Building Resilience in our Children

Healthy Beginnings Montessori

It’s difficult as a parents to let our children make their own mistakes, to see them struggle through a difficult situation, all the while knowing that we can help them by simply tying their shoes for them, or pick up the chair that they’re trying to lift on their own…but are we really helping?

Letting your children struggle through hard times (considering that their safety is not compromised) gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, and to develop coping mechanisms that will make them resilient towards even harder situations in the future. Children need to know that there are good and bad consequences to any situation, and that it’s OK to experience both. If we always intervene and prevent the “bad consequences” from happening, then we are only making it harder for them in the long-run. For example, when they grow into adulthood, they may not be adaptable to…

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For those who love elephants, these adult elephants are supporting the little one in something hard: “I don’t WANT to go on that thing (road); I am afraid!”

Their body language says: “we see that you are afraid; we are here. We will be with you. You are going; here we go! We are going; we are all together!”

Holding space for others and ourselves


This is an article that describes the process of helping people transition to death. It is lovely and powerful.

It also applies, I think, to anyone who helps anyone transition: midwives, mentors, teachers and, particularly, parents.

The phrase: “to hold a space” is powerful.  To me, it means to provide information and help as needed, and none when not needed.  It means to treat the “transitioner” with profound respect, even if they do not know all that they will know.  The image of helping someone die is a profound one for teachers and parents, as it is so true that, although we know a lot, we also cannot not know all that they (the learners) will someday know.

Montessori called her teachers “guides”.  I think that this is why. We could say: “We do not really know where you are going; we only have some guideposts to help, that we have learned through our experience. However, your path is your own.  We profoundly trust that you were born to follow this path and that you have everything you need to walk it.  I am here to help.”

As teachers, as parents, I think the hardest space to hold for ourselves is that we do not always know when, or how to help, and we often are late realizing when no help is needed.  All we can do is hold that space for ourselves as well, and forgive ourselves.  And take joy in observing another’s journey.





I have been reading a book on the research of play (“The Play’s the Thing”, E. Jones, G. Reynolds, Teachers College Press). I came across this great description: “The master player is a child who uses materials imaginatively in sustained, complex dramatic play. He is able to negotiate with others to keep the play going, working out social as well as material problems.” (p. 17)

I immediately thought of many children who fit this description, some who struggle with it, what I have read about improv and a lecture I recently listened to by Brene Brown (https://www.udemy.com/the-power-of-vulnerability/#/lecture/1432428:92).

These pictures are of some recent “master players” at school. Every year, the 4s and 5s usually come together to create a “master player repertory group.” They go from being 2s and threes, or solo players, and become a pack of wildly creative storytellers, using all loose parts on the playground, all toys, all balls, all climbers as part of the story, which changes minute by minute and includes anyone who is willing and able. A story I overheard from a recent female master player: a boy and a girl barreled outside (the home of the best master play) and said (it was near Halloween), “Let’s be scary things!” The girl was going to be a “scary witch.” The next child who came out was invited to this game, and replied: “I don’t LIKE scary things.” The first girl replied: “Okay, we can be nice witches!” All was now right with the world, and the three ran off together.

Tina Fey, talking about improv, said one of the rules was: “Always say “Yes!” Vivi is a “yes sayer”; she keeps the play going by incorporating new ideas into the mix, trusting in the outcome. She is okay with other children’s input. The children who struggle with play have trouble letting go of control. Who can’t identify with this?

Brene Brown was describing “play” as one of the keys to wholehearted living (the opposite of living in shame). “The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression.” (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are). She describes the difference between play and competition: when two bears play, one pins the other, and then jumps up and runs away, to be chased. The goal is for the play to continue.

How can adults foster play? 1) By not exposing young children to too many “adult ideas of play” (as in, adult-created fantasy in books, movies, cartoons). This replaces what a child can think up, which is based on their experiences (“Lets go camping, on a boat, hunting, fishing”; “Let’s be mommy and daddy tigers, bears, aliens, snakes”). 2) By going outside with them, so that they want to be there, but not providing any entertainment, or at least not all the ideas. Play comes out of not knowing what to do. Adult input can limit this. 3) By not “playing” with them (pretend play). This does not mean don’t wrestle, don’t throw balls, don’t blow bubbles, don’t garden, don’t wash the car, don’t go for hikes! Just don’t pretend play, see above. I tell children: “I’m not good at that”, which is true. My time for that is passed, although I hope I use my imagination in other ways every day. (This may be controversial, and that’s okay. This is based on my observations.) 3) Have lots of loose parts and loose time. If play comes out of boredom, let it happen. Just have some “stuff” around to fiddle with.

“Loose parts” are a “new playground” term. Have you driven by beautiful playgrounds with no children in them? I have. Maybe it is because children also need “stuff” to add to their play: sand and water are the favorites, but mulch and mud and tools and buckets and other containers and sticks and rocks and acorns and pine needles and string are all great. Moving and carrying and hiding and finding are all part of many stories. 4) Let go of “clean.” This is harder for some adults than others. It helps if you remember the fun of mud yourself. If not, try to let it go, at least sometimes. 5) Inside, remember the loose parts! The 4s and 5s at school LOVE to dig through the recycling bin and “make things”: picture frames, mouse traps, masks, helmets, maps. Paper plates and toilet paper rolls may be the best inventions on the planet for play. and, Brene Brown would add: 6) Model play: that is, doing something mostly because you enjoy it, whatever it is: cooking, reading, scrapbooking, taking pictures, decorating your house, writing, running, singing. dancing.