“Keep their feet moving”

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This may be an odd post for a Montessori teacher to make, but I love metaphors, so I hope this works for you.

I was sitting on the sofa, editing school photos on my laptop.  I was watching an infomercial by a horse trainer.  (Yes, I was.)  It was a kind of “Horse Whisperer” thing.  The question was : “How do I get my horse into a trailer?”  The words that jumped out at me were : “Keep their feet moving.”  Okay, you are not going to learn about how to get your horse onto a trailer in this post.  This is about young children, like the ones I work with.  And maybe about older children and adults, and me.

When children are struggling: sad, afraid, anxious, angry, defiant: “stuck”, there is often little we, at school, can do, but to “keep their feet moving.”

We often cannot solve whatever the child’s issue is.  We often do not know what it is.  They often do not know what it is.  We can offer some support (hug, lap, read a book, sing a song…), but, often, this is rejected.

When this is true, the kindest thing I know to do it to “keep their feet moving.”  That may mean that we gently take them by the hand and lead them away (from something) or toward (something or someone).  We often lead children toward a group of children who are calm and engaged.  This is something to observe and absorb.

Maybe this will show them that this is not such an awful place, or that there may be other ways to react, or other things to do, or try, or think about.  It may distract them long enough to shift their perspective.  It might interest, even fascinate them.

I don’t know what it may do, but I know that we all need to learn some strategies around what to do when we are “stuck”, and who and what might help.

I know that I want all children to know that they can move through hard things, and that there are many ways to do this.

I want children to know that they are not dependent on adults, or anyone to “make them feel better.”

I do not mean that we are not allowing children to feel what they feel, or that they should be distracted from their feelings.  But I do know that shifting gears can be hard, for all of us, and sometimes a change of scene (outside!!!!) or company, or perspective, may help.

A teacher at school was describing helping a child who was having a morning cry when her mother left.  After a bit, she offered her own support (hug, lap).  When that was not helpful, it was time to move: “I have not done all of my morning jobs, I need your help!”  Leading child to help with setting up dishes, getting ready for snack, doing some of the things that need to be done.  The child became calm, engaged, focused, interested, and felt useful and competent.  Perhaps, if you can cope with small things (dishes) you can cope with larger things (feelings)?

So, if all else fails, we can “keep their feet moving”, and do this for ourselves as well.

Your child as a teacher

A parent asked me recently why her third year child was grumpy at home, and, some days, didn’t want to go to school (new thing!).  (To clarify, in the Montessori classroom, there are at least 3 ages.  In my classroom, they range from 2-5.  Most children start at 2-3- first year-, 3-4 is second year, 4-5 is third year.  In that time, they move from fascinated newbies to competent olders.  We call the third year children “teachers” and expect a great deal of them.  They always perform. 🙂
It caused me to reflect on what “being a (third year) teacher” means.  It is a LOT more than having a “teacher badge”, and the full weight doesn’t hit them until they are doing it (kinda like parenting, eh?)
We are asking each of them, many times a day, to help us/another child, with a work the younger child has gotten out and doesn’t know how to do, find something, do a chore (dishwashing, putting plates away, making snack), finding their name for snack, washing their dish, using watercolors, finding the markers/clipboards, paper, finding their key word book in the folder and putting it away again, figuring out how to have snack, putting on their shoes, finding where this went on the shelf, putting on their underwear the right way, helping them up when they fall down, helping them wash their hands, listening to them read their key word book, helping them roll a rug……
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Not to mention offering comfort.  Story from yesterday that made my day:  Me:(with snuffling 2 year old on my lap) “5 year old, do you know of anything that would help 2 year old?” 5: (looks at 2): “Hmmm. Are you okay?” 2: “Yes!!” (???Keeps crying.) 5: “Do you want a hug?” 2: “YES!!!” (leaps up and they both hug, 30 seconds). 5: “Would you like some ice” (????) 2: “YES!!!!! (Leaps up and they go get ice together. Several other children want ice. Ice all around, via 5.) 
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What a great example of one of my favorite MM quotes: “a young child can learn something from an older child which they would never want to learn from an adult.”  So true, every day.
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So, if your child is grumpy and worn out after a morning at preschool (more than usual), they are working very hard.  They are using all of their problem-solving, empathy, and patience muscles, which, as we all know, is hard work.
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I will reassure you that we do not interrupt any “teacher” at his/her work, if we can help it; they are not here to sacrifice their own learning or process. We do not give them jobs that they would never want (“Can you clean up that vomit?”) or with children who are terribly upset or things which we think are too much.  They are “support staff”, and mostly doing things which we think they will enjoy /feel competent doing.  We are very appreciative of their help, always, and thank them.  We really are appreciative!
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The olders are the most enticing thing in the environment.  More so than the materials, and much more so than the adults.  They really ARE role models of concentration, self-directed activity, good humor, calm, purposeful movement, self-regulation, play, enthusiasm, and trust.  They are what convinces the new children that they actually can/will be able to cope in this new space, and may want to.
 
Warmly,
Mary

More on confidence

Building-the-Pink-Tower

Okay, how do I recognize confidence, or lack of it?

Confident children:

explore

try things

play independently

risk

ask for help

Children who lack confidence:

get stuck in activities/requests and repeat them without pleasure

don’t play

whine

try to keep adults involved with them

in a mixed group, prefer to talk to adults

talk about adult issues/concerns

get frustrated easily

tease others

do things for negative attention

(In very young children, some of these latter things can indicate boredom. Of course, don’t “entertain them” but help them switch gears :”I see you are bored with these blocks.  It is time to put them away and find something fun /go outside/feed the cat/ put your socks in your drawer.” Notes: I am not asking them, or listening when they protest.  If they are not engaged, they are bored.  if they are bored, it is my job to teach them how to get over being bored without having to pick a fight with me, the cat, the dog, or the blocks!)

To build confidence: if you have engaged adequately (they are not pining for a little adult one-on-one) change/create the environment (go outside and get so busy that they cannot get you engaged with them negatively, and have to find something to do), express confidence, don’t rescue or entertain, endure the learning curve (they don’t liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike it; it is uncomfortable), don’t get sucked into power struggles or the appearance of neediness, express more confidence, take care of yourself.

I believe, all children are hard wired for success, and all people must struggle a bit.  A healthy child will seek out appropriate struggles, and take them on when they are ready.

Confidence

Nailed-ItI have a wonderful quote on a cabinet at school that says something like: “Knowledge comes from experience, and experience comes with mistakes.”  I would add, that this is also true for confidence.

As a parent, we all want our children to be confident.  Not foolish or reckless, but willing to walk in, sit down and try.

As a teacher of preschoolers for a long time, this is something I expect from all preschoolers.  They may be afraid/angry (crying), but they are also curious and intrigued by new activities and people.

I remember one little girl, years ago, who came for a visit with her dad. She made it very clear that she wanted no eye contact or conversation with me, and sat behind her father.  He, of course, kept trying to coax her out.  This is not my first rodeo, so I knew to get something out, put it on a rug, and enjoy exploring it.  It almost doesn’t matter what I got, it is my interest that is intriguing.  Of course, she eventually crept out and joined in.  I knew not to try to “make friends” unless she initiated it.  That was not what we were doing.  We were exploring together. My job was to present the opportunity (“create the environment” is what Montessorians say) and then wait, but not passively.  In a Montessori classroom, the children are attracted by the materials, and the activity of the other people, particularly the other children.  That is why it is so important to have “experienced” children; i.e multi-aged grouping, but that is another essay. 🙂

We create an interesting environment, with busy people in it, and there is so much to watch and touch, we hope that the child will be drawn in, without any coersion from any of us.  It happens, with time, for almost everyone. (For those who are not interested in anything, there is not much I know to do.)

Back to confidence.  It takes confidence to enter in, and it takes entering in to build confidence.  This is a hard one.  It would be nice if we all learned confidence with every move we made, from birth, but that cannot always happen, for many reasons.

So, sometimes, we have to create the environment and wait.  Not everyone likes the stretching it takes to take that first step; it is uncomfortable.  This reminds me of a time in a new school.  I was about 12.  For many reasons (some to do with my lousy eyesight, and how long I went without glasses before anyone noticed how blind I am!), I felt terrible at “sports” or games.  In a new school, I had a new game (hockey), which I was sure I would hate as much as every other game (kickball, softball, dodgeball…..)  My stance was to stand as far away from the action as possible, and endure.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful coach.  She took the time to put me in a position and explain to me what my job was.  And to make sure it was very simple: “If you get the ball, pass it to this person.”  That’s it.  Then, she followed along a bit, and told me again, when the time came.  After one success, my confidence grew, of course, and the fun of being part of a team was evident, for the first time.  I never was a hockey star, but I loved every game I played from then on.

I will say, she didn’t give me the option of sitting out every game until I graduated.  She didn’t give me pity or too much help.  She didn’t say that, since I was skinny, nearsighted, and terrified looking, I should just give it up, even though everyone else had been playing since Kindergarten. She certainly didn’t offer to do it for me.  She gave me a simple task, and expressed confidence that I could do it.  Then she let me go.  She didn’t give me a trophy, either, but a smile. (Thanks, Mrs. Callahan!)

So, sometimes creating the environment includes expressing faith and then leaving them to it (How much instruction is needed?  It is often hard to know….”Every unnecessary help is a hindrance.”  Maria Montessori. That one is a moving target.  We do get better with practice, and, observing.  One answer might be: “Less than you think.”)

The goals: confidence, independence, new interests, joy.