Monday, November 15, 2010

Fostering independence, reaping creative fruit!

   Sweetpea (now 34 months old) was about nine months old when I first read Montessori From the Start, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen. This book has profoundly influenced the way I mother my young children, specifically with regard to fostering independence. One of the cornerstones of Montessori education is to not do for a child what she can do herself. It has also encouraged us to teach our children the 'correct' way from the start - i.e we never use potties, but train the children on the proper toilet from the start (we do use a set of steps with an attached seat that makes it easier for them to get on, and prevent them from falling in, but Sweetpea very soon grew tired of this and preferred just using the toilet without gadgets); we've never used bottles or sippy cups (I breastfeed, so we don't need bottles, and we've been teaching the children to drink from tiny glasses from about 7 or 8 months old); and of course by the time ArrowBoy came around, we had aslo ditched the traditional baby cot, and my boy is thriving on his 'montessori bed' - you can read more about our cot-free baby room here.

   The motivation behind all this is a respect for each child as an individual person, who needs to gain independence in order to be free to learn and explore this wide and wonderful world in an unconstrained manner. In a practical, everyday sense it means that my daughter can go to any toilet without fear or issues, I don't have to carry a plethora of drinking devices with me everytime we go out, and my son has never had to stand screaming in a cot, waiting for someone to pick him up. In fact, because he can freely get out of his bed whenever he is ready, and because his toys are on a low shelf within his reach, he most often wakes up cheerful and keeps himself occupied with books and toys until he is ready for me to come get him, at which point he will knock on the door!

    One of the most beautiful results of this approach is the fact that our children can, for the most part, keep themselves occupied. When children are given the freedom to function at their own pace in a prepared environment (see * below), it results in them confidently engaging with their surroundings, exploring and choosing activities which appeal to them. It encourages free-play and creativity AND, although this is not the main aim, a definite fringe benefit is the fact that it allows Mama some time to get stuff done!!

  My goodness, all of that, and all I actually wanted to say was that I love the fact that my children can play independently!! And that I am always impressed by how creative they can get when left to their own devices for a while. Point in case: I was catching up on some reading this afternoon while Sweetpea  was quietly playing with a fresh batch of playdough. We often play with this medium and both the children love pinching and prodding and rolling it. But in the past I have either been playing with them (see examples of some of our play dough fun here, here and here!), or they simply rolled it out and pressed out shapes with cookie cutters. When I got it out for Sweetpea today, she wanted only the dough and had been playing contentedly for a long time when she quietly called me over for a look.

  There were two odd shapes with a tiny ball near the end of each: "That's a mama dinosaur and that's her eye, and that's a Sweetpea dinosaur and that's her eye." I could just kiss her!! Where on earth she's learnt about dinosaurs I don't know, but there's definitely a bit on Bronto going on here, don't you think??

Oh, and the outfit...another result of blossoming independence and blooming creativity!!

*The term 'prepared environment' is mostly used when referring to the child-friendly and beautiful way in which Montessori classrooms are set up to invite exploration and make it easy for a child to function in an area where furniture and activities are suited to his physical proportions and intellectual needs. But it can also be true of a home environment where children have access to a variety of learning experiences, and their personal spaces are set up in a way that encourages independence. An example would once again be a Montessori bed: my son can get in and out of bed without help, and his books and favourite toys are on a low shelf where he has access to it. I often find him sitting on his bed thoughtfully 'reading' a favourite picture book!

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