Recently, one of our students has blossomed into math. Every day he completes challenging works in math, and is practicing excellent problem solving skills. For example, with the multiplication bead board he found that 4 multiplied by 10 is forty. To solve the problem 4 multiplied by 9, he started with forty, and counted back by four . . . 39, 38, 37, 36 . . . as he removed four beads from his bead board. Later, while working on a series of multiplication equations related to the number 10 (4 x 10, 6 x 10, 10 x 3), he asked, “Can’t I just count by 10s?” and he proceeded to do so. During the last four tours I have given to prospective families, this child has introduced himself, walked the visitors over to the bead cabinet, and explained to them how you work with the short and long chains for skip counting. “I used this chain to count to a thousand. It didn’t take me too long because counting by tens is easy. I also like counting by twos and fives – they are easy. Counting by nines is much harder.” He feels very accomplished and satisfied. He is working in the areas that most interest him at this moment in time. His work is joyful. He feels happy and proud. This is the gift of Montessori. When you respect the choice of the child, you are acknowledging that he is a person in his own right, with his own likes and dislikes, his own strengths and challenges, his own way of learning and doing things. You are teaching him that his choice matters and that he is in charge and responsible for his own learning.
Sometimes a parent and/or teacher feels that a child should be doing more work in another area of the curriculum.
“Why isn’t he reading?”
“Why isn’t he choosing to do more writing?”
“Why is she spending all of her time drawing and painting maps instead of learning to count?”
Montessori asks us to trust the child, to follow the child! When we allow the child to make choices, the child is most engaged and learning comes easily and joyfully. Think about a time you learned something new, when you were really engaged in learning this skill. It could be anything from skiing, to driving, to learning a new language, to learning to knit or crochet, or learning a short cut on the computer. At such times, you are focused, engaged, willing to work hard to overcome obstacles and difficulties, and so happy when you mastered that new skill. This is a high-five moment!
Respecting the choice of the child is crucial for optimizing learning. To put focus on an area that is currently not a focus in the child’s mind, is to replace something that is intrinsically interesting to a child with something that we have to work hard to make interesting. So please, if your child is currently enchanted with counting and numbers, embrace this and count everything you see. If your child is currently enthralled by letters and sounds, embrace that and read everything you see. If your child is busy every day with practical life . . . all of the food prep, pouring, washing, sweeping, cleaning activities . . . please try to respect that choice. Your child is working on so much through these activities – developing independence, concentration, hand-eye coordination, a sense of order – skills that will prepare them well for later academic work. Try to find opportunities at home when your child can help with cooking, folding laundry, emptying and loading the dishwasher, washing windows . . .
When you embrace your child’s choice, you are not only maximizing his or her learning potential, you are letting your child know that you respect his or her choice, and that you recognize and value his or her opinions. That is respect!