|March 22, 2013|
I’m a member of a fairly exclusive club. It has nothing to do with the fact that I am a trained Montessori teacher, that I own and operate a Montessori school, that I attended Montessori as a child or even that I’m a member of the Montessori Madmen. I am a Montessori dad. In a few months I’ll be renewing my membership for the fourth time. I’m by no means a charter member, but I try to attend all the meetings. I read the newsletter. I’m in the know. Recently, I had a revelation about our club and I wanted to share it with you. At the risk of being controversial, here it is: Dads are the third rail of Montessori.
I didn’t coin the phrase. I’ve heard it used in politics “Social security is the third rail of politics.” The analogy refers to the third rail on the subway tracks that carries the electricity. Essentially, the third rail is where all the power is, but you need to treat it with care or you might get shocked. I think the analogy applies to dads, just as it does to Social Security. No one would suggest that social security is the most important of political topics and I am certainly not suggesting that dads are the most important part of child education or any family unit for that matter. I think the analogy holds for both because in spite all our effort, nobody really knows the best way to work with either of them.
That’s where the comparison ends. Social Security isn’t going to stand up for itself. We can’t inspire social security. Social Security is not a club. Montessori dads, however, are all of these things and more. In January, I held a club meeting of sorts to discuss a few things. I inventively called it “Montessori for Dads.” My goal was simple; make Montessori occupy a larger part of dad’s brain. Thirty-five dads showed up and kept the discussion rolling for more than 2 hours. The energy was great. The questions were thoughtful and the discussion was fun and informative. It was our most successful dads event ever. There was no “shock”, but unfortunately, it is difficult to say what -if any, will be the long-term results of the meeting.
Here’s what I learned:
When you get a group of dads together to talk about parenting, there is a palpable sense of humility in the room. In case anyone out there misunderstands, humility is a good thing when it comes to parenting -it might be one of the best things. My theory is that we dads have grown comfortable with the idea that parenting is mom’s game. In that game many of us are considered bench warmers. Sure, we get our time on the field, but it’s usually only when mom goes down with a hammy. I’m sorry if that stings a little. Being a dad, I’m not so happy about the news myself. However, I’m basing my theory on 13 years of experience in working with parents and their children.
O.K. yes, there are some great dads out there. You might be one of them, but that doesn’t change my theory. If you think it through, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Turn on any family sitcom and you’ll see what I mean. Mom generally has her act together. She’s organized, handles the kids and essentially is responsible for the parenting. Dad, when he’s not at work, scratching himself or watching football, mows the lawn and fixes the sink. Cross those lines and you’ve got a disaster on your hands. It’s funny because its true.
In the case of our club meeting, the humility worked well. It created a wonderful openness to the ideas being shared. Dads didn’t feel like they needed to have all the answers. Society gives dads a hall pass and says it’s o.k. for us to be clueless when it comes to child development. We took advantage of this that night. But the group also had something else going for it, drive. I didn’t have to force anyone to show up and I certainly didn’t force anyone to stay and participate. The dads did it themselves. Halfway through the meeting, I found myself thinking of how much we could accomplish if we work together. Perhaps like most bench warmers, we want to get in the game, we just need the opportunity to show what we can do.
After the event, I started thinking about what really seems to be a paradox of Montessori education. In the overwhelming majority of parents that I have enrolled, it is mom who makes the decision to enroll in our school. If I only meet with mom the first time (which is the case 90% of the time), I try very hard to meet with dad shortly thereafter. This is harder than it sounds. Most of the time, when I do meet dad I hear “My wife makes the decisions on this stuff. I’m just here to check the place out.”
Fast forward 2 years. The child has grown emotionally, socially and academically, but that growth is far from complete. It’s the third year, the Kindergarten year where everything comes together. For more than 100 years the value of the three year cycle has been proven over and over again. All that the child learns in those first years has been building toward this moment. It should be a no-brainer. MAB Kindergarten? Where do I sign? For some moms, it is. Then, I get the note that says “We have chosen another program for our child.” So I talk to mom and what do I hear? “I really want to send Timmy back for Kindergarten, but I can’t convince my husband.” BZZZT! SHOCK! We just hit the third rail.
Year after year this happens. Of the reasons students leave Montessori before the third year, this may be the most frustrating, because it tells me something could have been done somewhere along the line to avoid this. But What? Why is it that mom gets the child in the door but dad is the reason he or she stays? Moms, does this sting a little for you, too?
Once again, society and conventional thinking may be a part of the problem. Our entire educational system is based upon the idea that “real” learning starts at first grade. I’ve even heard that from a few dads who have come through my door. Yet all of the most recent scientific studies of brain and child development tell us that it’s actually the first 6 years of life that are the most important. Even President Obama has realized this and has directed a new focus of education on preschool. Yes, Dr. Montessori figured this out more than 100 years ago, but this is not just a Montessori concept. It’s science!
At our club meeting, one of the dads very graciously asked me “Now that you have us here, what we can do for this school and the children.” What a great question! A soft-ball, if you will. What can you do? First, learn why your child is here. Why he or she is thriving. Learn what the teachers do and do not do to aid in that growth. Take advantage of the fact that almost all of what we do here can be done at home. Experiment with your parenting. Discuss parenting with your friends. Discuss it with your child’s teacher. Learn about brain development. Learn what is going on behind the scenes in your child and figure out what is coming on the horizon. Surf the internet to find videos and resources on child development. Start at www.TED.com and this website work out from there. In short, make Montessori and child development occupy a larger part of your brain. That’s all we need.
Most importantly, don’t fall victim to society’s views. You are not a backup. Dad’s don’t babysit! Remember you are not just one dad in a sea of parents. You are a member of an exclusive club but one which consists of literally millions of dads around the world. We are the third rail. We have the power to make a huge difference -one way or the other. As a group, we have yet to flex our collective muscles to influence the path of our children’s education and development, but it’s high time we get off the bench and get in the game.
|January 17, 2013|
Does your child see you as “The Boss?” Do you see yourself that way? Maybe your spouse is the boss. I’m not talking about the lovable Tony Danza type. I’m talking about the Donald Trump, King Henry type.
In generations past, the patriarch was exactly that. “The Boss.” “Coffee is for closers.” “My way or the highway.” “Because I said so.” Teachers were that way, too. Thankfully, things have changed since then, but in some homes (and many schools), perhaps not as much as they should.
What image does the word “boss” project in your mind? Assuming it’s not Tony Danza, it’s probably something pretty negative. The working world has come to realize that the stereotypical boss/employee relationship is not a productive one. Traditional school systems are slowly following along as teachers begin to realize they have much to learn from their students. But the best kept secret out there is that Montessorians have known this for more than 100 years!
The patriarch of old expected complete subjugation. The old school teacher sought compliance over understanding and the 20th century boss told everyone what to do. It was me versus you. Us versus them (which makes it all the more amazing that Dr. Montessori was able to accomplish what she did). If you have this situation in your home, it can be a recipe for disaster. You may not realize it, but because of this relationship, even in the best case scenario you’re entering into each parent-child interaction at a significant disadvantage.
At home, there should be no boss. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. Certainly mom and dad have the authority and the final say, but the ideal parent child relationship is more of a partnership –and that is exactly the relationship that Montessori teachers work to cultivate with each student.
Consider the following scenarios.
Imagine you proudly bring a new idea to your boss at work who says “We can’t focus on that now. We have other more important work to do first.” That answer would very likely deflate your enthusiasm for your new idea (at least temporarily) and would turn the “more important work” into nothing more than a barrier to your plans. If the goal is simply getting past the work, there isn’t much hope that we will give our best effort . With a few simple words, your boss just created problems for both of you.
If instead, when your boss sees your new idea he/she says “Yes. I want to hear more about that, and we’ll take a look at your idea right after we finish this.” In this scenario, wouldn’t you be more interested in cooperating with the boss’s request? It’s a subtle difference but all we did was to change the phrase from negative to positive. With that simple change in language your boss became your partner.
Now read that again putting yourself in the boss’ position and your child in that of the employee. Which scenario is closest to the one that most often plays out in your home? Now, the comparison may need to move beyond the literal, since most children aren’t submitting power point presentations to their parents. So think of situations where your child needs your assistance or approval, or even situations where you want your child to do something that he/she may not especially want to do. How does that compare?
If you find that the first scenario hits closer to home, there are things you can do. First, but gradually, give your child as much responsibility as he/she can handle by physically making your home a place where he/she can be successful in simple everyday tasks without you. This can really help to reduce unnecessary interactions and arguments.
Second, when you do have these interactions, always try to enter the situation with a specific goal and a basic plan to achieve it (What does my child really need and how can I help him/her meet this need?) Say what you mean, phrase it positively and don’t repeat it unless absolutely necessary. For example; Don’t ask a child to clean up his room unless you are prepared for him/her to say “no.” If it’s not a question, don’t make it one. Instead simply say “clean up your room.”
These are just a few ideas. Contact your child’s teacher to learn techniques that will apply to your specific child. In any case, don’t expect to go from boss to partner overnight. Montessori teachers require years of training to successfully apply these techniques in the classroom. Some of these changes may yield immediate results. Others may work more behind the scenes. None of the above ideas are one-and-done solutions. Parenting is a marathon. Not a sprint. Consistent, pro-longed application of these concepts is the key to their success.
The fact of the matter is that whether it’s in the classroom, boardroom or living room, human beings respond better to cooperation than domination. Sorry for the alliteration. I had to do it. But don’t let that obfuscate the points, here, which are many. At the risk of oversimplifying I’m going to bullet point them below:
Remember, as a Montessori parent, you have access to a nearly limitless resource in child development. Give us a call. Send an email. We are here to help.
|September 10, 2012|
By Bart Theriot, Head of School, Administration
The earliest lessons learned by students new to the Montessori environment are those of grace and courtesy. As discussed in Part I, these lessons form the backbone of the Montessori method. As the new year begins, it is always fun to see the children learning how to relate to one another as they begin to take responsibility for their own development. The wonderful thing about these lessons is that they continue through the child’s entire Montessori experience. They build the framework for the life ahead. We’re going to discuss as many as we can here on the MAB website. Today, let’s talk about patience –certainly, an essential human skill .
Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re having a conversation with your spouse –nothing time sensitive or important, just catching up on the day’s events. 45 seconds into your conversation, you hear “Mom.” Your beautiful child approaches and stands directly in between you and your spouse and says “MOM!” What happens next varies from house to house. Many parents will stop their conversation and direct their attention to the child. Some parents may attempt to continue their conversation and ignore the child –a tactic which is usually met with “Mom. Mom. Mooommmm. MOMMY!” until the parent has completely forgotten what she was talking about, thus ending the conversation all the same.
Patience comes in many forms. It is one thing to have patience when engaged in a preferred activity, but another thing entirely when waiting for a need to be met. Neither of the two options above provide the child with an opportunity to develop her patience. Simply ignoring the child may allow you to finish your conversation, but doing so does not send the proper message to the child, who may learn that ignoring is an acceptable method of human interaction. However, if the parent immediately gives her attention to the child, the message is sent that no matter what mom is doing, what the child wants is more important. In the grand scheme of things, our children’s needs must come first. The problem arises when neither the parent nor the child is able to treat wants differently than needs. After all, when you are accustomed to having all your wants and needs met immediately, who needs to know the difference between the two?
Dr. Montessori clearly recognized the need for patience in early life. As a result, nearly every material in the classroom and all of those in the practical life and sensorial sections teach patience. Here’s a lesson our teachers use from toddlers through elementary. Please try it at home and let us know how it goes (chances are your child has already heard it, but she will get a real kick out of doing it with you). It’s also a good way to show her that you are a part of her class.
The next time your child interrupts a conversation in this manner, use this as the opportunity to share this lesson with her. Pause your conversation, get down to her level and while making eye contact, say “I am talking to dad right now. I want to hear what you have to say, but I will listen to you when I am finished my conversation with dad. In the meantime, please put your hand on my shoulder/arm and wait patiently until I stop talking and look at you.”
This may take a few times to get it right. After a few attempts, it is helpful to remind the child simply by quietly motioning to her to wait without making eye contact and softly tapping your hand on your shoulder to remind her what she should do. When your child has mastered this technique, you can explain to her that she may simply wait nearby as the hand on your shoulder is no longer necessary.
There is also a nice little bonus lesson of independence attached to this. It happens without any extra effort on the part of the adult, but we see it very often in our elementary classroom. In addition to developing patience, your child will also begin to learn to find the answer to her own questions. Then all that is left is to learn to differentiate needs and wants, but that’s another lesson for another time.
|August 31, 2012|
I love the start of a new school year. Less than one full week in the books and already the classrooms are humming with that electric energy found only in the Montessori environment. New relationships are forming and old relationships are strengthening. For some of our students, even those we haven’t seen all Summer, it is as if they never left! In truth, if we have done our jobs, Montessori will remain with each child for the rest of his life.
I hope you are enjoying these early days of school as much as the children. Your children will be bringing home so many new ideas beyond the tangible work in their backpacks. Sometimes, the learning is subtle and takes a keen parenting eye just to notice it. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you won’t miss a thing.
Thanks again for joining us. We look forward to sharing these amazing and important years with you and your child.
Head if School, Administration