The Romance of Montessori....

.......or the appearance thereof.

I'm sure you all remember when you  met your spouse, before you were married. If you are like me, you remember being so in love that everything was roses and sunshine, and so romantic that it seemed there would never be a problem in the world. Of course, we all know that's seeing reality through rose-colored glasses - when the glasses come off, we see that there are things we must learn to work together with, and adjust to, to make that love turn in to a marriage that works!

I could easily compare that my Montessori thus far to that!
I didn't realize that somehow I made this misconception up in my head that once I had things a certain way, somehow my children would turn into these beautiful little learning angels that would just float from work to work, having so much fun all by themselves they would never desire to stop and talk to one another, or get distracted by something going on across the room (or across the house!). Sounds silly, doesn't it?

What I have in reality is children that are truly showing some great signs of 'normalization'. Chances are, if you've found my blog, you already know what this term means. I didn't understand it for a long time, and had a hard time trying to figure out how to get there, when I didn't know HOW or WHAT it was supposed to look like in my home. I had seen it - in a school. I just knew that somehow, it wasn't happening in my home, at least not the way I thought should be going on.

We have a local Montessori school in my city, which happens to be just about 5-10 minutes away from my home. I have had the privilege of being able to sit in and observe with free reign to move through all three classes - primary, lower and upper elementary. I was having a hard time here recently keeping all five of my children busy and working, the best I could anyway, and another Montessori mama (and blogger *cough cough* - My Boys Teacher!) suggested I go visit the lower elementary class again and see how just a few teachers keep a much larger amount of children working. 

What I was able to closely observe, after honing in on this and not much else - I took very few notes this time, which is much different than other times, when I wrote many, many notes on different details of the classroom, work being set out, etc.

Kids - even Montessori kids, who have been Montessori kids since at least 3 yrs old - are just KIDS :)

I know - that was deep. You're probably still reeling from such a revelation - I'll give you a minute to breath. 

:)
Let's talk Normalization for a minute....  Deb at Living Montessori Now has a great post on normalization, and you can read the full post here.
I'm going to borrow from her post a little, because she has some great explanations - she's already said it the best!

Deb says, "Normalization isn't something that's done to the child. It's something that happen when children are given meaningful work to do - especially individualized work that's freely chosen and uses child-size tools and activities that engage the child's attention."

In essence, if I read that correctly, normalization isn't going to come by having the perfect amount of shelves, or every work possible out, or having all the authentic materials and financially diving in deep  to get them. None of these are bad things, and over time I'd love to have more in these areas - but they are not what is necessary to have a good environment that brings about a 'normalized child'. This concept of normalization can come by simply honing in on what works for your child, what keeps them motivated, busy, and feeling as if they are accomplishing something meaningful.

She also lists four characteristics of a normalized child:

1. Love of Work
 2.  Concentration
  3.  Self-discipline
                      4.  Sociability (or joyful work)


I stopped looking at what was working for other children who learn the Montessori way, and started thinking about what my children need, and what works for them!

1. There is definitely a love of work, and it show differently with different children. Miss Priss does amazingly well, and has been LOVING learning to read, writing things on her own, math - everything! Hoss doesn't always handle the initial work of learning something new well - he tends to get a little over-stressed when it's not necessary - but once he catches on, you'd better watch out! Where Little Mama is not a math fan, she LOVES to read. Just recently, she became fascinated with all things Native American, and I'm not quite sure she's over that yet. She was checking out every possible N.A. book she could find at the library, reading about them, writing about them, making tiny families and homes for them out of paper, construction paper, etc. - anything she could find. There is truly a love of work around here, especially when something captivates them!

2.  Concentration - this is a little hard here at times, I'll admit. When you throw a 4 year old and 2 year old in the mix who don't have this mastered well, it really messes with the older three. If you take them out of the mix, however, Little Mama, Hoss, and Miss Priss are fairly good with concentrating on their work....unless the cat walks by - they feel they must pick him up for a quick snuggle. I have been trying to patiently let this habit go - I realized it's not a BAD thing to want to love on their pet, so long as they don't decide to play a game of chase afterwards with him, or each other.... *just keeping it real*

3.  Self-discipline - This is something we have worked to teach out children looooong before we knew what Montessori was. What an important character trait! Self - Discipline goes far beyond the 'classroom' - it could save your life one day! It's so important in all areas, and we are seeing it begin to settle in with the oldest two the most. Where Little Mama may not be the first to want to begin school and discipline herself to get started right on time, or keep up with what she has done and needs to (we are working on it), she is often the first one up in the mornings, immediately hits the shower if she can, and many mornings takes care of breakfast herself. You might say that doesn't sound like self-discipline - she's 9! When I say she takes care of breakfast, that's for everyone! Not because she has to, but because she wants to.

4.  Sociability - *Sociable is defined as 'willing to talk and engage in activities with other people; friendly'* (however, a full classroom of 20-30 kids is NOT a requirement, you notice!)
All of our children love to be with each other. Don't get me wrong - they are normal children, who can fuss and pick at each other with the best of them. If you take one child away from the mix, however - send them with Daddy, or to spend time my Nana - and within an hour someone is missing them. They all share a room at the moment, and I overheard Little Mama telling a friend one day that "it gets a little crowded, but I enjoy it!"  When it comes to school, they like to be together, and very often the older two are helping the youngest two with something, or reading to them. I used to be concerned because I was afraid there was too MUCH socializing going on, and sometimes I have to remind them they don't need to be talking or that two people aren't required for whatever it is they are doing, but I realized that they are interacting with each other. I am also able to teach them the correct way to handle problems when they arise - they can't just run off and 'play with someone else' and decide not to be friends anymore - they have to stick it out and work it out! :)

When I realized all this, it dawned on me that there was a great deal of the right things going on here! Not to say it's perfect - there is so much more I'd like to be doing and would like to see from my children, but we are on the right track, and that is a blessing to me as both their mother and teacher.

So I have left off the feelings of 'everything will always be rosy and progress without a bump in the road'. That's not to say I should just let things go and not strive to do better - please don't think that's what I am saying - but it was causing me unnecessary stress trying to make it all 'perfect' and I was expecting more than I should have been. Some days, school doesn't start right when it should. SOME days, we don't start until the afternoon. Sometimes, I DO have to say "It's time for school - NOW" and call a halt to playing. Sometimes, there are children that say they don't want to start right away. I know who I am dealing with - I know their parents very well :) Most adults in general can agree that sometimes it's a fight to get up in the morning, to get moving, and there are days where we are not motivated as much as others. We just have to work through it!

I am not looking for perfect children through Montessori - and this may shock you, but I am not looking for little genius' either! I just want them to love learning so that they don't have the 'oh I hate school' attitude! However we need to tweak the *traditional* Montessori method is fine with me - we may not always follow a presentation to a 'T', or use every single extension or presentation available for a certain material.

It is possible to make Montessori work in your home, without every single material you can buy, although I don't discourage you - if you can get the materials, GET THEM! They are beautiful and worth the eye-opening learning opportunities that your child can get. If you can't, though, that;s okay :) Use your imagination to figure out what you can do to give the same concrete learning experience to the best of your ability -  I promise, you will see a lot of that going on around here! I hope this is an encouragement to anyone who might, like I do at times, feel overwhelmed and wonder if they are doing it 'right'. Observe your children closely, find what works, and go with it until it doesn't work anymore! That IS, after all, what Montessori did.......

Comments

  1. Love this post Amy! Linked to it on my Facebook page :) Would LOVE to hear more about the kinds of "behavior" you observed at the school that helped you realize your kids were "normal" or "normalized" or "normalizing" (te he).

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I may share some of it in a future post -both what I liked and saw that was encouraging, and some things I saw that were eye-opening and unexpected in an elementary classroom! Thanks again for suggesting another trip - it really helped me sort things out in my mind, and see again the teacher/student interaction and some good tips for keeping up with everything at home. I know I only have 5 children, but when you throw the rest of the house and trying to keep it running smoothly, too - the laundry and lunch and dinner and trying to make sure it's peaceful when my husband gets home - it's easily overwhelming if I am unbalanced in any one or two areas!

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  2. Nice post! I definitely think the two and unders keep it interesting/challenging. Mine is 18 months, and I find that she concentrates very well when it is just her and I but once my 4-year-old is there too, she wants to see/do/touch what he is doing and forgets all about her own work.....

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    Replies
    1. You are so very right! It's awful tempting to a little one to see someone doing something that must be so much more fun! :) And the same goes for my 4 year old, who really would like to do everything the 6 year old is doing!

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