Monday, May 4, 2009

Confident Children With a Realistic Sense of Self

Participating in the many admission interviews throughout the month of January, I am not surprised by the number of prospective families that comment on how invested, calm, and reassured our teachers are with the children. My response is often quick and passionate: "It is due to our Montessori heritage and philosophy, our school’s mission, and our families’ commitment to their children and to this kind of education."  These all feed on each other and make for an environment that fosters and nurtures confident, self-assured children.

Our parents who truly believe in a Montessori education tend to be confident in knowing what they want for their children’s education. At the same time, I want our parents to have the comfort and ability to examine their choice, so I find myself letting parents know how important it is for them to feel welcomed at school. The activity and chatter that go on in the lobby during drop-off and pick-up offer a forum for parents and teachers to compare notes and establish long-lasting friendships for their children and themselves. I often see parents who demonstrate their trust and confidence in BHMS by letting go of their children when it is time for them to transition to the next plane of development. The importance of this letting-go cannot be overstated. In an article in Psychology Today, “A Nation of Wimps” author Hara Estroff Marano states that Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has shown unequivocally that what creates anxious children is parents hovering and protecting them from stressful experiences.

Along the way, children have to be allowed to stand on their own, taking small steps to meet and understand their immediate world and, sometimes, failure. I believe that these are the steps that help them to achieve a realistic sense of self. In a nurturing home and in a supportive school, children can take chances — sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing, unconsciously measuring what they can accomplish and what they cannot. A constant barrage from parents, teachers, and coaches of “you’re the best,” or “that wasn’t your fault,” or “they weren’t fair” only confuse and give the child false hope. The Montessori environment is designed to provide enough structure within which the child can explore and discover on her/his own, reflecting when things get challenging or confusing, moving forward when they are easy, and asking the teacher for help when uncertain which path to take.

It is always about the child developing at her/his pace — sometimes slower and sometimes faster than the next child. Children thrive in an environment that allows them to measure their progress against themselves rather than against other children. Our teachers are sensitive to this aspect of a child’s development and growth.

Years of this kind of education in a positive environment produce children who move on to the next level — and eventually on to secondary school and college — confident with a realistic sense of self.

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