Dr. Montessori writes in one of her many phenomenal books, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” The word that stands out the most to me is not succeed, but can. Children build their sense of self very early on in life and a big part of this is faith in themselves. For a baby who is lovingly transported from one place to another, crawling is a big step in this direction. They learn they can after all get to all the places they wish to, not just where mama wishes them to. For a toddler who has mastered the art of walking, jumping off a tree stump, for example, is yet another step in this direction.
No child is born knowing their unbounded potential. It is a discovery they ought to (repeatedly) make. If we simply tell all babies, “Oh you are so precious, I am just going to carry you around,” they will never learn to walk. More importantly, they will end up assuming this is something they are not capable of. So, it is important we not come in their way while they are learning more about themselves. This is why Dr. Montessori recommended preparing a suitable environment for children and simply letting them discover themselves within it.
In the youngest children’s community, we support each child to build faith by using three very simple tools.
Within the birth to six window, we have three distinct environments (the Nido, the Toddler & the Primary) because children have different capabilities during this. If it is learning to peel a carrot, we arrange everything ready for them to use – a tray to indicate this is a separate piece of work, a small bowl with carrots cut to size for their tiny hands to hold, a child sized peeler to attempt this task, a bowl for peels and then another bowl for the peeled carrots. We think through every step for the child. Why? Because, we want them to focus on just one task – peeling. By doing this step over and over (and over) again, they learn they can do this.
Little children love hanging out with adults. They are eager and willing to do almost anything with us, as long as they can be with us. So, we make the most of this willingness. It is okay if they cannot carry out the task seamlessly, or even see it through.
That is not the goal. Instead, we say, “Here, let’s carry this step stool together. You hold here and I will hold here. You see, we can do this!” We collaborate because we are offering aid until the child does not need us anymore. One day, they tell us, “Let me do everything.” And we celebrate this assertion because it comes from their own realization that they can.
● Slow down
This is probably only ever felt but never seen. Everything in the environment is much slower and in tune with the pace of young children. We value the most mundane things – learning to clean their nose or wipe a leaf. As adults, we get lost in the big things – driving a car, getting a job! But, with children it is all those little, seemingly insignificant things. Because we lead busy lives, we rush through these, not realizing that children are building their sense of self through them. In order to help children realize they can, we create and hold a space that is their pace, not adult-pace.
When we do for children what they can do with us, we rob them of the opportunity to learn. The journey towards success is paved with the mundane. And as we learn to truly discern, we realize it is the mundane that helps us build faith in ourselves. This is why we do what we do each day – helping our youngest children discover yet another small thing that they can do by themselves.
A to I (Birth to 3 Years) Guide