The Montessori method is a approach for interacting and connecting with children in a revolutionary way. And this couldn’t be more true especially when it comes to the young child. I think early childhood education (preschool and below) is a profession that most societies don’t take seriously because people don’t take young childhood seriously. Anyone who has spent copious amounts of time around toddlers will agree that the toddler years can be arguably the most difficult phase of childhood for adults to have to deal with. Toddlerhood is the adolescence of early childhood. Most people aren’t dying for the opportunity to work with this population, and most people aren’t begging for these years to last longer! LOL.
Toddlers are big things in a small package; and it takes a very special kind of patience and approach to connect with them on a sincere human-to-human level. Toddlers are essentially little beings that can move their bodies just like an adult, packaged in the heart-melting cuteness that is the hallmark of infancy. But their brains can be likened to that of an infant, combined with an adolescent’s defiance, and the qualities of a person suffering from a brain pathology– all rolled into one, LOL.
Before I shifted gears to become a professional educator, I aspired to work in a health career that taught me a thing or two about the brains of people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, or brain pathology. Some of the trends you may see are these:
Anyone who has spent repeated time around a group of toddlers will agree that just about every single one of these qualities can be observed in toddler behavior, (minus the sexual inappropriateness of course). While the brain of an otherwise healthy young chid is not injured, it is underdeveloped. So it takes a really targeted approach for how adults can work with these little people, without transforming into the incredible hulk when they do the things that push our buttons. I have worked with toddlers for a decade, and I :still: work on emotional self-control every single day. I still lose it uncontrollably in some instances. I’m human too. And especially when administration doesn’t “get it”, the reality can be particularly rough.
As a professional, I confess there are days where the behavior of 14 (and at times more) toddlers living in the same space for 8 hours a day can be a complete circus. At any given time there is someone stumbling over or falling out of their chair. Screaming. Crying. Hitting their friend. Doing something with the materials that ought not be done. Doing something dangerous they ought not to be doing. The amount of repetition necessary for them to master skills and grasp the behavioral expectations is just, nearly infinite, LOL. Their visual attention can be everywhere if they have not practiced focusing their visual attention before (and yes, focusing one’s visual attention is a skill that can and ought to be practiced in early infancy). They can get sucked into fits of goofy euphoria that spin out of control, or get sucked into tantrums or meltdowns lasting longer than 10 minutes straight. They ignore you, or you’re not sure if they heard you at all. They are defiant on purpose, because this is a critical part of their development.
It can be quite the ordeal. Combine with all of this very poor support from administration if you’re working in a professional ECE setting, and the extremely low pay or zero benefits ECE professionals can receive at some schools, and it is no wonder teachers don’t last in this field. Combine with all of this behavior a parent who has to take care of this toddler, and maybe another newborn, by yourself while your partner goes to work, you are sleep deprived, and maybe trying to simultaneously accomplish other goals like going to college online, or maybe you’re simultaneously working too; and it’s no wonder parents can get short with the young child.
Thus, we absolutely have to remember the power we possess to make the reality joyous or hell based on how we respond to the children and the moments that unfold before us. And this is why Dr. Montessori stressed the importance of the educational and spiritual preparation of the adult.
This is why people can’t just mimic the things you see Montessori professionals doing, post it on social media, and pretend you hacked the method. Worse, this is why people can’t just decide they can start a “Montessori” school, or be a Montessori teacher, or call yourself a Montessori mom without the actual training that adults need in order to implement the Montessori method correctly. If you like wooden toys, awesome. I think wooden toys trump plastic toys any day. But you don’t need to pretend you are a Montessori expert. If you want to open a preschool, awesome. We need more care for young children. But if you don’t have formal Montessori training, just call yourself a preschool. If you want to be able to interact with the young child the way a Montessori professional does, seek out the advice of a trained Montessori professional, or better yet, go get trained too! Join us!
Legitimate Montessori professionals have undergone significant training that uncontrollably transforms us, and transforms the way we respond and behave as an adult interacting with young children. This preparation is the secret sauce of the Montessori method. Anyone can put toys on shelves and in baskets, in a room. That’s not the method. The method is the how, the why, the insight, the knowledge, the expertise, the changed perspective, how and when to present the materials, and the connection with the child. It’s seeing things that those who lack the eyes to see probably won’t see; and may never realize or know. Because it’s not just the tangible stuff. There’s an intangible skill set we receive at training that goes behind all of this beauty and serenity.
When you truly understand this method and philosophy, you start to see and understand the realities shared with the young child through a new set of eyes. You see the environment through new eyes. You gain an understanding of why you’re going to do what you’re going to. You know for which particular child at what time you will introduce particular activities. You gain the ability to intuit what that child is trying to tell you they need. And you know their needs are emotional, physical, cognitive, social, and spiritual. You see the words “spiritual” and “psychic”, and you know what Dr. Montessori meant by those words, LOL.
And when all of the child’s needs are met, the child becomes a better version of themselves. And the reality becomes more calm and peaceful. That is how we know what materials to put in the environment– from the child, and because we have learned how to respond to the child in every moment they need our support. Implementing the Montessori method is like 25% tangible stuff anyone could theoretically acquire, paired with 75% intangible knowledge coming from a trained adult who knows how to interpret the needs of the young child’s reality.
As a trained professional who is making my living devoted to this field, it may make you uncomfortable to hear this, but… it is my duty to caution against people who like to try and mimic the Montessori method without understanding it at its core. It is my duty to caution against partnering with people who just want to make money off of the word “Montessori”, yet have zero professional training in the field of education. It is my duty to caution against partnering with school administrators who have zero professional training in Montessori education, and try to boss around the Montessori professionals; and the administrator who lacks true empathy while operating in the role through which they are required to support the professionals who are trained.
As a trained Montessori professional, it is my duty to encourage everyone who works and lives with a young child to try and attain a fundamental inner understanding of how to truly connect and interpret the needs of the young child from a spiritual and intellectually prepared place. Because you can make or break critical moments shared with your child. The adult can make or break learning opportunities. The adult can heal or the adult can harm. Childhood doesn’t get any do-overs. You don’t need to pretend to be a Montessori professional to work on how to connect with the young child on a human-to-human level. All you have to do is be humble and open to receiving the knowledge from the people who did care enough to get trained; don’t try to be any more than you are, and read books or listen to podcasts.
Again, I don’t go around pretending to be a car mechanic, I don’t post pictures of myself changing the headlight and pretend I’m magically an expert, I don’t try to open an auto body shop, I don’t try to run an auto body shop, and I don’t try to advise people on how to care for their cars– because I am not professionally qualified to do that. But I do know I can certainly try to read up on basic car care, shared and disseminated from the professionals to me, so that my car lasts as long as it can and so that I’m as knowledgeable about my car as I can be since I’m the one whose life it supports.
Likewise, any parent out there can read books and listen to podcasts that can improve your true connection with your child. There are an abundance of early childhood professionals who have amazing knowledge to share. Maria Montessori is not the only person on earth who has impactful ideas; and she is not some kind of goddess. She in fact was so insanely humble she didn’t even want to patent her own name. There are other professionals that complement Montessori knowledge whose works I would highly recommend reading.
Every teacher out there should definitely never stop trying to learn new things that allow you to maintain your cool in the most stressful of situations while working with young children.
I will be sharing learning resources soon! Stay tuned (: