Wednesday, July 31, 2019

One of my favorite quotes from Maria Montessori is "follow your child". These three words have helped me so much in my parenting journey. But one may ask, "How can I follow my child? How do I know what their needs are?" The best approach I’ve found is by observing my children, simply stopping all my house work, putting aside my cell phone, and just quietly watching them.

From the first day on this planet, children are ready to explore the world around them. Of course, their world starts with mommy, so they need her pretty much all the time. As they become older, they observe more things by tasting, touching, smelling, and listening. Thus, sensorial materials become very handy. If we spend time by observing our children, we notice what their interests are and offer specific materials and aids that pique their interest. As adults, we do many activities that are not enjoyable, such as waking up early, drinking healthy while awful tasting juices, staying within a budget during the holiday shopping season, etc. Children are different. They learn best by not being forced into a certain activity, but rather completing what they truly enjoy. At their young age, they are not self-aware to focus their energy on tasks they dislike; however necessary they may be. As they approach school age, it becomes easier for them to learn what is"have to do it". There were so many days when I prepared fun and engaging lessons for my kids, and they just walked away from the activity. Thus,I started observing them more and following what grasped their interest. Honestly, it's not easy, when you have a four year old boy, a two year old girl, and a one year old running toddler.

Below are a few tips that have helped me in following my three little treasures:

1. Offer a variety of age appropriate toys/materials

The key here is in minimalism. If you offer ten containers full of stuff, most likely your children will just dump it on the floor without any interest. I suggest a few open shelves that the child can easily reach. Have different subjects in mind: math, language, science, geography, and art. Since I have three different levels of students, I usually prepare a small basket for the baby as she has her own toys in her nursery, and a dedicated corner in the living room, and have different materials for the other two siblings.

2. Always provide an opportunity for creative play

I learn so much by observing my children inventing their own toys and games. I listen to what they are saying to each other, what their dreams are, favorite foods are, their favorite colors, and toys.Their imagination is limitless.Try not to interrupt them by inserting adult-like questions or comments. Simply, get on the floor and follow their rules. Through pretend play you listen to your child's inner desires. They practice problem solving skills, leadership skills, self expression, gain self-confidence, social skills, creativity, manners, and learn of other people's feelings and much more. Often, the teacher inside of me, would push traditional lessons but my three little students taught me that the best lessons are those that they learn by themselves through play.

3. Listen to their questions

When a child asks me a question, I consider it "a golden opportunity”! Any question they have in their minds means they are curious about that subject. If they are interested, they will listen to your answer. If they listen to your answer, or you tell them where to find the answer, they will remember it forever. All parents will agree that their children always have a flurry of questions. Some of my family’s favorites are: why do bears have tails? Why do we have birthdays only once a year? How fast does our planet move around the sun? Do all people have ten fingers?

4. Do not try to raise a "mini you" child

When we push our own interests, we miss an opportunity for the child to discover their own selves. It's fine to offer things that we as a family enjoy doing, such as reading books, taking walks, cooking together, and going to the theater etc. The magic word is "offer. It might be heartbreaking for a musician to discover his child is not interested in music, or for a talented artist to see their disinterest in painting lessons, but we have to remember that every single child has their own talents and strengths. In my family, I have a Lego obsessed child. I could never imagine that this hobby at one and a half years old would catch on so intensely by age four. Likewise, our two year old is an innate artist and has been incessantly drawing since the moment she held her first paint brush.Some of her drawing sessions last up to one hour being, as she  fully immerses herself in her task. Our little walker who recently turned 14 months old, began playing the drums and other musical instruments.I could not predict any of the above hobbies for my children when they were born.

5. Spend as much time as possible listening to your children

A few paragraphs above, I mentioned listening to their questions. Now, I’d like to reinforce simply having ears that hear. Our busy and sometimes overwhelming world tries to steal the quiet time with our family members. It's not easy to always listen to our children but if we don't, they get the message that "I'm not important". If they start feeling that way, soon they will stop sharing with us. If they stop sharing, how can we in turn follow them?

I am thankful to Maria Montessori for her observations and studies of young children. Studying her work, I learned that by watching our little friends, we can understand how they learn and what their interests are. This then leads us to providing the “right” materials and empowering our children with life skills that help them grow into well-rounded individuals.

"The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” M.Montessori

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