Day two

Today was better.

First of all, I was indeed able to make some warm connection with some of the kids who I’d started out poorly with yesterday. Two showed me the trinomial cube, for example, a material I haven’t had much experience with. I think they felt good that they knew something that I found interesting, and that they could help me learn about it.

Also, the regular teacher was back, and there wasn’t any unusual behavior or interruption in the morning, and I was less new to them all than I was yesterday.

The same girl shadowed me all day again. How do you manage such a thing? What would be both compassionate and respectful? How much time spent in devoted attention is appropriate? How much of a cut-off later is appropriate? How to navigate such a dance, considering all the others in the room…

Similarly, there were a few who just weren’t getting into a focused work cycle. In the middle of the day, I was taking a story dictation from one girl, and three or four other children were sitting nearby or leaning against me, watching and listening. This is learning, too, is it not? If my paltry presence gives them some sense of security and warmth, isn’t that worthwhile? Isn’t it good to honor that sense of needing physical / emotional connection? And while there, they’re still observing someone at work, and perhaps learning a little something academic in the process.

I failed at line-leading. The class across the hall was lined up seated in the hallway, many with feet extended in front of them, and I asked my teacher if we should line up behind this class instead of in the hallway across from them. She agreed, but as I started helping our students line up, leaving what I thought was a big enough gap, some kids from the other class got mixed up in our line. Then, as the other class left, the hallway opened, and for some reason (did someone say something suggesting it?) I thought we should move into the hallway, which apparently is the normal place for the line. It was a little crazy for a minute or two.

I failed at taking dictation — should have gotten a lesson first on how to write on this special paper!

And then I failed at discerning when to hold firm to a limit and when to be flexible considering a child’s desires and needs. One little one, who I have rarely heard saying more than a word or two, did not want to change from outside shoes to inside shoes — I thought this was a fairly hard and fast rule and so I offered to do it for her if she was unwilling to do it herself. This did not go over well. And the teacher told me that it was okay if she didn’t want to change shoes — that usually she does want to, but if she didn’t today that was fine. It is hard when you are working under other people, in a particular accredited system / philosophy / method, to know when the rules stand firm and when they bend.

I was surprised by how much time, at this point in the school year, some children spend apparently doing nothing while they have a work out. They may get distracted by a neighbor’s work or conversation. Or they may not know how to proceed, or may not want to. Maybe their brain is working on it while they look like they’re just dawdling. Or maybe they ARE just dawdling. Or maybe there’s no such thing as just dawdling. Where is the famous Montessori concentration? I thought it was supposed to happen even in this age group, even with the toddlers. What classroom practices foster concentration? What needs or desires might be working against concentration? How should they be addressed? How important is the concentration anyway?

I guess I’m a little surprised at the strength and pull of some social ties — kids that spend the whole day, two days in a row, perhaps all year long, just with their one friend. In a way I am pleased to see a school setting that honors their desire to develop such ties. In another way it does seem to be distracting. What does Montessori training and best practice encourage a teacher or assistant to do with such dyads, especially when they spend more time wandering and talking than working? Again… is it really important at this age to not be distracted, or to focus more on work than on friendship? I think of Teacher Tom and other play-based preschool programs where the only expectation seems to be to respect others and to be wise around risk.

In parenting, I’ve been increasingly learning about how to support a child who is upset. What matters is listening, and keeping safe. It’s not important to end the upset, by distracting, redirecting, isolating, reprimanding, exhorting, contradicting, or whatever. It’s instead important to validate, to hear, to mirror, to reflect — with very few words — the feelings that are being expressed, and to stay close, warm, and connected. And if there is any effort to hit, throw, or whatever, it is important to contain the child so as to stop such violence — to keep the kid, yourself, others, and property safe. To offer safe alternatives such as punching a pillow. And to do it all without exasperation or anger or scorn or shame. (It is HARD to avoid these sometimes; adults who care for kids need an outlet for their exasperation — an adult who can listen to them the way they’re listening to the kids.)

I’m also increasingly concerned about the motives we attribute to kids, and how that influences how we handle their off-track behavior. Do toddlers and preschoolers make bad choices from a place of informed and empowered authenticity? Do they consciously manipulate or rebel? Or do they generally act straight from feelings, impulsively, and lose impulse control when they’re upset or feeling disconnected, and show their sense of upset and disconnection by acting out? What response to their off-track behavior is best suited to their understanding and abilities, best suited to helping them behave better, more like their own true selves? I think the same kind of connected, empathic listening and warm limit-setting I mentioned in the previous paragraph applies to apparent disobedience or poor choices as well as to sadness, fear, and other upsets.

I’m interested in learning more how these insights from parenting can work in a school setting, especially such a respectful and compassionate one as Montessori. I’ve heard of Montessori schools that have adopted RIE practices for babies and young children; I wonder if any Montessoris have connected with Hand in Hand Parenting or other resources in the same natural, gentle, respectful childcare vein.

Anyway, that extended parenting tangent was inspired partly by a moment in class today, but it’s also something I’ve thought about while I’m a parent of a kid at the school. The moment — I noticed an abandoned work on a table, saw a certain boy working at the other end of the table, and thought, aha, his friend is probably the one who was doing that abandoned work. I’ll go find him and ask him if it’s his, and if so, if he’s done or not. But when I found him, he was hunched over in a corner, quietly crying. I asked if he was okay, his head shook; I offered a hug, his head shook; so I told him I would sit by him while he was upset. After a while, he got up and worked on something else, and not much later was back with his friend. I wonder if they’d had some kind of conflict.

I’ll close with little extra bits — we had an assembly today, to hear the band (one flute, one trumpet, one clarinet, three percussionists) and see the lower elementary’s story-play, and I tried to quickly peel and cut up four mangoes without injury and mainly succeeded (no injury, but pretty slow!)

One more day of this classroom experience — for this year. I wonder what next year will bring!

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