Freedom v. “Free-for-all”
Recently Fiore parents participated in hands-on, activity based workshops designed to help them experience the perils of freedom without any structure. Toddler parents discussed that just as limits or rules are necessary in a free society in order for everyone to cohabitate respectfully, some boundaries are necessary for children to be successful in our classroom communities. The order and organization is well planned and always involves setting up the physical space in a way that will help a child succeed, establishing consistent routines, expectations and limits. Teachers (called “guides”) also model appropriate behavior, and carefully think through verbal phrases before saying them so that they will produce a positive response from a child.
With very young children, structure develops when we help them establish the “will to work.” “Work” in our school is a joyful, fulfilling experience! It’s perhaps only our adult predisposed ideas that conjure up negative emotions that we sometimes associate with the idea of working! Your child doesn’t see it that way. He wants to engage in meaningful activity.
In Montessori schools, we distinguish “work” from “play.” We recognize that work — or meaningful activity — occurs when we see that a child is exerting enough effort to become actively engaged for a period of time. Children can engage in work at home just as they do in school. Parents will be able to notice that work activities usually involve a sequence of steps, and the child wants to repeat those steps over and over again. The whole body becomes involved in the movements used in the activity. Work activities help provide a framework for the child, so that he understands what he may do with his body and how to go about doing it. Activities that meet these criteria can be a “friend” to a parent with an active child!
During the event, parents participated in an exercise that helped them see exactly why structure and limits are enabling to a child. They formed small groups, and with their partners attempted to make homemade bread dough. (The children do this in their classrooms every day, by the way.) Several of the teams were expected to perform this task without any information, a recipe or measurements! Those who had prior life experience kneading dough were able to mix their ingredients into something close to the right consistency, even though they were uncomfortable getting started without any instructions. Generally, without directions or some basic familiarity, the flour, water and yeast mixtures became sticky and gooey. Some people gave up altogether, some didn’t understand what was expected of them, and no one was able to trust that their bread would be tasty in the end.
The discussion that followed this dough-making exercise helped parents identify many opportunities for setting up physical space at home in a way that would be conducive to success. Toward the end of the session, parents and guides spoke about times when structure is imposed by spoken words, and the parents practiced rephrasing directives in ways that might entice or encourage children to become involved. We also took turns ways to state a directive in a “positive” way, and learned how to avoid bringing about a negative response from a child with the words used.
Our Elementary class parents talked in their small group about what freedom “looks like” in an environment of heightened interest and complex academic lessons. We discussed Fiore’s curriculum outline for the six year elementary program, and parents learned how progressive lessons like the fraction insets help children move from concrete concepts to abstract understanding and calculations. We talked about the ways in which the key elements of modeling, expectations and accountability play a pivotal role in allowing free choice at these older ages while still remaining goal-oriented throughout each project.
If you missed this eye-opening evening, know that we periodically offer parent information session like this one; be sure to join us next time!