Montessori Basics Guiding Principles- Personal & Spiritual Preparation

A Montessori Journey

Starting out on a Montessori teaching journey can be a little overwhelming. It probably feels like there is a lot to learn and begin to understand. Even veteran teachers continue to study and learn about the many facets of Maria Montessori’s Method for teaching and guiding children well into their own Montessori teaching careers. With that said, your own personal journey of learning when broken down into smaller sections is very obtainable. We’ve heard from several of you that you don’t know where to start and you might need some help so we wanted to let you know that we have got you covered! We are happy to say that as promised, our Montessori Basics series is here! We will be spending the next 8 weeks sharing with you several principles that we have collated from the many principles of Montessori that we think will help guide you as you start or even continue your personal Montessori journeys. So without further ado, let’s get started!

As a quick reminder, these are the areas that we will be covering over the next several weeks.

•Personal & Spiritual Preparation
•Structure, Organization, & Simplicity
•Preparation of the Environment
•Seeing the Child and Learning as a Whole
•Following the Child through Observation
•Positive Discipline & Freedom of Movement
•Encouraging Independence

Today, we start at the beginning……“The Spiritual and Personal Preparation of the parent or guide”

Principle #1

Spiritual & Personal Preparation
Probably the most important principle of Montessori Education to embrace is that of the “Preparation of the Teacher.” This is not just for teachers in formal school settings but for parents and caregivers as well since we all are here to guide and assist our children and students in their various learning settings.
Before we even worry about the curriculum and preparation of the learning environment, we must prepare ourselves personally and spiritually so that we can provide the most effective ways to guide our children in all areas of their development.

“The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.” —Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

You might be wondering what that means. How does one prepare themselves personally and spiritually to teach and why is it important? Let me explain:

Maria Montessori felt that before we can start our time as teachers, first we need to carefully consider our thought patterns and beliefs about children and their behaviors, recognize in ourselves our own limitations and prejudices and also be keenly aware of our negativities.

What is Your Parenting Style?
Most of us parent and teach how we were parented and taught. Sometimes this is a great thing. Many times it isn’t. Ask yourself what type of style did your parents or caregivers have when guiding you in your formative years? Was it authoritarian or disciplinarian, permissive or indulgent, uninvolved or maybe even authoritative? Anyone of these styles are common. Maybe you were really lucky and you were governed by a more “Montessori inspired” plan, but for most people, we fall into one of the above four categories. If this pertains to you and even if it doesn’t, we still need to take the time to examine how our beliefs and thought patterns for raising and disciplining children were formed and how that aligns with our thought patterns now.

Because Montessori is rooted deeply in ideas such as freedom of movement (which will be discussed in a later post), respect for the child and peaceful modeling of behaviors, it is important to be aware of how we work with children, prejudices that we might have towards children that might affect the way that we guide and teach and that might in the end be problematic for our children and students.

We all want the same things for our kids. We want them to be happy, to feel loved, to have security and safety and grow to be adults who are peaceful, love others and contribute to society. So when we take the time to examine our feelings, our beliefs, our own faults and imperfections then set out to change those for the benefit of our children, we truly give them power to grow in amazing ways!

Now don’t get me wrong! I understand that we are all imperfect! We cannot and will not be a perfect parent to our children or students everyday, but I promise with a little introspection and desire to do our best, we can have perfect moments with our children as we learn together how to become the best versions of ourselves! As we are awakened to our limiting beliefs and how it affects our children, we can open new doors of possibility for growth and development for the child and adult!

Becoming Less Controlling and More Controlled in our Approach
Maria Montessori also taught that we need to learn to give up our own need to control and learn ways to support children along their own individual learning path.

Again, ask yourself, “Am I controlling in my ways with my children? Do I seek perfection in the process? Do I allow my child or student to do things on his or her own even if it’s messy or done in a way that I think is not correct?” If you answer yes to any or all of these, it would be important to stop and figure out a way that you can learn to be a presence that allows children more gentle guidance and less control. As we recognize that the process of the activity a child is doing is far more important than the result, we truly empower our children. Allowing the process to take center stage will do more for your child’s or students’ growth as far as building confidence and independence than they could ever reach if we control every aspect of their learning.

“Free the child’s potential and you will transform him into the world.”
Maria Montessori

Another key component in working with children is the understanding and importance of treating the child with humility and even reverence. It is important to note that the relationship we have with our children and students depends upon the way we approach and treat them. (we will learn about this more in another segment) but think on this idea a little. When we recognize the child as a human spirit equal to us in value, we will tend to see the importance of being a better example in our actions.

When I was a new teacher many years ago, I witnessed another teacher get frustrated with a child because he was not using a material correctly. To be fair, the child was acting out quite a bit. But the teacher’s reaction kind of surprised me. Quickly and unexpectedly, the teacher grabbed the material out of the child’s hands and he began to cry. I thought about the injustice of that experience a lot and when a few years later I had opened my own school, I used it as an example of what not to do with a child. I actually did a little experiment during one of my staff workshops where out of the blue I snatched a teacher’s pencil from her hand. You can imagine everyone’s shock and confusion wondering what I was doing. I went on to apologize of course and asked how this made the teacher feel. She said, “I felt shocked and embarrassed. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong.” I used this abrupt action to show what it might feel like to a child when we take things from them because they are being unruly or maybe they are using a material inappropriately or maybe because we are in a hurry and want to change directions, etc.

We should always ask a child’s permission before acting upon a child. Unfortunately, we forget this sometimes. Things as simple as, “May I touch your work?” or “May I help you with your shoes?”, shows our respect and in turn teaches the child how to respect us and others as well.

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future… Let us treat them with all the kindness which we would wish to help to develop in them.” – Maria Montessori

Using a soft voice and creating an environment of peace are other ways we can show reverence and respect for our children. I know, I know, this is in a perfect world but I truly believe that if we take the time to nurture ourselves and prepare ourselves for the big task of teaching/guiding, we will be better equipped to handle different situations as they come along with patience, kindness, understanding and love. This will take practice, but “practice makes perfect,” right?

Spiritual Preparation
Preparing yourself spiritually to be the best version of yourself might sound a little overwhelming but it can be done in so many simple ways. Honestly, most of us work on this often because it’s human nature to want to progress, to want to do better and to have the desire to be better each day. Don’t worry about spending hours and days ahead of time trying to figure things out. Instead, be aware that you are going on a journey with your child and you may have preconceived thoughts or notions of what it all should look like, but in truth you are going to grow together as you take time to nurture yourself along the way so that you are prepared to honor and nurture your child too.

What things do you find deeply meaningful? What things do you do that connects with your heart and grounds you to earth? When we are grounded and connected, we will naturally bring peace to our learning environments and we will be able to nurture our students and children in a way that is meaningful and supportive of them as well.

Here is a little list that we’ve compiled of things that we use that allows us to prepare for our roles as our children’s teaching guides. While I’m sure there are so many other ways, we hope this list might get you started thinking about what brings you peace.

•Spending time in Nature
•Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, Dance
•Reading Poetry
•Walking or Running
•Listening to or Playing Peaceful Music
•Being Silent (listen to your inner spirit)
•Reflecting (what do you know about yourself? What do you want to learn?)
•Deep Breathing

It’s all about the Breathing!
I have often shared with our staff at Children’s House the importance of arriving to work a few minutes early each day so they can take some time to ground themselves through some simple deep breathing exercises or simple meditation moments. Before I started our school, I taught public school for a few years. During these important learning years in my early career, I quickly found the value of grounding myself daily with simple breathing. Deep cleansing breaths can make a huge difference in how we approach our day. It’s a great idea to take these breaths throughout the day as well.

Takes moments each day to do breathing exercises. Teach your children to do the same. It can be used for calming down, regulating behavior, or just to reinvigorate oneself during the day.

In the classroom and with our children, we like to do regular breathing breaks. The children always remind us when it is time to take a breathing break and some even enjoy leading the class and their siblings in doing so. Don’t underestimate the power of breathing! :)

Material & Technical Preparation
Another important aspect of preparation is being prepared with the work or materials that you will be placing on shelves and presenting to your child or students. If you are like me, you have a lot of fun creating work and putting learning activities together, but before we put the material out, we should spend some time working and practicing with it so that we are sure it has all the necessary components needed. We should know the intricacies of the work and the potential interest that our child might have for it.

Technical preparation is in reference to the Montessori Materials developed by Maria Montessori in particular although it also can refer to any materials that you or someone else prepares for your child. It is important to have a sound understanding and knowledge of and the aim of each material. Through this understanding and your observations of your child, it will be clear on what material to present and when. A few important things to learn about presenting Montessori lessons are: how to present a three-period lesson; the importance of using controls of error; using minimal words when giving lessons; and how to maintain your child’s interest. We will be discussing all of these things in further posts so stay tuned for that information soon.

It is Most Important!
While all of this preparation might not seem super important or even necessary to some because, let’s face it, you are just excited to delve into the more social and academic areas of your child’s learning, I promise you it is the MOST important aspect of your teaching/homeschooling journey that you will do. I encourage you to find the time to nurture yourself while reflecting on your thought patterns regarding children and their learning. If needed, make some positive changes in yourself so you are free to allow your child to guide you and themselves along their learning journey as well! This kind of teaching, the Montessori way of guiding a child’s learning, is really rewarding!

We have included a set of FREE Yoga Cards that you can practice first yourself and then introduce to your child. We have also provided a set of FREE Positive Affirmation Cards. Again, use these yourself and share with your children. They are a step in the right direction when preparing yourself daily! Let us know how the journey goes! We welcome all of your questions and look forward to dialoguing with you as we continue to grow ourselves!

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