When conducting parent teacher conferences I talk to parent after parent about their child’s interests, skills, and developmental needs. I try to provide a picture of the child’s involvement in the Montessori environment throughout the day.
I want to provide parents with a glimpse into how their child’s personality is being reviled to us through independent activity and freedom of choice. But as I’m talk about the child’s interests, skills, and developmental needs there are a few parents who hear only achievement or failure.
These are the parents who need more than a conference centered on their child’s Montessori experience. These are parents who need to be guided toward a better understanding of The Montessori Philosophy. They need to replace the often heard
idea that the goal of Montessori is academic excellence when the true goal of Montessori is to discover the normalized child.
Academic success may be a result of The Montessori Method but it is not the goal.
The primary goal of the Montessori Philosophy is the normalization of children. Normalization is a social/cultural awakening in the child, an understanding of individual responsibility within the social community of the prepared environment.
Whether this is a school environment or their own home a normalized child understands that there are social conditions placed on behaviors. An example would be that some behaviors are acceptable at a park, while those same behaviors would not be appropriate to a library.
This normalized child rather than being driven by impulses is able to focus on the environment and what it has to offer. Because they are able to absorb the richness of the didactic materials each child is able to reveal to us their individual skills and interests.
When the child is normalized everything else falls into place.
The child who is normalized has the ability to focus on a lesson, and until this happens our work is to guide the child toward this end.
In Montessori we have no curriculum dead line, no pass or fail. We depend on the observation of the individual child. We follow the child’s interests, skills, and developmental needs. This is what directs us in our lessons with the Montessori didactic materials.
So while I am looking for normalization; observing interests, skills and developmental needs, some parents are looking for achievement in academics.
One thing I’ve noticed with these parents is that my words are often translated into “Parent-Speak”. Yes, “Parent Speak”, that language of parental guilt and concern.
When I talk about the child’s interests these parents hear; ‘your child is failing to develop an interest in other more important areas’.
They respond with; ‘Don’t they ever work on their letters/numbers? I want them to work in those areas.’
When I tell these parents about the skills the child is working on they hear; ‘I haven’t done enough to help my child with this’, I should work with them at home.’
They respond with; ‘ I’ll work with them at home and help them improve.’
When I discuss the child’s developmental needs these parents hear; ‘Something is wrong with my child’, or even ‘You don’t like my child’.
They respond with; ‘I’m not seeing this at home. At home they never hit, they know all their letters, they share and get along with their friends.’
And that leads me to explore this question; How do we better communicate to all parents what the Montessori Method of Education is and isn’t.? How do we develop a level of trust with all parents in Montessori, and in us as their child’s teacher?
There are a few things we can do.
First, we can let the parents know that our words are coming from our experience and our hearts.
Second, we can communicate our believe in The Montessori Method not just with our words but with our actions. It should be apparent through out our schools that Montessori is the most supportive and nurturing environment for children.
And when there is a concern make it absolutely clear that it is not about disappointment, or discouragement, it is about finding out the best way to support the needs of this little person who depends on our love and guidance.
Remember telling parents we have a concern can be overwhelming and alarming, they need to be reassured. So provide these parents with lots of encouragement and guidance.
Let them know it will be okay that you are going to be their for them and for their child.
Translate the ‘Parent Speak’ into ‘Montessori Speak’ for them. Listen to what they have to say and then repeat it back to them in ‘Montessori’.
When a parent says; ‘don’t they ever work on their letters/numbers? I want them to work in those areas’.
Translate their concern into; ‘In Montessori children develop according to their individual nature and at this phase in their development your child is right on track. I am so please to see they are so absorbed in working on learning to care for the classroom environment. I understand that you want them to learn numbers and letters and I know they will because they are building the foundation for that every day in the practical life area.’
If they say; ‘ I’ll work with them at home and help them.’
Translate their concern into; ‘Montessori education starts with becoming part of a social community. Academics are the result of a complex overlapping system of carefully developed lessons. One skill supports and develops into the next. I know your child will begin to work in the Montessori materials in the near future. I can’t discourage you from working with your child at home, but I can encourage you to trust the materials in this environment.’
Providing all parents with Montessori at home activities and chores is another way to develop a partnership with parents but that’s another blog for another day.
It begins with learning the simplest of tasks such as rolling a rug
Continues with preparing the daily snack
Blossoms into a refinement of fine motor skills
Leading to an introduction to phonics and letter formation
Resulting in a concrete understanding of academic skills
Let’s begin to learn to turn ‘Parent Speak’ it into ‘Montessori Speak’. Let’s begin to serve the child with an open heart, trust and understanding.