1513 Hall Johnson Road
Colleyville, TX 76034
Every year AMI guides look forward to the AMI Refresher Course. The Refresher Course provides three days of focused, in-depth study and review of specific areas of Montessori theory, practice, and curriculum for teachers who hold AMI diplomas at each level – Assistants to Infancy (birth to 3), Primary, and Elementary, and in the case of the Adolescent Community, the NAMTA/AMI Adolescent Orientation. This is one of the highest levels of professional development work available for our guides.
Workshop sections for Montessori assistants and administrators are also offered at the Refresher Course, and recently a special workshop section for parents was added to the program. The Parents’ Workshop isn’t offered every year, however.
I had the honor of being a presenter at the very first Parents’ Workshop when the AMI Refresher Course was held in Houston in 2009. In 2010 the Refresher Course was held in Jacksonville, Florida, and Barbara Gordon was asked to speak at the Parents’ Workshop. There was no Parents’ Workshop at the 2011 Refresher Course in Long Beach, California.
So this year’s Parent Workshop, scheduled for Saturday, February 18 at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth, is really a special event for us. It’s the first time that our local Montessori parents will have the opportunity to participate, and only the third time ever that a Parents’ Workshop is being offered.
This year’s presenter is Donna Bryant Goertz, the founder of Austin Montessori School and a long-time friend of BGMS. Donna will offer two sessions for parents, one on Saturday morning and one on Saturday afternoon:
Lyin', Cheatin' and Stealin': Why We Don't Even Allow Ourselves to
Think About Our Own Children's Behavior in Those Terms
Beyond Bullies and Victims: Eliminating Those Destructive Roles and Labels
With over 40 years of Montessori experience and 7 children and 16 grandchildren of her own, Donna is a wonderful speaker and an expert in the area of children’s social development. She is the author of Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Preventing Exclusion in the Early Elementary Classroom, which is available in our BGMS Parent Library.
In the two topics she has chosen for the Parents’ Workshop, Donna captures the essence of the compassion and cooperation that is at the heart of Montessori education. With her unique insight, she will help us see children’s social development with new eyes – eyes that see and appreciate the psychological characteristics of the child at each stage of development. When we look at social development through the lens of the needs and abilities of the child at various stages, we recognize that our approach as parents and guides cannot be to repress, dictate, or label children’s behavior, but rather to understand and guide it in ways that are respectful and appropriate to the age of the child. With this in mind, I recommend to you the overview provided in Larry Quade’s article, “Conflict Resolution in a Montessori Community,” on page __ of this newsletter.
From the first days of life, as parents we can create an atmosphere of peace for our children by being fully present with them in the moment, by the way we speak to them and to others, and by the way we relate to them and to all the life that surrounds us. Certainly the child in the first plane of development (from birth to about age 6) absorbs this quality of peace unconsciously just by being in an environment in which the adults live in such a way, and this becomes the first and most important of all “family values.”
Yet at the same time, aren't we always challenged to help children learn the rules of getting along in the world outside the home, to learn to respect others and to resolve conflicts peacefully as they grow and develop? The way in which we meet this challenge will vary according to the age and developmental level of the child.
For example, we don’t call a small child is a “liar” when he says “I have a new puppy, too” as a wishful-thinking response to another child’s excitement about his new pet. When the smallest cube of the pink tower finds its way into someone’s pocket, to be discovered at home by mom on laundry day, we don’t label that child a “thief.” This is because we know that these things are a normal part of the psychological development of the age. We know that our children are learning how things work in our world, and that it is our responsibility as adults to take advantage of these moments to guide that learning.
When I think about what happens every day in our toddler communities and primary classrooms, I realize that we are doing this here at school from the very beginning. Even with the very youngest children, we help them find and use words to express their feelings, instead of hitting, pushing, and grabbing. It’s not unusual at all to hear a primary guide helping two children find the words they need: "You got hurt. You don't want to be pushed. That makes you feel bad. You can tell Tommy, 'I don't like to be pushed. Don't push me.'" At this level, we guide social development by modeling grace and courtesy in social interactions, providing children with language to express their feelings, and helping them become aware of the feelings of others.
As children move into the second plane of development (around age 6), they are driven to explore social realities and experiment with relationships, and a burning interest in fairness and justice becomes a major focus of development. Social conflict and trying out new ways of behavior are a natural part of this developmental phase. In fact, they are characteristics of the age! So is “tattling,” which as Larry points out in his article is often just a way of “touching base,” to confirm with the adult what’s right and what’s wrong.
It is well known that our Montessori elementary classrooms are full of beautiful, ingeniously designed materials that permit children to master academic skills and concepts, from describing and classifying physical objects, animal, and plants, to learning the foundations and complexities of math and language. But we also have at our fingertips, ready for use at any moment, the perfect materials to nourish our children’s emotional and social development. These materials are the opportunities that present themselves in the form of arguments, fights, conflicts, and hurt feelings.
At the elementary age, social/emotional development and relationships with other children are every bit as important as the academic work. In fact, the work of social development is one of the most important “works” our children will ever do. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities for children to practice and learn, and for adults to guide the process.
Because relationships, friends, and social interactions are an irresistible focus of their interest, conflicts will inevitably occur when second plane children are working and playing together, and emotions will inevitably run high. It is our response to these conflicts and emotions, how we help our children take responsibility for their actions, develop self-confidence, and establish patterns of relating to others respectfully, that will support them best in their work to become full members of a group and a community.
These days a focus on “bullying” is very much in evidence in many schools. “Bullying” is defined and classified into various categories, and schools can even purchase cut-and-dried commercial “anti-bullying programs” to incorporate into classroom work. We don’t take that approach in our Montessori classrooms, however, because we know that this is a shortcut for the convenience of adults. It doesn’t really address the issue of helping each individual child develop his/her own sense of social responsiveness and responsibility.
In her Parent Workshop “Beyond Bullies and Victims,” Donna will share with parents the emotional harm that be created by adopting a facile understanding and treatment of the complex issue of social development in middle childhood. Labeling one child "bully" and another "victim" is not helpful -- in fact it is detrimental. Such labeling stereotypes a child, and has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophesy. It sends a negative message to the child whose behavior is out of line: "You are a bully; you are bad; you like to hurt people, and you are good at hurting people." At the same time, it sends an equally negative message to the "victim:" "You are weak and incapable of taking care of yourself."
For this age group, the Montessori approach to conflict resolution is more sophisticated. In our classrooms there is no one-size-fits-all “policy.” Instead, when conflicts come up guides address them in a variety of ways – individually, in small groups, and with the entire class. Creative procedures are in place for conflict resolution according to the demands of the situation and the needs of the group.
The Peace Table, for example, is a peer mediation process in which one child describes his view of a problem, while the other party to the dispute listens respectfully. The second child then has a turn to talk about his view of the situation, while the first child listens respectfully. Then the two children try to find a solution to their disagreement that both can accept. Sometimes an older child is called upon to help.
Other approaches include classroom behavior guidelines developed by the children themselves, using open-ended questions to acknowledge feelings and plan for the future, role-play exercises, discussions between two or more children guided by an adult, and consideration of issues by the entire group in a class meeting.
All these techniques are developmentally appropriate and in line with the goal of helping children work through conflicts on a conscious level. These approaches are designed not just to suppress “bad behavior” by one child, but to help all the children involved in conflicts develop the range of social skills they will need to live in today’s world – the ability to listen; to respect the feelings and opinions of others; to accept responsibility for one’s own actions; to stand strong for one’s own values; and to resolve disagreements, or agree to disagree, with integrity.
Guiding children’s social development is a daunting, but fascinating, undertaking. In today’s challenging world there is no more important support we can give to our children. We hope that many BGMS parents will take advantage of the opportunity to share ideas and learn more by attending the Parent Workshop at the AMI Refresher Course on Saturday, February 18. On-line registration is now closed, but registration forms are available in the BGMS office and payment can be made at the door.
Mary Caroline Parker, J.D., M.Ed.