I am reading The Montessori Method (free ebook) by Maria Montessori. At the root of her method is the idea that children will find things out for themselves and that they desire and need independence. By constantly doing things for the children the parent or teacher is undermining the child’s ability to learn those skills for himself.
She has an interesting view that those who require servants are lacking in ability. Her view that the person who needs help because he has a physical disability is no worse off than the prince who needs help dressing because of his social status.
We habitually serve children; an act of servility toward them, but it is dangerous, since it tends to suffocate their useful spontaneous activity.
She differentiates between true service of others, such has assisting them to reach the independence they need and servility which is unhelpful at best and demeaning at worst.
She decries the mother who feeds her child without ever attempting to model eating herself or to help the child learn to hold and co-ordinate the spoon. I think there’s a couple of things that cause this problem – which still very much exists today – and one is fear of mess. I have seen mother’s who can’t abide the phase where the child is trying to self feed and makes a right mess of himself and anything within a few yards radius. There’s an underlying fear of dirt, I think.
The other reason for insisting on feeding a child who wants to feed himself is that awful modern thing of being afraid the child is growing up and won’t be a baby much longer. I have seen mothers who, can’t stand the idea that their youngest child is no longer a baby and they have decided (often without a reason) that there can’t be another.
Montessori bluntly calls mothers who won’t allow independence “not a good mother.”continuing
She offends the fundamental human dignity of her son, – she treats him as if her were a doll…”
I have to say, however strongly Montessori words this, she isn’t wrong. I worked with a class of children aged 4 to 5 and then the next year up when they were aged 5 to 6 (just before I got ill) and was amazed that most of the children couldn’t dress themselves. I don’t mean difficult buttons or laces, I mean putting on underwear and pulling on a sweatshirt. They couldn’t do it. The post-PE shambles, of trying to get 30 kids dressed, was astonishing to me.
Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely greater patience than feeding washing and dressing the child oneself?
This is true. I am much more able to get the children to do things themselves when I am more with-it than when I’m so tired it just seems quicker and easier to do it myself. But it’s a bad habit to get into and one that takes a great deal away from the child.
I remember my friend telling me how she had picked up her son’s friend from school one day (they were both 10 at the time) and on the way home in the car the friend announced proudly that at school that day they had learned to cut an apple with a proper knife. Her son was unimpressed as he made lunch most days, cutting and preparing fruit, bread and whatever else was required with the right knives for the job and had been doing so for some time.
Children who are allowed to be capable are capable. But it takes time and commitment from the parents – lots of time, lots of commitment, at least to begin with. But soon enough a five or six year old can do a lot for themselves and a ten year old can do a lot more.
If you take the time and teach your children to be independent in what they do, they will more quickly learn independent thought as well, finding things out for themselves and asking questions about what they find.