They came in from the playground knotted together by tight feelings for their injured friend. “He’s hurt. He fell off the slide. Ned pushed him.” Ned was supporting Bart, who was hopping along, his face squeezing out tears and his jaw clenching in sobs. Breathing heavily, pushing and stumbling, with heads bobbing and backs bent as they jockeyed for close, clear gapes at the bloody knee, Ned and Bart’s buddies accompanied them to gain the safety and reassurance that presenting the disaster to me always bestows.
Parents and teachers are some of the most inspiring people at work in the world today. We’ll break into song when the first robin appears, dance a jig when the sun breaks through the clouds, cry on the last day of school, and laugh when it snows in April.
We begin each day hoping to impart knowledge. At day’s end, we consider all we have learned. Cliché, Pollyannaish, but true: learning really is the best part of teaching. The best part of parenting really is seeing the world through the eyes of a child once again.
I began my research by asking my son, “What inspires you to keep working, even when the work is difficult?” His quick reply was, “I keep working by choosing the most challenging thing I’ve had a lesson on. Then it’s interesting to figure out.” I pressed, “But what if you encounter a problem you cannot solve or have trouble finding a solution even with a lot of effort?” He answered, “Then I find a friend and ask them for advice or see if they have a good idea.”
The perseverance practiced early with concrete life tasks, later takes the form of tackling the complicated math equation, mastering that difficult list of spelling words, and getting the research project done by the due date. But hand-in-glove with the feeling that you can do hard things is the desire to do hard things.
The theory goes something like this: if you use legal drugs such as tobacco or alcohol, or even what some consider “soft drugs” like marijuana, you are more likely to slip down the slope to using “hard drugs” like amphetamines, cocaine and heroin, than people who never get started using soft drugs in the first place. The starter drugs are often referred to as gateway drugs because use of them is seen as the first step through the gateway to even more dangerous behaviors.
Since leaving the classroom recently, after thirty-some years in the delightful company of children, I have spent a considerable portion of my time leading the development of the parent education programs for our school. It has given me a new and different joy, and a great appreciation for parents. It is an honor to work so closely with parents who are the primary educators of our children, who are the children’s models, their supporters, and their greatest source of love and admiration.
Two boys took turns reading with zest and dramatic expression the tale from Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” to a small group of children, alternating with one another as their voices gave out. How well they read this difficult language and how genuinely they enjoyed it!
Ever experience something so transformative, you wished for others you love to have that same experience? Perhaps an incredible trip to a faraway place? Or a delicious meal at a fine restaurant?
I love the start of the new school year. Everything is fresh and clean. It’s a fantastic opportunity to set goals for my classroom and for myself. These goals typically are phrased as comparatives and superlatives, learning from past experiences, wanting to get it “right.”
The child, unlike the adult, is not on his way to death. He is on his way to life. His work is to fashion a man in the fullness of his strength. By the time the adult exists, the child has vanished. So the whole life of the child is an advance toward perfection, toward a greater completeness. From this we may infer that the child will enjoy doing the work needed to complete himself. The child’s life is one in which work–the doing of one’s duty–begets joy and happiness. For adults, the daily round is more often depressing.
–Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind (page 30)
If you observe children in a Montessori preschool program, you’ll notice that children’s “work” has all the key characteristics of play. A very thoughtful article by Peter Grey in Psychology Today identifies five such key characteristics.
Soon enough our early elementary classrooms will be filling once again with children excited to begin the new school year. Among the happy faces will be those of the youngest children, those who are making the leap into the second plane of development and experiencing for the first time the elementary environment that we will have so carefully prepared for them. In all the excitement of welcoming the new children, let us not forget their parents – for their parents, too, may be new to the elementary and just as much in transition as their children.