Teacher Talk: Articulating the Freedom for Movement
As Montessori teachers, we define our service to the children as encompassing roles farther than just those in the classroom. If we are truly serving children, we need also to advocate for them outside of our prepared environments, as parent educators, community educators, and political activists. And if we truly believe Montessori practices reflect the developmental needs of all children, we can't limit that advocacy only to those children whose parents have enrolled them in Montessori schools.
Think, then, of all the times when you may see, by cultural norms or other influences, children's intrinsic need for movement squelched by the expectations of adults. Infants buckled tightly into buckets instead of being held in an adult's arms, or toddlers being told to sit still when they're surrounded by environments filled with enchanting sounds and sights, preschool children waiting seemingly endlessly in "time out," as punishments for impulsive actions or older children forced to remain seated, with "scholar eyes" tracking teachers from behind their desks for hours at a time. More often than not, children are in environments in which their need to move is not only restricted, but they are actually punished for it.
Punishing a child who needs to move for moving is like punishing them for breathing. And yet...
But here's the good news: in your community, right now, there is at least one educated, engaged and thoughtful world changer who knows that children need to move and who are able to design environments to make their movements purposeful and satisfying: You. Notice a mom struggling with her child at the grocery, trying to hold them close while the shopping gets done? Offer to walk alongside for a few minutes to engage the child and help model the kind of language you might use in the classroom. Can't stand walking past the childcare center at church because you so often see kids sitting in "time out?" Offer to volunteer in the center for a few weeks and offer professional development to the other church volunteers.
Just like in the classroom, there are always ways to share what you know about how the world can work in a way that's not off-putting to people who have yet to encounter another way of doing things. There are always ways to be supportive and compassionate to how very hard it is, even with the best intentions, to love and serve children while you're also trying to get stuff done. There are always ways to make other adults feel less alone, less frustrated, and less less-than, by walking with them for a little while. And when you do so in a spirit of loving-kindness, when you offer the same compassion to the struggling adult as you do every day to the children in your classroom, you not only help that person in that moment: you give them a model to slow down and think differently about their own children that may last beyond your interaction.
Here's the trick: we're all doing the best we can, most of the time, where we are with what we have. And most adults, particularly strangers in a supermarket, aren't going to appreciate your well-intended feedback to their parenting if it feels like they're being ambushed by a nosy teacher. But likewise, most of us don't want to feel like we're doing this whole parenting thing on our own, and a smile, a slower pace and a kind word can go quite far. I'm not suggesting that, in addition to working with children in your own classrooms all day, you must also put on the cape of SuperTeacher and go seeking parents to train. Instead, I am suggesting that you remain alert, eyes open, even when you're not officially at work, to remember that our obligations as Montessori teachers are not just to the children we serve between 9 and 3, but to the conditions of childhood wherever children are. We often think that we should look away from parents or other caregivers when they're reprimanding their children. There's no need to gawk, but there's equally no need to isolate further a parent who may already feel like they're in over their head. If you're in a situation with a natural opportunity to model and support, take it. But even if the best you can do is eye contact, a smile and a, "Hang in there, Mom," with a stranger who's trying to figure out this children thing, you'll have made it a little bit better.