Persistence in the Second Plane
Children in the First Plane of development are learning how to push through struggles, how to try again and again and again, often motivated by an internal drive toward their own independence and mastery. Children in the Second Plane are typically already independent in their daily needs. They can dress themselves, feed themselves, and communicate clearly. They can express their frustrations in words and describe their emotional states and motivations. But they are still building their understanding of their own capacity. Now, as children at this stage of development become much more conscious of their role within their group, their accomplishments or failures are just as often measured against those of their peers. The work for parents and teachers, now, is to add to the support and modeling we've done for younger children with specific opportunities to notice the small gains older children can learn from.
For example, in the Elementary years, Montessori teachers regularly talk with students about the students' goals for their own learning, helping them to articulate what they hope to accomplish and helping them, along the way, to be reflective to the many small steps it may take to reach the end goal. Elementary teachers become a sort of organizational coach; Elementary students often imagine large scale outcomes for their work and may need more support in identifying the dots between point A and point B. By helping students to identify what the next immediate step is as they move toward a farther-off goal, adult advocates can help learners to focus on the successes that take them toward their more ambitious horizons.
Learners at this age are more likely to measure their success or failures against their friends' accomplishments, but wide differences exist in the pace and predicability of development now. As a result, Elementary children can sometimes demonstrate unreasonable expectations for how (fast, smart, tall, popular) they should be. Again, supporting them as a coach might, teachers can help learners now to parcel out their progress through challenging tasks, to help them to identify the ways in which they are moving forward even when they may feel stagnant compared to their friends. Avoid comparing your child to their peers (they're going to be able to do that already without your help) and instead, notice what your child contributes that is unique to them. When you're giving feedback, focus on the effort and thought involved in a task instead of the outcome, and ask your child to talk with you about the ways in which they progressed. "I can see that you put a lot of time into this writing. Can you tell me what you were thinking about when you developed these ideas?" "Your artwork is really evocative. Tell me more about what you are hoping someone looking at this piece will think or feel." Even when you're redirecting children, emphasize the process, drawing children's attention to the small steps that lead to the outcomes they seek. "This math lesson has been a challenge. What are some steps you can take to make sure you're checking your work as you go along?"
Finally, we know, too, that it's often going to be bumpy in the Second Plane. Just as it's important to have a trusted adult with whom to strategize and reflect, it's important to have people who can simply be with you during your frustration. Avoid telling learners at this age that their emotions aren't valid or that they should be hiding them, especially when they're expressing sadness or frustration. "You're too old to cry," both devalues the real emotion they feel when something has gone wrong and suggests to them that they are wrong to have felt it at all. Instead, affirm the emotion, remind them that they are capable and you believe they can move through it, and ask them to consider what they might do next. "I can see how much this means to you. It can be really exasperating to struggle with something like this. What do you need to feel settled before you decide what to do from here?" Offer opportunities to practice emotional regulation. "When I am feeling overwhelmed, it's sometimes helpful for me to find a quiet space away from the noise of the classroom to think. Would you like to come with me?" What's most important is not that children at this age get it all right the first time (they won't) but that, when they struggle, they are able to conceptualize the struggle as a part of a longer process. We can't keep the frustrations from happening, but responsive adults can help to frame these challenges to support children's persistence through them, and we can help them to feel a little less alone in the process.