It is widely supposed that the Montessori approach to education is mostly concerned with the school environment and teachers, but as a matter of fact Maria Montessori also wrote a great deal about the home environment and the family, identifying three crucial roles: the child, the parents and the teacher.
Each role has its own importance and none is more or less important than the others. Indeed, to achieve a real balance in the child’s educational path, each role must be acknowledged and respected and, although they are all clearly distinct from one another, with their own very specific tasks, they are closely interrelated.
Why is it important for parents to be actively involved in their child’s education?
A fairly recent study by the National Committee for Citizens in Education has shown that parent involvement is vitally important in children’s education, and that the most accurate predictor of student achievement is neither high income nor high social status, but it is first and foremost the extent to which parents are able to:
- provide a home environment that encourages exploration and learning;
- become involved in their children's education not only at home but also at school and in the wider community;
- express confidence in their children’s high achievement potential (realistically, based on the children’s actual abilities and not on their parents’ desires).
Within these three key educational actions presented by the study we can distinctly recognise some important principles of the Montessori approach for building a relationship of trust between parents and children.
Building a healthy relationship, where do we start from?
As mentioned at the beginning, Maria Montessori identified three key roles for the Montessori approach, one of which is the child himself/herself. We must never forget that the education relationship is never a one-way street, where the adult teaches the child and the child receives an education. It’s actually a two-way street, where those who educate receive education in turn. It is therefore crucially important to understand that we must also educate ourselves in the challenge of educating which, as implied by the meaning of the Latin term for education, "ex-ducere", involves drawing out the best not just from our children but also from ourselves.
Below are some basic starting points:
- Respect your child as a person
To us adults it’s obvious that we should treat our partner or spouse with respect, and the same goes for our friends and work associates. We would never be ill-mannered or raise our voices with them, or at least we would try our very best not to. Why then does this happen more easily when we are dealing with a child?
It’s because we usually apply the educational models we experienced ourselves as children, and if we feel that, at the end of the day, we had a good upbringing, we are tempted to think: “if it didn’t do me any harm, it won’t do him/her any harm either”.
Reinforcing what we have already experienced ourselves makes us feel secure and that we are inside our comfort zone, but this in no way implies that it’s the best choice. Many studies have now confirmed that a parent-child relationship based on authoritarian parenting, awards and punishments, or, at the other extreme, overly permissive parenting, does not have positive effects in the long term.
As parents, we must firstly work on our vision of the child and understand that, as Maria Montessori said, "The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth", and that the baby we are holding in our arms already has far greater “mental energies” than we could possibly imagine.
Children should be respected from the moment they are born, indeed, from even earlier, when they are still in the mother’s womb, because that is the only way they will feel they are listened to and loved, and thanks to the adult’s example they will in turn learn to listen to others.
- Slow down! Your pace is not your child’s pace.
If we have truly gained awareness of the first point, then the second point will follow automatically. We adults regularly make daily plans that are largely based on our pace and on our needs. That’s why we often lose our patience with kids, saying over and over things like: “Hurry up! You’re so slow! It’s late!” We get increasingly anxious, and you can be sure that they do too! But on top of that, they also feel inadequate and that they don’t meet the expectations of the most important people in the world to them: their parents.
For a healthy relationship with our children, it’s key to learn to understand and consider their pace and their need for suitable spaces in order to do things.
This is of paramount importance, among other things, to help them develop independence. If we wish our children to learn to get dressed by themselves before going to school, for example, we will have to set the alarm for a time that is appropriate to their needs, not ours. We will also need to set up some spaces in the home that allow them to move about independently, to get their coat or shoes by themselves, for example, without necessarily having to ask for help from adults. Otherwise, “getting dressed by themselves” will just be a stressful experience that they will grow to dislike because of its association with a negative emotion.
- How can I understand what the right pace and the appropriate spaces are for my child?
Observation is one of the most important tools that Montessori teachers learn in order to give their best in their school work, and it’s an invaluable practice that should be adopted in every household.
Taking time to observe our children when they play by themselves or interact with their peers or other people, observing what really gives them joy and what makes them feel frustrated, how they behave when they are at home or at the playground, and also carefully observing them when they talk to us or seek our attention, all this would give us a wealth of information about their character and their natural inclinations and needs.
Of course, it’s important to have knowledge of the different stages of child development, but it is equally important to know what children are really like as individuals.
Only then will we be able to respond appropriately to their needs. And that way, they will feel understood and secure, and establish a relationship of trust with adults.
So, what is the parents’ role?
Maria Montessori thought that parents play a very important role, especially because they are the very first adults that children encounter in their life, even before their teachers. The family can really make all the difference because its task is to give children individual education, which mainly concerns the intimate and private sphere. This individual education lays the foundations for the social education they will gain at school and outside the home.