Independence Day is just around the corner and we can’t wait to celebrate America’s birthday. At Apple Montessori, it feels like we’re always celebrating Independence Year! Every child wants to learn to do things by themselves, and so much of what we do with our young students is focused on nurturing and celebrating that independence.
Here’s why and how we do it.
Following the Child’s Natural Development
Every parent knows that toddlers and preschoolers have a strong desire to do things by themselves, often without help.
As soon as they develop a new ability, children love to exercise it as much as they can. That’s why infants rarely stay quiet once they learn how to coo and babble, and they’ll almost never sit still after learning how to crawl.
This is a natural part of a child’s development. They’re driven to use every ability they get so they can acquire new abilities, improve their fine motor skills, and give their vocabulary a boost – all at a faster rate than they would if they let other people do everything for them.
Now, that doesn’t mean they won’t need assistance. Just this morning, I watched my son try to smoosh peanut butter on his toast and had to show him that spreading it is much more effective. But assistance isn’t the same as doing everything for them, and my son might not have learned some new sandwich-making techniques if I had grabbed the butter knife and did it for him.
Cutting Conflict Off at the Source
Soon after a toddler learns to speak, they’ll learn to say “no.” In a lot of caregiving situations, that marks the start of a lot of conflicts. You might find yourself in tussles and stand-offs over everything from getting dressed in the morning to brushing teeth before bedtime.
This constant conflict can be frustrating, but a lot of it comes from one fundamental disagreement: the child wants to do something by themselves, and the parent thinks (or knows) they can’t do it (or can’t do it safely). When they feel their independence threatened, children will often get frustrated or angry and refuse to play along.
Instead of letting these conflicts escalate, it’s better to nurture that independence and find a healthy outlet for those feelings. By helping children express their independence, we can minimize tense and stressful situations and restore some peace and order to their lives.
Allowing children to do things by themselves also has great educational benefits.
Independent children are great at taking an active role in their own learning, participating in learning tasks and engaging in self-directed activities.
Not only do children learn best with that kind of active learning, exercising their independence also motivates them to learn. That excited, motivated mode of learning is part of the reason Montessori students excel in their language development (most of our students learn to read by age four!)
Independence also fosters self-confidence, which is a critical component to educational success. Confident children are able to try new problem-solving methods, aren’t afraid of a little failure, and know how to learn from a mistake – traits found in the best learners.
The independent thinking that comes with being able to learn and do things by yourself is more critical than ever.
Knowledge is not as stable as it used to be. The tools and information we use today are quickly becoming outdated, and the ones we’ll pick up tomorrow will have a short shelf-life, too. In this accelerated world, we need thinking skills, not just memorized facts.
Our children need to learn how to identify problems, dream up new solutions to them, and take part in innovation. And they’ll only be able to do so if they can think independently. And thinking for yourself starts with learning to do things for yourself.
How We Nurture Independence
Those are some big benefits. So, it might be surprising that the methods we use to achieve them are fairly small and simple.
Here are some of the ways the Montessori method helps Apple students become more independent at a younger age.
Follow the Child
Our educational philosophy is to follow the child. We give them the space to follow their passions through independent exploration and discovery.
We know that when they’re given the opportunity, our students develop into little leaders. They guide their own learning (both alone or as a group) and soon work out how to collaborate effectively and take charge of their own activities.
Practical Life Activities
Our curriculum is filled with practical life activities. We give our students meaningful tasks to perform, not abstract or contrived problems to solve.
Learning to put on their own jackets, wash up or tidy after an activity, or prepare their own snacks doesn’t just help the children’s brains develop, it also helps them take charge of their routine activities. These everyday tasks are a great way to teach them to take care of and be responsible for themselves.
Classrooms Designed for Independence
What our students learn is important, but so is where they learn. The Montessori classroom is designed to enable self-directed, self-guided, and independent exploration.
Everything in the classroom is at the child’s level and within their reach. This empowers them to not only select activities by themselves, but also allows them to get the materials they need without having to ask a grown-up for help.
Setting everything up at their level also facilitates tidying. Children find tidying up to be far less of a chore when they can do it all themselves and at a pace that feels comfortable.
Independence is something every child naturally develops, and it’s important to nurture that trait. It’s a key component to becoming successful, confident life-long learners.
And there’s no better way to achieve it than with the Montessori method. That’s because the Montessori method is the only educational program truly built around the idea of nurturing the child’s natural tendencies, whether it’s their intense curiosity, their warm sense of empathy, or their strong desire for independence.