I’m sure you’ve heard of helicopter parenting by now. It’s that thing we do (and we all do it, at least a little bit) when we hover over our child’s life, making sure everything’s okay and diving in to intervene whenever they hit a little rough patch.
But what if they didn’t have to hit that rough patch at all?
That’s what some parents have been aiming for, and they’ve been dubbed “lawnmower parents.” If the helicopter parent hovers over the child, the lawnmower parent always stays a few steps ahead to mow down any obstacles so the child doesn’t have to face them.
Educators have noticed this new trend, from parents of middle school kids asking their teachers for assignment extensions on their behalf, to parents of college students dealing with their child’s class schedule conflicts for them. Teachers can be guilty of this, too, giving unwarranted leniency.
The Problem with Lawnmower Parenting
I’ll admit it, I catch myself doing some lawnmowing from time to time. When I take my son to a restaurant, I still order for him even though he’s old enough to do it himself. And the other day when he forgot the snack for his after-school activity on the kitchen counter instead of placing it in his backpack, I went to the school to bring it to him.
Lawnmower parenting is completely understandable – we all want to make our children’s lives a little bit easier. But it’s also backfiring. By eliminating challenges, discomfort, and adversity, we leave them poorly equipped for dealing with the stresses of adulthood, even the mild ones like showing up on time for appointments or having to speak to someone at the bank.
There are some things we all want our children to be when they grow up:
- Problem solvers
- Creative and critical thinkers
But these are all character traits that we develop by facing challenges head-on, not by avoiding them; by learning from our mistakes, not by having our mistakes dealt with for us; and by pushing through some occasional discomfort, not by having someone constantly clear the path for us.
The Montessori Guarantee: Preparing Students for Their Future
The good news for Montessori families is that a Montessori education is in some ways an anti-lawnmower. Instead of plowing down the obstacles and challenges that children face, it gives them the skills and character traits needed to overcome them by themselves.
Here are some of the ways we do it.
Teachers as Guides
Montessori educators don’t spend their days doing what most people think teachers do. They don’t stand at the front of the classroom, droning on and on to children who are only half-listening.
They don’t spend all morning pointing to the chalkboard with a ruler, hoping the students are memorizing everything they wrote down. And they’re not hung up on making sure students figure out the “right” solution (you know, the one printed at the back of the book).
In short, Montessori teachers are not lecturers; they are guides. They know that children have an innate curiosity and a natural drive to learn, and their job is to nurture those tendencies, not conform to a strict lesson plan. Being a guide is all about leading children to problems and helping them come up with their own solutions to them.
It’s not just the teachers that encourage students to face challenges independently; it’s also the materials themselves. Montessori materials have a wonderful feature: they’re self-correcting. That means the child will see for themselves whether they have succeeded at completing the task or whether they need to try again.
The Pink Tower is a great example of this. It’s a stacking activity that consists of ten wooden cubes of different sizes. To successfully build the Pink Tower, students need to place the largest block at the base and then stack smaller and smaller blocks until they’ve reached the top. But if they make a mistake, like putting the smallest block in the middle of the tower, they won’t be able to stack the other ones on top. They’ll have to try again until they figure out how to complete the tower. They can see for themselves when their approach isn’t working and they need to try again; they don’t need a teacher to come and correct their “work.”
Mistakes Are Encouraged
In a Montessori classroom, failure is not a dirty word. Mistakes are never discouraged, and our students are never made to feel embarrassed for them because what matters is not whether a child made a mistake, but how they dealt with it.
They might have learned from the mistake. They might have been motivated to start over with a brand new approach. It might have just given them a little extra practice at some skill they haven’t mastered yet. Any of these outcomes are great for the child’s development. Failure is not a dead end; it’s an opportunity for growth.
Since we’re an early childhood education program, our students are at a very critical stage in their development. It’s a stage where the changes are big and they come fast (this is the time you’ll find yourself thinking “When did you get so big?!”). It’s a big change for parents, too. Transitioning from parenting an infant to a toddler, from a toddler to a preschooler, and from a preschooler to a full-blown big kid is harder than it seems. It would be great if it came naturally, but it requires a lot of conscious adjustment.
Often, we fall into lawnmower parent mode just because it’s taking us a while to realize how much our little one has grown up, or because we haven’t fully adjusted to the new style of parenting they need.
That’s why we work hard to build partnerships with our students’ families. With info sessions, support programs, and open communication, we do everything we can to give Apple families a helping hand.
Preparing for the Future
With independent, active learning, practical life activities, and an environment that promotes collaboration, a Montessori education equips students with the skills they need to handle the coming stages in their lives and have a happy, successful future.
Trusting Our Children to Forge Their Own Path
The biggest antidote to our lawnmower parent instincts is trust. We need to trust in our children’s ability to overcome challenges, to learn from them, and to master skills even when it seems like they’ll never get past the first step.
I still remember my first pair of lace-up sneakers. I went weeks wearing my old shoes even after my parents had bought me new ones because I was intimidated by the laces. I was worried I’d never learn to tie them. I was scared I would forget how to lace them up at school and have no one to help me. If my parents had given me the choice, I would have never agreed to laces. But they didn’t give me a choice; instead, they gave me help. They showed me how to tie them and helped me master the bunny-ear knot. It was only a small challenge, to be sure, but I’m glad they trusted in my ability to overcome it. If they hadn’t, I’d still be shopping in the Velcro section!
Sometimes, it’s important to intervene for our children. But we need to be careful not to make things a little too smooth for them. Life is bumpy, and our children need the tools to make their way through it.