Nov 15, 2008

When is a child finished with an activity?

I had a commenter ask me about what I required of my 23month-old in school. So I've been thinking about it, and this is the answer I have come up with... :)

We believe that children should be taught to respect authority. That means, if I tell them to do something, that is what they are going to do. On the other hand, we don't want what a friend of mine referred to as "Stepford Children". So at the same time that I begin teaching them what "no" means, I start differentiating between a "command", which they must obey, (such as: pick up your toys; or go wash your hands) and asking them to make a decision, (such as: do you want peanut butter or tuna fish for lunch? or are you done with your bath now?)

That being said, at Abbie's age, I want her to find school fun and learning enjoyable, so I am careful in my expectations. Since I have activities for three different kids at three very different levels, all of whom have very different learning styles (it makes me tired just thinking about it!) I have different expectations for each child with each activity. There are things that Abbie chooses that I know she can complete, and she knows she can complete. These, I require her to do "correctly" and to finish the entire activity before she can proclaim, "Done!" and put it away.

A good example of this is the bear-sort. She will lay out the cards, match 3 of the 5 bears with great glee, then start putting it away. So I will stop her, say, "You aren't done, you have to do the other two bears." She will resist, and I will insist. If she still resists, I will pick up one of the 2 bears and hand it to her, saying, "Here is the red bear, where does the red bear go?" She will match it to the card, and I will hand her the last bear. THEN I say, "NOW you are done! NOW you can put it away." And if this does not work and she still resists, I tell her, "You can finish the bears, or you can put your mat away and be done with school." She always chooses to finish her work.

But there are other things that I know she can't do, so, depending on the activity, I either give her lots of help, or I just let her do her own thing with the materials. I know that the Montessori way is that a child is not allowed to use materials until they have been showed how to use them properly and until they are ready to use them properly. However, denying Abbie access to certain things for this reason would be nothing short of cruelty. As long as she treats it respectfully and puts it away when she is done, I allow her to make use of anything that I put out. I fully expect that by next year, when she is "ready" for it, she will have forgotten all about seeing it this year. This is the child, after all, who forgets her way to her bed on a regular basis. :)
One of the things that has helped me a lot was when I read somewhere a Montessori teacher explaining that every school work has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is when they choose the work, the middle is them completing the work, and the end is them putting it away. I quit stressing so much about the work I offered being "results oriented" and started putting more creative games in their box.
I hope this wasn't too rambly, and that it actually answered the question. :)

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