People often comment that children who experience Montessori are more peaceful than those who do not. I’m not sure if this is always the case they’re still children after all! However I have found it to be mostly true in my case and in other Montessori homes that I regularly spend time in.
Personally I think only good things can come from giving your child the opportunity to express the FULL range of their abilities. Yes they can be loud and active, they run, jump, throw, hit, kick or tumble but they can ALSO be quiet and gentle, work with precision and respect the delicacy of breakable objects.
So how can you encourage your child to play calmly or with gentleness?
Quietly respecting your child’s need to concentrate. Even from a very young age babies can be absorbed by their environment. Rather than hustling them from place to place take a moment to observe how they are engaged. Before whisking them off the changing table notice are they watching a shadow or enjoying grasping their fingers? Maybe they’re practising kicking their legs or trying out a new sound? More peaceful handling and transitions will enable your baby to concentrate and focus, a key part of the Montessori system.
Avoiding overpowering toys. Imagine that you’ve spent your entire life curled up, naked in a warm, quiet, dark environment. Suddenly you’re out and it’s cold, you’re covered in cloth, it’s very bright and loud and you’re moving around – a lot! Imagine all of this AND garish noise-making toys surrounding you. Yikes! I’m always confused when parents and producers describe these toys as educational – birth is a MASSIVE sensory education! Respect the fourth trimester and let your baby peacefully acclimatise to their new world.
As a general rule I don’t tend to provide ‘activities’ for Alfie, instead I let him pick out something he wants to work on (always outside!) and follow his lead. However I make an exception for Gentleness Activities. Sometimes he needs a little guidance to centre himself and come back to calm!
I tend to set these ups if Alfie’s having a lot of….feelings! Sometimes the best way is to get outside and let rip or to spend some time apart from each other (not far apart!) but we can both get tired as we try to understand these tricky emotions and express them. Normally we have a rest and when we’re physically refreshed we do something to mentally and emotionally refresh us.
Here’s what we’ve tried;
Cleaning leaves – Alfie really loves plants so I set up a little plant cleaning activity. I moved the plant from his playroom into the very centre of the room and gave him some water to spray and a cloth to polish the leaves. He really enjoyed this and showed such care to his little plant. I also spread out a plastic table cloth to catch water/soil.
Seed Planting – this activity is great for calming as it required quite a bit of concentration and precision. The combination of focus and delicacy is ideal for a calming activity as your child both mentally and physically ‘starts again’.
Dried roses – I’m a pretty awful housekeeper so dried out flowers are a semi-regular occurrence! The more roughly you handle them the quicker they disintegrate so this is a perfect activity to encourage delicate touch and concentration with the added incentive of thorns to be avoided!
Drinking from Teacup – I actually wrote a whole post about this one (Montessori – A Lesson For Parents In Trusting The Child) as I was so surprised by how a child can respond to delicate items.
Polishing Glass – there’s something about the slow, methodical not to mention repetitive process of this activity that really brings Alfie back to himself. Of course, the glass is pretty filthy when he’s finished but that’s beside the point!
Playing the Triangle – like the seeds this instrument requires concentration to control the movement. The more gently you play the triangle the sweeter the sound. It makes a nice change from the other instruments we’ve used (drums, shakers, xylophone) which get better when you play them with force.
Egg carrying – Possibly only relevant if your keep chickens! Since he was about 14 months Alfie has been collecting the eggs from the coop. At first I was surprised by his instinct to be gentle but it all makes wonderful sense now!
How to Encourage Calmness and Gentleness
Some of these suggested activities won’t appeal to your child. When encouraging gentleness and peaceful work try to choose an activity that follows these criteria.
- Calmness and control. The best option is to select an activity that requires your child to be both gentle to avoid destroying the material and to concentrate on the task to complete it. I find work that demands precision is the best.
- Reality based. Children know when they’re being patronised. Helping your child to feel confident, secure, valued and needed will go a long way towards preventing the kind of feelings that lead to meltdowns. Feeling like being overlooked, out of control or not getting what they think they need. Offering tasks that are based on the real demands of the household and use ‘adult’ tool will strengthen your child. More on Independence and Confidence here.
- Engage their interests. Pick things that you’re child will naturally engage with so they’ll be more inclined to investigate.
- Pick you moments. If you time it wrong there’s equal chance your calming activity will be thrown at you! Pick a moment either before things escalate to a lose of calm or when your child has rested. These are times when they can either start fresh or slip back into the grip of frustration.
- Don’t force it. Talk your child through the activity and model what you’d like them to do, if they’re not feeling it that’s fine! Forcing it could trigger a power struggle and land you right back where you started.
We’ve had lots of success using these activity to calm down and restart. We don’t want to ignore or rush past negative emotions just to move past them when they’ve run their course.