Montessori Monday: When in Doubt, Stay Out

Montessori Monday is an advice column written by yours truly. If you have a question about Montessori philosophy, parenting or discipline, or anything else in that realm, contact me and your question could be the next Montessori Monday post!


One of the best things about Montessori education is how it sets children up to be successful, and yet still gives them the chance to explore and make discoveries within any given activity. For example, when a child sews a button, there are several preparatory lessons, such as bead stringinglacing cards, and finally, weaving yarn in burlap using a dull-tipped yarn needle. Each step of the way, the teacher (or guide) gives the child a presentation on the technique and skill for that activity, from laying out the length of the string to threading a needle. Once the child has watched the teacher show the basic technique and process, the activity is handed over to the child to work with and the teacher retreats and observes

This is the hardest part about being a Montessori teacher. 

It's hard to see their clumsy little hands begin incorrectly and not offer help. But this is exactly when we need to stay out! Problem solving comes from trial and error, and unless a child is struggling to the point of frustration and defeat, we need to stay out of it and let them make their own discoveries. It is not easy to do. But it can be done. And the look of triumph and pride on a child's face when they make their own discoveries and do it themselves is priceless.

You can do this at home, too. With toys and tasks, always choose something that is just beyond your child's skill level. Give a clear, not fussy, slowed-down, deliberate demonstration of how it's done. Then, hand it over and observe from a distance. If it's something more obvious that doesn't require demonstration, resist the urge to correct or point out clues. They will find them on their own and they'll be better off for it. 

So how do you know when to help? If they are visibly upset, ask if they need some help. They might say no! But do ask. If they ask you for help, this can be a good time to point out a clue or offer some help, but don't do it completely for them. Still not sure if you should help? Then don't. Always err on the side of less intrusion and stay out! However, if they abandon the activity, offer to help and if they decline, tell them they can put it away and you'll try it again another time. 

Building independence is everything. It lends itself to confidence and the sense of steering one's own ship. We can never start too young setting our children up for success in life.