Monday, February 13, 2017

Montessori: The Magic of Three


In Montessori, there is a great tool called the Three Period Lesson. It's really quite magical in how effective and simple it is, but it also relates to life's intricacies and mysteries in myriad ways. Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the three-period lesson and how it might explain why we were foolish enough to leave our lovely life in Zurich when we did.

Let's explore that more, but first you need to understand the basic mechanics of the lesson.





To give a three-period lesson, the teacher takes three related, yet different items, and introduces them to the child in three steps. Let's take the wooden fruits above. These might be an activity the child has already had a lesson on for matching. Then, once a child has displayed mastery in matching the fruits, the teacher would then employ the three-period lesson to teach the names of the fruits, taking just one apple, one pear and one plum, leaving the matches and other fruits aside. (This set is very small with only 4 matches; it would probably be combined with another set of fruits from the same manufacturer.)

The first step, or period, in the three-period lesson is the introduction: With the items lined up and nothing else in the work space, the teacher will state, "This is an apple. This is a plum. This is a pear," touching each one as she says its name. Then, she continues on with the second period, giving a series of commands such as "Touch the plum. Hold the apple. Put the pear here. Give me the apple," so on and so forth until the child is totally accurate each time. When the child makes a mistake, the teacher doesn't point out the error, per se, but rather plainly and simply says, "You handed me the ______(whatever one it is)" and places it on the table before continuing on with the next command. Finally, at the very end, the teacher will ask, "What is this?" for each object. That is the third period. If a child is successful and having a good time, the teacher might do another three. But never more than two three-period lessons in one sitting to allow the learning to stick.

The three periods can be labeled as 1). Orientation, 2). Interaction, and 3). Mastery. It is an incredibly effective teaching tool that allows children to acquire vocabulary while simultaneously understanding the greater meaning of a word. Care is taken to isolate objects in order to focus on their distinct qualities. For color, The Color Tablets are used rather than using different colored fruits, because while it is true that the fruits are different colors, they also differ in shape and texture and other ways. Isolating qualities is key.

So, how does this relate to life? Well, the first evidence is the three year cycle. Children in Montessori classrooms are divided by age covering three year spans. Zero to three, three to six and so on. It seems that as in the lesson, the children follow the three periods with each year they spend in the same classroom with the same teacher. The first year the child's focus is on orientation, the second year is all about interaction, and the third year, they achieve mastery.

So how does this apply to life beyond Montessori? Well, it seems to me that, having lived in our apartment in Seefeld for three years, we went through a complete cycle and that may have affected our feelings in significant ways.

We had already spent a year orienting to life in Switzerland in a smaller village suburb of Zurich before we moved to Seefeld. But moving to Seefeld felt was very much a new beginning. We were living in Switzerland on our terms, in the city, in an apartment we picked out ourselves and loved, rather than in the apartment our employer had selected for us before we arrived. That first year in Seefeld was unbelievably exciting. Not only were we completely pinching ourselves moving into our dream apartment, but I was pregnant! We got our little nest all set up and then brought Coco home. We spent that year orienting ourselves, both to life as new parents and to our neighborhood and surroundings. We figured out the best grocery store, the best ways to get around with a buggy, the unwritten rules of the shared laundry room, the best settings to have the radiators on and all that sort of stuff.

The second year, we really developed routines and interacted with the space and neighborhood on a deeper level. With all the basics taken care of, we found our favorite routes to walk, our favorite parks and spots for Coco to play, discovered specialty shops, went to Orange Cinema, got a season pass to the Badi and the zoo and memorized tram schedules.

By the third year, I guess you could say we had achieved mastery. But in life, it's not so much mastery as it is familiarity. We had achieved total familiarity with our surroundings, with our neighborhood, with our apartment, even with life as parents. Nothing was new anymore and I think on some level, we made the very real mistake of confusing familiarity with boredom.

Sigh. What a mistake that was. Familiarity is comfort and predictability and stability, but it is not boredom.

So now, I find myself looking forward and looking back at the same time. I regret leaving Zurich, but I also have to wonder what another year here would feel like now that we've been in Spokane for two years. I love my family, but I don't really like Spokane. I cannot say I ever disliked Zurich. I found it difficult, of course, because Switzerland is known as an extremely difficult place to be an expat. But I always liked Zurich. I remember one day sitting down by the lakeside and hearing that little voice inside of my heart wishing that my family were from Zurich. I felt like it was the most perfect place on earth, and I wished I didn't feel that constant conflict as to where to live. I have to admit that I don't feel that way here in Spokane. I don't love it or feel like it's mine and yet my family is here and I love them dearly.

But does it actually matter that I don't like Spokane? Would a third year change that? Would a third year override my ambivalence, break through the unknowns and learning curve and leave me with a sense of mastery? Would that be enough? Because, I was born here and I (mostly) lived here until I was 12, so it already feels familiar, just not in a good way. I can't help but think that that staying here actually would feel like real boredom! Sigh again.

I guess there is only one way of knowing. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for us. Regardless of what happens, I have learned that familiarity or mastery will come wherever we are. I'm going to do my best to be okay with feeling settled this time.

How long have you lived where you are? Do you feel as if you've put down roots? Do you live in your hometown? Does it feel nice and cozy, or are you bored? (You can be honest here;) Share your story in the comments below!

13 comments:

  1. So much yes to this! We just moved to Seattle (3 months ago), so I very much feel like we're in the orientation period. Since everything is so new to us, it's all very exciting. We can see ourselves putting down roots here. We're even thinking about buying a house (probably a really small fixer because, Seattle)! But we are also itchy feet kind of people and I could see myself mistaking familiarty with boredom, so it's good to keep that in mind for the next few years!

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    1. It's such a curse to be an itchy feet sort! ;) Congrats on the house plans and the new move. I hope you find yourself content and not the least bit itchy in a few years! xo

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  2. Once again you have outdone yourself! What a great post! I think maybe everyone experiences the "right" city differently. I moved to Munich 11 years ago and from the first months I was here I had this odd feeling that this was the city for me. 11 years later, that hasn't changed for a moment. Also having met and married my husband, had 3 kids here, adjusted to parental life, I never felt bored. Also since having so many kids I don't even get bored hahaha. Maybe it makes it easier since my husband is from here I feel more like I have a right to stay? You know? I am not saying that's not the case for you in Zürich but it sounded like you felt like that.

    Also if you do go back (I am rooting for team go back!) I think you would find your experience utterly changed by mastering the German language. You will never feel truly at home without the language!

    My thoughts anyway. Thanks for your constant excellent writing and knowledge. Very inspiring.

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    1. Oh, Emily! Thank you for your kinds words and also for your keen observations. I think you're right that I always felt like I didn't deserve to be in Zurich somehow. What a silly truth to believe! It's not true at all. And you're absolutely right about German. Since I read your comment last week, I've been thinking of ways to learn German starting now. Thanks for the push!!! I love hearing how happy and settled you are in Munich. And with three kids! :) YAY. xoxoxo

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  3. Hard to believe you've already been in Spokane for two years! We are into our 4th year in Basel but just moved into Basel-Landschaft after living in Basel-Stadt for three years. On my 3rd year in the city, I've had the routine pat down, had the tram and bus schedules committed to memory and was thoroughly enjoying everything until Baby #4 came along and threw all those out the window - ha! So here we are entering another 3-year cycle - in a new (much smaller and quieter) village where folks speak Swiss-German and we have to find our new favourite places to explore, etc. I love your Montessori posts - hope you blog more about it! I'm just starting to read "How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way" out of curiosity. We don't do Montessori at home or at school but I like the ideas that Montessori has. Hope you visit Switzerland soon with your family!

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    1. Thanks, Cherie! Doesn't time fly?! That sounds like a really significant move for you guys - one that will certainly result in more integration!! Pretty exciting. I will definitely be doing more Montessori posts and if you have a question or Montessori topic you'd like to know more about, send me an email! I'd be happy to cover it for you. xx

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  4. Enjoyed this thought-provoking post today :) I lived in Dakar, Senegal for 6 years and I think cycling through different jobs fought off the complacency that sometimes comes with mastery. But by year 5 (and career monotony), I started to feel the itch. While Dakar is by no means an "idyllic" place to live, I loved it fiercely and miss it. My family never understood the draw, but the energy of the city, kindness of the people, and good weather became my new normal. I'm now in the orientation phase of life in London (4 months in) and loving the change, but my American family has already started the homecoming campaign. I too struggle with the family/geographic balance... but to be completely honest, the distance doesn't bother me much (facetime! frequent visits!) and while that elicits some guilt, my greatest internal resistance is to being forced to settle or end back up at home, or speed up life here/wherever I am. How to manage family expectations, disappointment, and our own plans/desires... Sigh. I also empathize with my mom wishing she could live near her daughter and new son-in-law. Maybe its a phase and we'll settle after kids ;)

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    1. It's a lot for sure. I think we fell into the trap of thinking we'd settle after kids, too, so watch out for that one. ;) I love hearing your story, Kim! Senegal must have been incredible; I love the way you describe the parts you loved about it. It's nice to know you understand this feeling, too! Enjoy London. Such a great experience to have! xoxoxo

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  5. The 3 year point is also a classic difficult year for expats. I remember reading an article about it when I was feeling really homesick in year 3. I think it has to do with familiarity as you say because the exciting adventure and newness has worn off and so all the things you miss about your home country and all the things you dislike about your host country bother you more.

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    1. I'm totally going to google that article, thanks for the tip! It's true that the three year mark is pitvotal. Sigh.

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    2. I'might guessing it might have been this one: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/8495758/Three-Year-Syndrome-when-expats-get-bored.html

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  6. We moved around quite a bit when we first married, four different cities, different homes, different jobs. Never feeling quite settled until we moved to Asheville, NC six years ago. It's home. We're settled. I don't get that itch anymore and it's a lovely feeling. That being said, it could also be the phase of life that we are currently in - raising a family, slowing down.

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    1. Oh, that is so nice to hear! It gives me hope that we will get rid of that itchy feeling some day, too! Thank you for sharing, Jen. xoxo

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