At some given moment it happens that the child becomes deeply interested in a piece of work; we see it in the expression on his face, his intense concentration, the devotion to the exercise.
The Discovery of the Child
As the movement to Montessori homeschooling continues to grow, more and more parents are enrolling in NAMC’s Montessori training programs to learn how to educate their children at home. One of their common questions is how to entice their children to work with the Montessori materials after a presentation. One parent recently explained that his child would ask for a presentation and be interested and attentive throughout. But, she would say “no thanks” when he asked if she would like to work with the material afterwards. “After a few days I can sometimes coax her into trying the materials after doing another presentation,” he said – but why isn’t she interested in working independently with the materials before that?
One reason for this could be that they don’t have as much active peer engagement to spark their interest. Learning in the Montessori environment includes a social aspect. Even though the children may be working independently, there is a constant flurry of activity. The mixed-age classroom provides plenty of peer-teaching-and-learning opportunities. Younger children and those new to the environment observe their peers working with materials and learn the rhythm and expectations of the classroom indirectly. Children learn the intricacies of choosing work from each other, and they develop an interest in new activities when they see their peers using the materials. These opportunities are not always as available in the home environment.
Their reluctance may also be a reflection on how we as parents play with children with games and toys. When we get a game out to play, we set it up, play the game, put it away, and move on to something new. Games by their very nature are social and usually multi-person. Rather than working by themselves, the child is waiting for us to play with them again – as they do with games.
One way of encouraging your child to work with the material is by using the material yourself. This provides them with the benefits of seeing someone else working with the material and showing them that the material can be worked with independently. Set the material up on the mat and without talking or asking if your child wants to join, slowly and silently begin working with the material. I did this many times in my own Montessori classroom environments — even in upper elementary. It’s likely that your child will get curious and pretty soon, they will sit with you and want to participate. Allow them to take over with the material, and sit silently while they work. They may just be waiting for that type of silent invitation and visual reminder. Don’t be disgruntled if they don’t join in — that’s okay, too. Remember, they were watching you work by yourself, and that’s a lesson in and of itself. Plus, it gives you the benefit of some extra practice with the materials in a quiet, Zen-like Montessori moment.
Another reason your child may be reluctant to revisit a material after a presentation may be that they are waiting to see if you use the material again, or they just might not want to use the material for right now. Leave the material on the shelf and see what happens. Or, maybe they’re waiting to see what comes next. Are they ready for more? The one thing we shouldn’t do is try to coax children to use the materials. Remember, our role is to follow the child, not make them follow us.
Our job as a Montessori guide is to demonstrate materials, present lessons, and then step aside and allow the child to work. This freedom allows the child to choose the work that interests them at the time. It is easy to impose our desires and will upon the child, but we reap much greater success when we practice patience and learn to trust the inner voice of the child in our care.
The child who has never learned to work by himself, to set goals for his own acts, or to be the master of his own force of will is recognizable in the adult who lets others guide his will and feels a constant need for approval of others.
Education and Peace
© North American Montessori Center – originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, October 27, 2021.