Saturday, January 1, 2011

Including the outsiders

As parents we all have to make decisions for the welfare of our children. In some cases I know it is truly better for some children to be homeschooled, but I just read the book, "Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful," and it validated my decision to send Sean back into a Montessori classroom.

Before reading this book I didn't see the positive side of having eccentric children in the classroom. By eccentric I mean those who fall way outside the lines of "normal" behavior. I was focused on the academics and believed it would be detrimental to the academic flow to have disruption in the room. Those who couldn't assimilate quickly would sort of mess it up for the others is what I thought.

I even spoke with Sean's teacher about one child and how long the school could tolerate the behavior. I suggested maybe this education model wasn't working for that child.
She admitted maybe it wasn't working, and that a move to a traditional classroom could be the solution, but said the children have rallied around that child and have said, "She just needs more time, and she's a lot better than she was when the year started."
That spoke to me, and I loosened a little on my belief that she didn't belong there. If anything, I've learned that children are profound and much better at assessing a situation than adults in a lot of cases.
And she said she had been reading the book, and offered to loan it to me when she was finished. I read it over the Christmas break.

Now I see that a big part of a Montessori education is learning how to function in a society filled with all types of people, and how to communicate with total honesty. I knew that, but for some reason it didn't resonate that the best way to learn how to do that is by being surrounded by all types of people. By bringing them into the fold, speaking out loud about the struggles of each and including everyone in the environment to help each other with those struggles, I can see that the veil of shame is pulled away and children feel empowered and safe to grow at their own pace both emotionally and intellectually.

Donna Bryant Goertz illustrates chapter after chapter how the classroom can become a training ground for every child to realize their potential and gain an understanding of how to fully function in society. By including the "problem" children, all of the children learn to recognize their own struggles and each one plays an important role in helping one another.

In Sean's class there are several children who have extreme struggles. Each has a different struggle for different reasons. One girl is very aggressive and uses language that is rude and abrasive. She strikes before she is struck type of thing.

One boy is struggling with some anger and aggression that is directed both outward and toward himself. He destroys his papers, tries to stab himself with pencils, and hits and kicks other children.
I think both of these children have also stolen things and were sent home for that.

The beauty is that Sean's teacher is so in tune with Montessori principals and so eager to be the best she can possibly be. The book has an example of a Montessori guide who really didn't seem to embrace the ideas. I'm happy Sean has a teacher who strives to be her best.

I can see that it has been good for Sean to be with these children, crazy as that may sound to some parents. In a traditional classroom it wouldn't be good for any of them. The "problem" child would be excluded, ridiculed, called out, sent to special classes, medicated and seen as the outsider. The "normal" children would feel superior and would not effectively deal with and process their own struggles. In Sean's room they are all included, and their struggles are just that, struggles. And every child has struggles.

Here's an example of how I know this is working for Sean:
A week ago his friend across the street who attends the local school came over to play. (BTW, he has quite a few struggles, and they are different from Sean's.) He was talking about some kids at school, and he asked Sean, "Wouldn't you want to get them back if they did that to you?" Sean said, "Oh, I don't know." The boy said, "If they said that kind of stuff to you wouldn't you want to say it back to them? I'd want to get them back good, even worse than they did to me." Sean said, "Well, I don't like to hurt people. I might want to teach them a lesson, but I wouldn't want to hurt them."
And I smiled, knowing that for Sean those words "teach them a lesson" really mean teaching them a lesson in how to get along, not some kind of vindictive action.


  1. I am going to get a copy of this book as soon as I can. This scenario that you are describing is exactly why I send my children to a traditional school.You are so right on about how a non montessori school handles children with challenges. I enjoy reading how Sean said he would handle the situation his friend was upset about. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Discovering Montessori,
    Thank you for following my blog. The book is really great. I plan to start reading more Montessori and Montessori-inspired books. I'll post my opinion of them here. I appreciate that you took the time to post a comment.

  3. hello there. I think our mommy instinct does tell us at first to remove our children from environments/people we don't feel are "peaceful". Good for you for realizing that many great lessons can be learned from working through those situations. It truly is preparation for the real world and provides great coping strategies for dealing with difficult people/situations by showing kindness, patience, and tolerance.

  4. I love this book. I re-read parts of it all the time. It's helpful, even for Primary teachers.