I remember my first week working at Charlotte Montessori School. I was an assistant, excited for the children to get to school so I could meet them and get the year started. I was not prepared for the crying. The screaming. The “MOMMYYYY!”’s and “COME BAAACK!”’s and “NOOO!”’s. I felt torn as I carried children in, trying to reassure them that were going to have a great day over the sound of their shrieking. I thought, “What if their parents could come in, help them put their things away, get their child settled and distracted with something, and then sneak out?” That seemed logical at the time- less screaming, right? Which would mean more peace, calm, and happiness, right? I had heard that parents were not preferred in the classroom, that it wasn’t the Montessori way, but I thought, “Surely it would reduce the amount of tears, right?”
The one time a parent did try and come in and then sneak out? The chid was fine for a few minutes until they realized their parent had gone- and then? Then the situation escalated: the child was more upset than I had ever seen them, the other children began getting upset, and I felt like I would break down and cry too. And drop-offs are not the only time parents should stay at the door.
Another time, there was an interruption during the afternoon work cycle. The children did not cry this time, but many stopped working to go and talk to the parent who had entered the room. Our work cycle was interrupted, the children were distracted, and after the parent left, several children became upset, wondering where their parents were.
Over the course of the next few months, I concluded that it was best that parents stay out of the classroom. There was something to this part of the Montessorian way. It wasn’t until during my Montessori training, however, that I fully understood why this was the case. I want to share with you what I learned because it actually makes so much SENSE!
I know that before my training, I always felt little guilty telling parents not to interrupt us during the school day. But now that I have the knowledge to back up this idea of a classroom free from distraction, I think I feel more guilty if a parent does come in. Every child has a right to be in their own space, their classroom, uninterrupted by distractions (even their own parents!). The child’s environment is just that: theirs.
This is not to say that we are trying to keep parents out, that they are banned from the room, or that they are unwelcome, but rather, we want parents to understand the importance of the child’s classroom environment and to respect it by allowing it to belong to the child with the least amount of distraction and interruption.
Maria Montessori says, “To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.” This environment is led by the child. Adults can distract from this- we want to help, we want to tell, we want to do, we want to be involved. These things come from a good place of love and affection, but can actually disrespect a child’s right to grow in their own independence. Even as a teacher, I am still learning when to step in and when to observe, when to speak and when to show, when to stand and when to sit. I am still working on becoming less of a distraction, realizing that sometimes by offering my help, I am interrupting a child’s opportunity for independence.
The Montessori environment works toward each child becoming independent. I’m sure you’ve read Maria Montessori’s famous quote, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’” This success comes from having guided the children so that they feel empowered on their own to solve problems, go through their routine, and work independently. When parents are in and out of the classroom, or they interrupt while the children are working, this progress toward independence is delayed, which is a disservice to the child.
The Montessori classroom is not a secret club that parents are not a part of, but a community where one’s personal growth in independence is respected and should be taken seriously. This means ringing the bell if you forgot to bring in a lunchbox, dropping a note off at the business office if you need to remind the teacher of something, sending an email if you have a question or concern, and communicating to your child that you will not enter the classroom during the school day.
My initial reasoning behind parents staying out of the classroom was over-simplified and self-serving. I thought, “Okay, so having parents in the classroom makes the children cry more, so if they don’t come in at all, they children will cry less.” But we are not attempting to stop tears per se (tears are a perfectly natural way to express emotion!), rather, we want to create a space where the children feel confident and comfortable; Confident that they can trust their teachers to respect their environment, work cycle and routine, and comfortable in their own space. This confidence and comfort is what enables them to grow in independence and ultimately shapes who they will become. So, parents, you’re not being excluded- by limiting distractions and interruptions, you are contributing to your child’s success.