1. activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
In the classroom we refer to the activities the children partake in as “works”. This is one of the first language transitions that anyone entering into Montessori quickly catches onto. “It’s so cute”, I’ve heard many say, “They call their toys “work”!” The next phase of understanding is diving into what the purpose of the work really is. “Oh I understand now”. It’s called work because it’s purposeful. They’re developing fine motor skills, gross motor, they’re learning language, hand-eye coordination, concentration, etc. As a working adult when I hear the word “work”, I realize I’ve been trained to feel negatively towards it. Work is hard. Work is boring. Work is separate from fun. Work is something to “get through”. Work is a dark cloud looming over us M-F (or whatever days your work clings to you…) Work is trapped! Well, I may have gotten a little carried away, but perhaps you share in associating a similar connotation with the word work.
Working with toddlers has changed my perspective on work. It has completely opened my eyes to a whole new way to live my life. I’m the youngest of four children. I remember as a child that my older siblings loved to show me how things were done. I’ll never forget attempting to wash the dishes after dinner one night when my sister said to me, “You’re doing it so slowly, let me do it!” (Don’t worry sis, I forgive you!) The same thing happened with the broom. Similarly with cleaning my room. My sweet mother who had encouraged me to clean my room over and over again, simply had enough after I decided it was a good idea to plan out my outfits for the next month and lay my entire wardrobe onto the floor. She snuck into my room in the middle of the night and cleaned the whole thing! What a surprise it was to wake up to that! I grew up with a lot of help. I thought I was pretty lucky. Cunning, even, that I might even “pretend” to do something poorly so someone would take over for me. Ah… but now! It’s taken me the past few years to learn how to wash dishes in the sink without leaving the kitchen faucet running for 30 minutes. I’d much rather someone else do it.
I love being a teacher because I get to witness struggle and progress. Toddlers are so eager to help and do everything we do. In the classroom they push a broom around a spill on the floor. They are so happy! “I’m sweeping!”, they say. They wipe down the tables and chairs and help clean the windows. They beg to wash their dishes! Just to feel the water and the soap on their hands. They have no choice but to be present because they don’t yet have the ability to be distracted by the abstract. Tomorrow, yesterday, fifteen minutes ago… it doesn’t exist yet! What would you give for that kind of power? Paula Polk Lillard, author of Montessori: A Modern Approach said this, “The small child walks to develop his powers, he is building up his being. He goes slowly. He has neither rhythmic step nor goal. But things around him allure him and urge him forward.” When working with toddlers we aim to develop in them a love for learning, a love for life! I catch myself trying to intervene too quickly when a mess is spilled because I just want it to be cleaned up, but I also feel strongly about children being able to experience cleaning free of frustration, shame, and the stress of time. I also feel strongly about changing that perspective for myself.
The funny thing about teaching at this age is that they are really teaching us! The children already love learning. They already love life. They already love work. The disconnect happens between us and them when we don’t love it too. Demanding things be done doesn’t work. Doing it for them doesn’t help. Offering a prize for their accomplishment might work for a moment, but then they have just been taught the “get through it” method. Maria Montessori said, “No one who has ever done anything really successful has ever done it simply because he was attracted by what we call a ‘reward’ or by fear of what we call a ‘punishment’… Every victory and every advance in human progress comes from an inner compulsion.” I know this is true firsthand because for the past several years, several different batches of roommates have been urging me to be tidy, and it’s only just now that I’ve decided to do it for myself.
I love Maria Montessori because she wants to rewrite the story of human history every day. Let’s be present. Let’s slow down. Let’s enjoy this life. Let’s let go. Let’s let it happen. “When hearts are high the time will fly… so whistle while you work.” Enjoy yourself!
“Children are our real teachers. Listen carefully and they will teach you about the lost world of carefree being in the present moment.” – Tibetan Wisdom