by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., www.bornforbrilliance.com
I was amazed and moved at the concentration and self-control I observed among infants and toddlers in a Montessori school in Denver. And these were not children from wealthy families at all– this was an Early Head Start program serving primarily children from families with low incomes.
My colleague Deborah Silvis and I decided to observe and study the conditions that seemed to make this possible. After months of study, we identified 7 key conditions in the adults’ approach to the children and in the environment that seemed to make this possible.
- The adults encouraged the children to learn in an active and self-directed manner, compared to a common approach of controlling and directing young children;
- The adults allowed children to learn from their own mistakes much more than most adults in our society do; they helped the children only as much as they needed in order to develop greater skill mastery;
- They gave the children real, challenging work that met each child’s interests- not silly or busy work;
- The adults gave the young children a meaningful role in the community, which consistently elicited courteous, caring behavior and an innate desire to contribute meaningful to the activities of the community;
- They let young children work to their heart’s content when they were interested in something– they were careful not to interrupt when a child was concentrating;
- They demonstrated confidence in young children’s abilities, rather than behaving like the children were helpless or likely to mess up the environment; and
- Adults prepared the environment thoughtfully so that it was well-ordered, contained materials of interest and learning value to the children, and everything for the children was accessible at their height and fit their small hands.
These 7 keys are fundamental to what I teach parents and nursery school teachers about unleashing the brilliance of each young child. It is inspiring to see the competencies and confidence in young children when we show confidence in their ability to direct their own learning.
Have you noticed a baby or toddler working intently at something that interests them? When you observe them working intently at something other than social interaction, sometimes the best thing you can do as an adult who cares is to sit on your hands-– in other words, keep yourself from jumping in to help.
When you see your young child working at mastering something, from putting their socks on and taking them off to trying to work a puzzle, try to become aware of the benefits of their work. He is developing the ability to concentrate and focus his attention. He will build on those fundamental skills for a long time. Children who don’t develop the ability to focus their attention experience a lot of difficulties in school and in life. She is developing the ability to direct herself toward achieving a goal and developing the sense of self-reliance and confidence that goes along with that. So interrupt their focused attention only when the interruption will truly be helpful!
Develop a subtler sense of when help is helpful and when it’s distracting or demotivating. That way, you can become more aware of when a little help is actually likely to help the child to do it herself and advance her skills, her innate intelligence, her self-reliance, and her confidence.