Follow the Middle School Child

At every level of development at Childpeace, it is in the tradition of Maria Montessori that we have such a strong emphasis on the individual unfolding of each child. As you engage in parent teacher conferences, whether the formal ones that happen a month from now or the informal phone or email conference with your child's guide, you don't get a grade, score, or statement that compares your child to the rest of the classroom. Instead, you get a discussion about where s/he has progressed since the last discussion, whether that is in the spectrum of healthy development, how we adults can assist in that individual unfolding, and what might be the barriers in the way. "Follow the child" said Dr. Montessori, in many places and contexts.

Follow the child can feel a lot easier at age two than at age twelve for most parents. As our children reach the threshold of early adulthood, we want him/her to transform into someone that is easily accepted and celebrated by society. We can worry that if they are too “individual” then they will suffer both socially and when looking for a job. And amongst this age group themselves, there is a developmental push to find belonging, to be a part of a community in which you truly feel embraced. There is an internal inclination in an adolescent to either abandon individualism or seek to be accepted by virtue of being unique.

Author, educator and therapist Michael Gurian promotes an approach to our children, like Dr. Montessori’s, that is based in the science of the developing human being (brain, body, and character). In his 2009 book Nurture the Nature: Understanding And Supporting Your Child's Unique Core Nature, he describes the recent phenomena of “social trends parenting” that works against recognizing each person’s individuality. 

As his website describes it, "Children who are always on the go; tests and competitions to get youngsters into the 'best' schools; social criteria that dictate how a child should behave, play, and act at specific ages, even if their brain development is different than the trend.” 

These are all symptoms of "social trends parenting.” Gurian coined this phrase to refer to our current media-saturated system of raising kids that focuses on constantly changing social fads, experts, and infotainments, instead of a child's unique and individual nature. Some of the social trends that blindside parents are extensive television and computer use; the anxiety many parents feel about not doing enough for their children; and the negative impact that over-scheduling can have on children of all ages. He argues that children are not blank slates to be shaped as we wish. Rather, each is born with a unique core nature--specific needs, strengths, vulnerabilities, and learning style--that cannot be adequately supported with a one-size-fits all approach. “Social trends parenting” does not focus on who our children are, says Gurian, and it works against the core nature of the individual child, causing children and families to suffer unnecessary anxiety and chronic stress.

When teachers and parents recognize that children do not have to fit a certain mold to be successful, then the stress is alleviated and the child can more easily thrive. This attitude is one distinct way in which our middle school is different from others. Though every current student would likely describe themselves as college-bound, they all are supported to feel successful while working at their own pace, with freedom of movement, and with a great amount of choice in how they will personally contribute to a group project. If the same assignment is given to every student, the MMM teachers expect that each person will bring unique perspectives, interests, and abilities to the final product. And in the end, these students are quite successful in social and academic situations, because they are confident and comfortable with following their own curiosity. 

Dr. Montessori wrote, “The first duty of the educator, whether he is involved with the newborn infant or the older child, is to recognize the human personality of the young being and respect it.” 

We do well to follow this advice.

Merri Baehr Whipps, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School