As parents we expect and handle our toddlers hitting or throwing things and we cope with our 4-year-old experimenting with bad language. But when we see our maturing child start to be socially hurtful, our life changes. The feeling of failure that enshrouds us when our child tells another child they can’t be a part of a game or come to their birthday party brings about the most complicated of parenting challenges. Taking the words of Steven Pinker we remind ourselves that “personality and socialization aren’t the same thing”.
I often describe Montessori education as the development of the individual child/student within the social setting of the classroom. The Montessori child is nurtured and guided always within the social context. The environment at each level is based upon the specific age-appropriate needs, but the social environment is the backdrop. Our aim is to prepare the child for the world in which they will live, both outside of our classes and in their lives. For that reason, Montessori professionals think of the social development of the child as essential to the cognitive and emotional development of the child. The child who is disconnected from their peers will struggle with collaborative projects and will find difficulty in getting their needs met at school. On the contrary, the child who has developed social skills through grace and courtesy lessons, group projects, class meetings, and intentional conflict resolution will be more likely to develop the skills of empathy, collaboration and self-knowledge. This is important work for us as professionals as we guide our students to be the best version of themselves as they grow up and tackle new challenges.
During our In-Service Day, our entire elementary and MMM staff took part in a workshop presented by Kathy Maserie. Kathy is a pediatrician who left her medical practice eight years ago to found a non-profit organization, Full Esteem Ahead, where she serves as Program Director and where she specializes in the social lives of kids. Kathy’s newest book collaboration is Face to Face, Cultivating Kid’s Social Lives in Today’s Digital World.
During our time with Kathy we focused on empathy and how it develops for a child, expression of emotions and how that may differ for boys and girls, peer mistreatment and how to recognize and respond to it and the ingredients of healthy relationships (self-esteem, mutual respect, trust, open communication, taking personal responsibility, and non-controlling behavior). Kathy emphasized the movement away from the use of “bullying” as a label for peer mistreatment and guided us to an understanding of the difference between accidental and intentional harm. We discussed the need to remove shame from our children’s lives and replace it with a healthy attitude about responsibility. We spent time considering how the adult supports the child on their social journey—from the earliest years and in the simplest ways—both in the home and in the school. We are preparing them for successful social lives from the first months of life.
Sue Pritzker, Head of School
Childpeace Montessori School