I give up. Today, I am telling you all about how I give up. I’ve been noticing something happening during our homeschool lessons and activities. And I give up.What exactly do I give up on? I give up on:
- stressing out about our activities
- pressuring my son
- controlling his activities
- being disappointed when our works go differently than planned
- thinking about what I want him to do
I’ve been noticing that when I set up our shelves, I have a particular image in my mind for how I expect our activities will go. I get really focused on that. After all, designing our printables, printing, laminating, setting up trays – it all takes a lot of dedication, time, and effort. It’s a lot of work, and I do it with love, but my push for controlling how the works go is causing a lot of stress.
This situation creates a lot of stress for me because my child just won’t listen to me! As well as a lot of stress for my son because his mom just doesn’t understand how to set up the work for him!
I’ve also noticed this problem amongst readers. I’ve been asked before about what to do when your child won’t do the work as you intended. And here’s the secret: just let go and stop. Stop trying to control. Stop pushing. Just step back.
I’m letting go. And I’m going back to the basics of Montessori: observing the child and trusting his inner teacher.
What to do when your child won’t do the activities you present
Step back and just stop. Like I said before, observing the child is an absolutely crucial concept in Montessori.
For me, this means stepping back from presenting tons of works on our shelves. Last week, I stopped adding new works all together and simply watched my son.
I don’t mean whilst folding laundry, whilst reading a book, but simply sat on the couch, drank my tea, and watched. I even got out a pen and paper and started taking notes.
When they play, observe what they are playing with, how they are using their toys, watch their movements. What toys do they use? Do they build? Pretend play? Is there a particular movement they frequently make? Observe their fine motor skills, gross motor movements
. Really watch.
Do it for a few days. And take notes.
Review your notes, and really think about them.
Think about what you did before that wasn’t working. Ask yourself some difficult questions:
- Did you have too many activities on the shelves, causing your child to get overwhelmed?
- Were the activities too advanced and your child was getting frustrated because she or he could not complete the work?
- Were the activities too simple? Your child could easily complete them and was no longer interested in them.
- How can you incorporate the things you observed during your child’s play into your learning activities?
- Does your child get enough gross motor engagement during the day? Does she or he need to go outside more to get some much needed movement into your routine.
- Do you have an orderly and easy to use environment for your child to work in? Distractions should be minimal and everything should have a designated spot.
These questions may seem basic, but when you really stop to think about them, you might be surprised. Especially if you start really writing these things down.
I realised, we do not go outside nearly enough. Because I use a wheelchair, it can be difficult. However, after getting Y outside a few days in a row, I noticed how much more eager he was to engage in works and sitting activities after
we get some gross motor
play in. It’s so important for him and really worth the effort for me.
It’s very important to spend some time simply reflecting on these things even though they may seem obvious. Really, you’ll be surprised at how much you learn about your child, yourself and your routine if you simply focus and observe.
It’s time to rework your shelves, keeping in mind a few basic tips:
- Add only a few activities, being sure not to overwhelm your child. Perhaps only add six or eight trays at a time.
- Keep the activities simple with a clear focus.
- Make sure that the focus of the activity is obvious and easy to isolate for your child. For instance, if you want your child to sort beads by colour, make sure all of the beads are the same size and shape or the focus of the activity becomes lost.
- Try to create trays that take into consideration what you observed your child doing during the previous steps.
- If your child still does not engage in the activities you present, perhaps they are simply not ready yet. Put that activity away and revisit it later.
During my time observing my son, I noticed that Y had been spending a lot of time combining and dumping different trays together.
For example, he had a pouring work with dried macaroni to which he added pieces from a cutting work. He started spooning this mixture into multiple bowls and trays, collected from our other works. Then, he grabbed some scissors and cut the papers into teeny tiny pieces. He told me he made pancakes. So what does this mess of macaroni and paper mean when it comes to our homeschool activities?
In general, I am going to be adding more practical life trays. I’ve been adding less pouring works than before as these are skills that he has already mastered, but clearly still has a sensitive period for working on. Specifically, I will be adding the following types of works to our shelves more frequently:
- Real cooking (in the kitchen, but still important to do)
- Spooning practice
- Pouring works that focus on pouring into multiple containers
- More imaginary play/kitchen play/play shop
- More cutting practice using complicated patterns, focusing on precision.
Another example from my home. My son has been very interested in counting. He really likes to count everything when he is playing. However, I noticed that a few of the counting works I set up were not completed in the way I had intended.
For instance, a few times, I had set up beads and pipe cleaners alongside our sandpaper numbers. Y would have to place the beads on the pipe cleaners, then place them by the corresponding sandpaper number.
Whilst this work kind of worked, I found myself constantly reminding him to work, or how to do the activity. It was very frustrating for both of us. Whilst he was counting correctly during free play, I also noticed how during this particular work, he no longer wanted to correctly identify number quantities or number symbols, while I know he knows them.
What could be the problem? I suspected that this work was simply too complicated. There were too many elements. In the particular incident described above, I had also decided to add a counting in English lesson. Oh man! That poor child was overwhelmed and hence no longer interested.
I reworked this activity by presenting the sandpaper numbers with one type of manipulative. Y had to simply place the corresponding quantity of paper koalas underneath each number. He counted as he went and did the work beautifully and with so much enthusiasm.
It was exactly how our learning activities should go! I can step back and stay quiet, whilst my son happily works. There’s no pressure, he’s learning, having fun, and truly developing a passion for learning! Exactly the goal with our early learning activities!
Do not worry about getting your child to do an activity as you imagined it. Instead, really stop and think about why they are changing the work, doing it in that particular way, or why they are simply not interested.
Why are we doing this? Our children need to learn how to count and learn their letters! Because our children have this beautiful, incredibly inner teacher.
Maria Montessori believed that each child has an inner teacher. Basically, children have an unconscious urge to engage in certain types of activities during a time when they are ready to learn about them/how to do them. This is a sort of inner guide within our little ones.
Your child is interested in doing a certain type of activity, or will have a certain interest when they are ready to learn about it, or during a sensitive period for learning that skill. When your child is ready to learn their letters, numbers, colours, etc, it will go smoothly and will almost come naturally to them. Perhaps your child’s lack of interest in those things right now is because she or he is simply not ready to learn them right now, but will be later.
Pushing our children to learn something when they are not ready for it, really only frustrates both parents (teachers) and the children. So really, just take a step back, and breathe! Watch your child, take lessons from their inner teacher, and just have fun!
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