When I first began my Montessori journey as a parent- toddler and eventually Nido program Directress, I knew that I wanted to do more than simply guide parents for a 2-hour session each week. I wanted the families in my care to go home each day feeling empowered and inspired. The hope for all Directresses is that the families will incorporate what they see and learn from our prepared environment and transfer to their own home. The Montessori Approach is more than a philosophy, it is a way of conscious living.
While topics of discussion such as sensitive periods, weaning and independence, etc were very popular and important during our sessions, there was one subject in which I constantly referred back to in order to explain the others: mindfulness, which encompassed OBSERVATION and being PRESENT.
The art of observation must be practiced by the Montessori parent. I say “Montessori Parent” as this is a key element to the philosophy, however this art is necessary for all parents regardless of the methodology chosen. When we SEE our children instead of merely looking at them, we discover what they are trying to tell us, what they are driven to accomplish and the desires of their heart. All of this gives us great information! With this knowledge we can modify the environment to best suit their needs, foster the developmental drive that is at work and tune into what makes our children “tick”–that special component that makes him unique from all others on this planet.
It all comes down to being really PRESENT in the moment with our children. Observation normally takes place when we are not interacting with them, but simply sitting back and taking notice of what they are doing. When your child invites you into their world and you accept the invitation, it is important that you are a polite guest! How rude would it be if someone came to visit you and sat texting or checking their social media every few minutes? Most people would agree, that is not quality time with a friend, nor would it be with your child. Show him that your time together is valued by devoting your attention to your shared activity.
In order to truly SEE our children and be PRESENT we have to abandon a few things:
- Switch off all technology : Gasp! Did I hear? Yes, it is necessary. You can have your phone back, I promise but for this exercise it needs to be out of sight and out of mind. The act of switching off your phone, TV, laptop, etc. alone sends a strong message to your child that he is more important than those things and that you are taking an active interest in what he is doing. Powerful stuff! And who knows, you may find that you enjoy this ‘being present’ time so much that it becomes a regular thing! (Yes!!!!)
- Give up any preconceived ideas of how your time together should be. Living in the present means being untainted by the past and worry-free of the future. Follow your child’s lead and see where it takes you. It is okay to have something of interest prepared, but fly by the seat of your pants! If things begin to deflect from those plans, go with it. A new, more exciting and memorable experience just might be in store. It is okay to be spontaneous! The perfect day is generally the one least expected and often painted with imperfections.
- Talk less and listen more. This is a wonderful opportunity to check in with your child. If you ask open-ended questions (those that require more than a yes or no answer) you will discover a lot about his thoughts and feelings. Take care not to drill your child. Let the conversation flow naturally. Make sure you pause after each thought you or your child express to allow your child to respond. Like adults, children need a moment to ponder what they just heard. If we quickly switch from topic to topic, they never get to explore and test out their ideas on you, their audience. Allowing silent moments allows them time to do this. If nothing is said, that is fine too! Enjoy the stillness together.
- Do not check your watch! Have you ever been in a private meeting with someone and they were a constant watch checker? What message did it send to you? Again, show your children that you value your time together. If necessary, tell your child beforehand that your have ‘X’ amount of time before you need to switch focus to prepping dinner, going to work or whatever it may be. Setting a timer will take your worries of forgetting away and eliminate the need to keep your eye on the clock.
- Ditch the itch to twitch. Be conscientious of the body language you are conveying to your children. If you find that it is really hard for you to stay in one place and engage, then take note. Do not worry about why it is hard for you in the moment, you can examine this later, instead shift that energy into the task at hand. Be active in what you are doing together and try to focus on the details: it could be as simple as smelling the sweetness of an apple you are preparing for snack, examining the gloss of the skin, the crispness in your mouth or the crunching sound it makes with each bite. When is the last time you really paid attention to all of this? If your body is having a hard time slowing down, then I would encourage you to practice it more and more!
- No need for speed! Slow down, smell the roses, be patient. In a world where we rush around all day it is really important to unwind and go with the flow. Relax your breathing, relax your heart rate. Feel peace and calmness surround you by tuning into the natural rhythm of a carefree routine. If you are on a time limit, that is okay too. Simply tell your child that you can pick up where you left off when your free time together circles around again.
- Leave the judging for Judy. Staying present and being mindful is about being free from judgement. This is hard and a new concept for many. Again, stay focused. Engage during your time together but do not get so caught up in what she is doing that you begin comparing her abilities to Sally, the neighbour’s child or ponder why she painted the strawberry purple. See your child for who she individually… and think of purple strawberries as a new trend!
- Be kind to yourself. If all the above is hard for you and you find it difficult to be fully present with your child that is okay! You have learned something about yourself. There is a reason why Mindfulness is a hot topic. Many of us have a hard time unwinding and slowing down. Some even find it hard to reconnect with others. Unfortunately our modern day society seems to support this. Hope is not lost. You just need practice and the commitment of time to it. For many this wind-down will be a slow process; the masses are addicted to being busy. Take it day by day and hopefully it will become easier and more enjoyable as time goes on.
I truly believe that more parents are wanting to escape the hustle-bustle life we seem to have all been thrown into. We realise that some how we need to stop the glorification of busy! It is like an addiction, we know that it is healthier to slow down but we can’t seem to let go, nor do we know how. When we do find stillness it often seems uncomfortable and foreign to us. What are our children thinking about the speed of life or is it all just the norm to them now?
I know for me their is no better feeling than truly connecting with my family, especially my children.