Respecting the Child

A child keeps picking up the flower puzzle once or twice a week, looks at it and then sets it back in it’s place on the shelf each time. The teacher has been watching and taken note. The child, Yemi, goes on to work on other things each day. He is 3 and a half years old.

One day Yemi picks up the same puzzle settles down and starts removing the puzzle pieces and sets them on the table. Then he begins to set them back, he makes several attempts but can’t seem to complete the task. He is frustrated, you can see that by the way he frowns and squeal.

Yemi looks for his teacher, sees she is free and goes over to ask for some help. The teacher comes over and demonstrates how to put the puzzle back slowly. He watches the demonstration keenly. When the teacher is done, she sets the puzzle pieces out again and leaves Yemi to work on it.

He now starts slowly putting it back together himself, Yemi makes at least 2 to 3 more attempts before he finally gets every piece in its proper place. A smile spreads widely on his face and you hear the elated voice say: ‘I did it!’

His teacher says: ‘Yes, you did it.’

Yemi looks at his work with satisfaction and joy, then proceeds to put out all the pieces and works on putting the puzzle back again. He does this several times before he places the work back on the shelf.

This is a common scene that should be replayed in every Montessori setting and may I say in every classroom and home where there is a deep understanding of how children learn whether you run a Montessori curriculum or not, and what we can do to support them.

There is so much that is still not understood about the Montessori stand on respecting the child. If we look a bit closely at the scene above, I think we can learn a bit about why respecting the child is important, what it is and what it is not.

Let’s try and dissect this:

  1. Yemi has been attempting to do this work for a while, first he was interested, but did not remove the pieces. The teacher noticed but just noted and watched.  I know that my gut reaction would previously be: To get in there and show him how to do it!) What the teacher did on the other hand is part of respecting the child, giving them the time to figure it out themselves, don’t always run to their rescue, do it for them or give them the answers, they must learn how to learn themselves.
  2. When he was ready, Yemi took out the pieces of the puzzle and started trying to put them back again. Note that there is a period when we look at a problem or a job and try and plan work out the steps we will take, we think through and when we think we are ready we take the first step. Please let the child get that time to consider what to do.
  3. Then after several unsuccessful attempts frustration sets in. This is the time help is needed. Yemi went to get help. Some other children may not, that is why you, the adult should keep close watch. Intervene at this point and show the child what to do before they finally give up, return the work and never go near it again. This is why observing the children in your setting and knowing where they are at is so important. We don’t spend time over correcting, but we should know when our help is needed, maybe just a demonstration of the next step, or an additional step to the norm which will help the child to get over the hump, is all that is needed. This is part of what respecting the child is: Giving help when needed, before frustration sets in and takes over! Do note that: a little bit of frustration is good. This is how they learn to try and try again until they succeed.
  4. Note that when the teacher completed the demonstration she put the work back into the unfinished state so the child could attempt it again. This is important. The work is not done because you the adult did it, it is done when the child has done it and is satisfied with their work. Children are usually satisfied only when they are sure that they know how to do it, that is do the work well. This may take a lot of repeat practice. Practice makes perfect, they say. Respecting the child also means allowing them time to practice their work. Don’t just assume that because you have shown them how to do something that they know how to do it, or because they have worked on some worksheets that it is now done and dusted.
  5. When Yemi completed the task the first time and exclaimed ‘I did it!’ his teachers response was simply an affirmation. We are sometimes too quick with praise and we over do it. The child has joy and satisfaction in completing a task successfully, don’t make it about you or your praise, because once they get addicted to this ‘good boy, clap for her,’ etc, they may not make too much of an effort when the praise is no longer available!

So respecting the child has a lot to do with letting them work at their own pace, we watch we guide but we do not take over. The goal is not for the child to think they are the superior to the adult, this is why some of us do not like the idea or respecting the child, but as you can see, you are in control it is just that you let the child find their way.

At no point during the scene above was the child disrespectful of the his teacher, neither was the child in control of the class, he only had control of himself and he did ask for help from the adult when it was needed.

We can therefore conclude that allowing the child this respect and control of self, would simply help encourage, self confidence, self esteem, self discipline, independence, an inner strength and a deep love for learning. Children need all this and more to succeed in the world. Let us all endeavour to respect the child and get them  to where they need to be.



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