Interrupting independence


Every child is a born explorer. — E.M. Standing

Do you listen to podcasts?

Ever since the end of Serial back in December, I’ve been looking for something new to fill my ears while I do the dishes or putter around the house, and I’ve stumbled upon Invisibilia, another NPR podcast that focuses on the invisible forces at work in human life. This week’s episode was all about expectation, and focused on the idea that if we expect blind people to be unable to make their way in the world independently, then they won’t. But if the rest of the world allows blind people (and especially children) to explore their world freely, then they will, and they will even begin to experience what is neurologically-speaking, sight. Basically kids who were given free-range would naturally move to using echo location to navigate their world.

So what does this have to do with Montessori? Everything!

Over and over again, the podcast reiterated: kids who are either prevented from interacting with the world, kids who are over-assisted with tasks, and kids who were interrupted while exploring would ultimately give up fighting for that necessary independence. They would begin to rely on the willing steerage of their parents and teachers and lose out not just on independent life, but on the experience of images that those who did use echo location enjoy (which is apparently somewhat similar to the clarity and scope of a sighted person’s peripheral vision).

There was an example of a five year-old boy who was, along with his blind tutor, engaged in an exercise of finding the edge of the road. Just as he was getting to the point of discovery, his godmother rushed in and violently grabbed him back from the curb. The teacher went on to explain that often sighted people around a blind child will react too quickly — sometimes just a half-second or so, before the child was about to set his or her own boundary. He also said that these interruptions have long term harm, creating a place of self-doubt within the child.

I imagine you’re starting to see where I’m going with this. Even for those of us with sighted children, how often do we interrupt exploration? It comes from impatience when waiting for our child to slip his foot into his boots, or fear when our toddler has moved a stool into the kitchen to retrieve a knife to cut his snack with, or when we suddenly butt in on our child’s work or play to announce that it’s time to clean up, or even when he’s stuck in his t-shirt with one arm in and one arm out and he’s panicking.

And by “we,” of course I mean “I”.

So this week my challenge to myself is to wait even just a half-second longer. To sit on my hands if I have to, to keep them from reaching out to “help.” Observation will help, I think. To take a moment to notice “what is this kid working on right now?“, and to weigh that against my own priorities.

Of course, all of this has me circling around and ending up where I always do, with that timeless and simple phrase: Follow The Child.

P.S. Are you into podcasts? Be sure to check out the podcast from Baan Dek, a beautiful AMI environment in South Dakota, founded by the same people who created the Montessori: Letter/Number/Shape/Map Work books.


3 thoughts on “Interrupting independence

  1. jactreemontessori says:

    Hi Meghan,

    I listened to the same podcast and also related it to parenting! I wrote a “lesson” for the parents who come to my classes using the same example to see if their expectations about their children affect how their children behave.

    So just thought I would drop you a note – great minds 😉

    Best wishes, Simone


    • Hi Simone,
      Thanks for reading — and for taking the time to leave a comment! I’m thrilled to hear I wasn’t the only one excited to find a Montessori connection with that podcast. I’m just loving Invisibilia! Thanks again,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing about these podcasts Meghan! I love listening to interesting stuff – I don’t have much time to read these days.

    It takes a lot of effort to stay back and let your children learn for themselves but I see the positive results everyday. Encourage independence, and let them know that they can trust themselves…there is nothing more empowering than a ” I DID IT!”, is there?

    Thank you again, Deb


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