If, in your travels on Pinterest and Instagram, you see a beautiful photo of a tiny toddler carefully/peacefully/confidently lifting a little jug of water to pour himself a glass, here’s what you may have missed:
- a baby experimenting with different grips on a weaning glass
- a baby pouring water down his shirt
- an older baby throwing a full glass of water in the general direction of his face
- an older yet baby taking a few sips before dropping a half-full glass into his lap
- a one year old pushing a glass off the edge of the table — repeatedly
- a one year old who reaches for a cloth after taking a drink
- a one year old says “uh oh” when a glass breaks and his mother sweeps it up
- a thirteen month old grabbing the pitcher to pour for himself
- a fourteen month old pouring a puddle of water immediately beside his glass
- a fourteen month and one day old getting a little more water into his glass
- a fifteen month old who uses a cloth on the little puddle of water on his placemat
- a sixteen month old who pours a glass a water
- a sixteen month old who an hour later completely misses the glass again
- a seventeen month old who pours all of the water from the pitcher into and over and around the glass, long after it’s full
Maybe all of this seems a bit much, but the point is this: each of these opportunities builds on the last, as the child learns through his own real life experience how to hold a glass of water.
Through repetition, that is, through repeatedly doing something “wrong”, he learned how to meet his own goal (to get water from one vessel into another).
In the early days of incorporating Montessori into our own home though, I’d be disappointed when I introduced a new activity or material and it seemed like my little guy just couldn’t get the hang of it. My expectations were based on things I’d seen other kids do online, or read about in a book, or seen in a film (and one really simple error I occasionally made as a first time mom was not understanding the very real difference between, say, a 17 month old and a 20 month old).
At this point in the journey, I’ve come to realize this: if you offer a child an empty glass and an appropriately sized pitcher of water for the first time ever, and they have no problem pouring a glass without spilling a drop, you’ve waited too long.
Spills, messes, challenges, frustration — it’s all part of the process, of learning, of doing hard things. Fear of failure? It’s got no place here.
A parent doesn’t need to say a thing — that wee genius knows what he’s attempting and whether it’s been successful. “The teacher should never intervene in an action when the impulse prompting it is good, neither with her approval nor with her help nor with a lesson or correction,” Maria Montessori wrote in Some Words of Advice to Teachers.
Today’s challenge: let’s offer opportunities to our kids (and to ourselves), to try something and not quite get it. To pour the water on the floor, to climb up the wrong side of the slide, to put their shoes on the wrong feet. And then let’s smile and watch them try again.
Do we follow each other on Instagram? Let’s! Click here for an Instagram video of a very wee Jasper pouring himself a drink a long while back, and hit follow while you’re there.