Parenting is fraught with mistakes, big and small. They are an inevitable part of the journey. When we mess up as parents, whether it’s losing our temper or dropping the ball, it can be incredibly disquieting. We need to find a way to gracefully navigate making mistakes as a parent.

We shouldn’t abdicate responsibility for our mistakes, however many of us beat ourselves up over our every failing, shortcoming or momentary slip. I’m going to suggest that we instead embrace forgiveness. Yes, you’ve made a mistake. Yes, you can find a way to move forward. Let’s make an effort as parents to deal with our mistakes in a manner that we’d want our children to emulate as they inevitably face their own shortcomings. Show them how to face imperfection.

Treat yourself the way you would like your child to treat themselves. Your child is learning from you just how hard to be on themselves. Take responsibility, find a good solution and forgive yourself.

All photographic credit is due to Erin Drago.

On Choice: Part 2 – Parenting and the Art of Limiting Choices…

Making choices is a huge part of adult life. Our days are packed with choices, big and small. While many of us may wish to rid ourselves of the seemingly endless decision making, we can’t deny that it’s a central part of life – and that being good at it is advantageous.

To help our children cultivate their choice making competency, we must offer choices within a framework. As wonderful as choice is in a young life, unchecked, unlimited choice hinders children’s ability to choose and learn the nuances of making a choice. Limits are crucial. So, let’s look into some of the parameters we can implement around choices.

1. The first limit on choices is to remember that some things are not choices. Whether or not your child is buckled into the car before driving is not an option. Don’t offer choices that are not choices. Read more on offering real choices here.

2. Offer appropriate choices for your child’s age. Young children do not need the same choices as older children. For example, think of a progression of choices regarding play. An appropriate choice for a toddler would be, “Would you like to swing or go down the slide?” For a child in the Children’s House it might be, “Would you like to go to the playground or play in the yard?” And then for the elementary child it could adjust to, “Would you like to go for a bike ride alone or with a friend?” Think about the choices you are giving and consider whether they are appropriate for your child. (If you need help, ask your child’s guide or chat with another trusted parent!)

3. Don’t give too many options for any choice. We’ve all experienced the overwhelming feeling of having too many options! Limiting options allows a child to really choose – to have the possibility of making a thoughtful choice. So, when your young child is dressing, instead of asking “Which shirt would you like to wear?” try, “Would you like to wear the green shirt or the red shirt?” As your child gets older they will likely be able handle more options, but we should still be considerate of the options we give. For example, as your child progresses to choosing their clothes from those available in their dresser, limit their options by making sure that all of the options are good ones. Tank tops don’t need to be available in December! (Full disclosure, your friendly blogger has failed to be diligent on this count, resulting in a 2.5 year old walking into their Children’s House in a swimming suit…)

4. Only offer children low stakes choices. They need to practice making choices; they don’t need to practice recovering from catastrophic choices. Children cannot always predict the entirety of the outcomes of their choices before making them – don’t offer choices that the children will be sorry they made or won’t be able to recover from.

5. Don’t offer a choice that consists of a terrible option vs. a great option. Generally when we do this to our children, we are really trying to make them choose one thing over another. This is not fair to your child. They are practicing making choices, let them practice.

Again, seek help from someone who excels at this. Reach out to a guide or one of the many folks here to support us as parents. The nuances of choices are important and the payoff is well worth the effort!

Melinda, your photos make everything better! Thank you.

Thanks as well to Brigid Jhee and Anna Schwind for ideas, examples and conversations that improved this post.

Giving Thanks for Children…

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”

-Dr. Montessori

In gratitude for the children in our lives, the community we build and rely on and the work we do together.

Melinda, thanks to you, as always, for making our posts beautiful.

Snowy Days…

“It is also necessary for his physical life to place the soul of the child in contact with creation, in order that he may lay up for himself treasure from the directly educating forces of living nature.”

-Dr. Montessori

 Our campus is a sight to behold on any day… the snow makes it even more magical!

The expanse of fresh snow beckons the children to adventure!

Oh the wonderful things we can do with snow…

On Choice: Part 1 – Offering Real Choices

Choice and the interrelated freedoms surrounding it are a central part of Montessori environments and parenting. Over a series of posts we’ll look at the role of choice both in and out of the classroom. This post begins the journey by examining the importance of real, or authentic, choices.

Choice is integral to Montessori because it is a necessary component of respecting the child. Choice is empowering and important. Choice allows all of us, children included, to take ownership of ourselves and our environment. We often expect children to control themselves and make good choices, but we don’t give them the opportunity to practice either of these. If you want your child to learn to control their body, you must first allow them to move their body. If you want them to make good choices, you must give them practice making choices.

However, all choice is not equal. In order to reap the benefits of making a choice there are elements which must also be in play. One of these is the authenticity of the choice.

Often the choices we offer children are not real choices. I would guess we’ve all had moments where we’ve said something to the effect of, “If you don’t put on your shoes, you can’t go to school.” And, if we’re honest with ourselves we know that those words are not accurate; that choice is not real. When our child chooses not to put on their shoes, we will likely just pop those shoes on their feet and scamper off to school. Or perhaps we’ll take the negotiation route change our tack to, “I’ll tell you what, if you put your shoes on you can ….”

An authentic choice in the above situation would be, “Are you going to put on your shoes or shall I put them on?” Or, “Are you going to put on your left shoe first or your right shoe?” (The second approach may require a follow up of, “I see you are not choosing which shoe to put on first. I will put your left shoe on first.”)

Even if we think of it as practice, in order for our children to reap the vast benefits of choice-making, real choices are necessary. If a child is offered false choices (or “choices” that aren’t really choices), they learn that their choice is neither important nor valid. Furthermore, they do not learn the consequences (good or bad!) of making that choice.

Perhaps more profoundly in the parent-child relationship, false choices do not build trust and they do not help our children understand their world. If we tell our children one thing but then do something else entirely, how do our children know what we mean? How do they know that the next time we really mean x or y? When offering a choice try your best to mean what you say and say what you mean. Yes, this is a skill that takes practice!

If we offer a choice we should try to make it a genuine choice. The trust built on knowing that we mean what we say has a far-reaching effect for our children. It gives them a firm foundation on which to explore the world. It lets them see the power of their choices and their actions. The boundaries and limitations which are inherent to real choices offer a security and consistency which nurture children’s growth.

Choice-making, specifically learning how to make good choices, is a learned skill. It takes time to hone this skill, which is why we seek to provide lots of opportunities for practice. Try to take the time to reflect on what you’re saying to your child, making sure you are offering a real choice. You give a great gift when you allow your child to truly practice making choices.

With thanks to Melinda Smith and Rebecca Lev for the photographs.