My two-year-old started school this fall and he’s full of surprising new knowledge. “Snails only have one foot, Mommy,” he pointed out when I tried (clumsily) to draw a portrait of the classroom pet. But, true to parenting form, I think I’ve gained as much wisdom as he has. His teachers, who use the Montessori method, have decades of experience with little ones and I’ve picked up so many tips. Here are five that were especially thought-provoking…
On please and thank you. Parents often encourage toddlers to use pleasantries like please and thank you, but the head teacher says that’s less important than teaching them to ask nicely — without shouting, demanding or whining — and directly, with eye contact. In her view, most two-year-olds can’t yet understand the meaning of please or thank you (they’re just words), but they can understand the difference between saying “more crackers” nicely and not.
On self-care. One of Montessori’s tenets is teaching children how do practical things themselves. There are many dimensions to this, but my favorite is the water pitcher. A covered pitcher is always available next to a stack of durable glasses and a small towel. The kids learn to help themselves whenever they need a drink. And if they spill a little, no big deal — a towel is right there so they can clean up. (Jasper loves pouring water for himself and everyone else.)
On referring to classmates. All the kids at school are taught to call their classmates “friends,” which is so sweet. For young children who are still getting their sea legs socially (and might find memorizing a bunch of new names challenging), being able to say, “I played with a friend!” at the end of the day is empowering. Jasper tells me, “I have eight different friends in my class!”
On praising toddlers. There are a ton of different philosophies about how to praise kids, but when Jasper does something great, we tend to overreact. “Great job!” I’ll say. Or “Wow, that’s amazing!” His teachers at school have a more matter-of-fact way of praising that Jasper really responds to. They’ll acknowledge his work (“You made a picture!”) and offer praise that’s specific rather than general. “I like how you drew the tree so tall,” they’ll say. The idea is that this encourages kids to think and talk about their about their own work, and to appreciate its merits on their own, rather than always looking to others for approval.
On diaper duty. Our school leaves potty training (and its timeline) up to parents and kids, but they help support the process and have a specific point of view: Always change toddlers’ diapers in the bathroom, standing up. Anything solid in the diaper gets flushed down the toilet and kids wash their hands after being changed. When we learned this on parents’ night, all of us collectively slapped our foreheads. What a sensible way to start showing little kids what the bathroom is all about. It instantly sets them on the path to potty training.
What has your kids’ school taught you about parenting? Do you do any of these things? I’d love to hear.
(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)