I can ‘Montessori’ many aspects of my life. I can provide a place in my home for my children to get their own snacks and drinks independently. I can help prepare my children’s rooms so they can pick out clothes and dress themselves independently. I can provide an organizational system so all their toys, books, and games have a place so they can play and clean up independently. But when the fear of the unknown overrode my Montessorian ways, I felt paralyzed.

Corson, my toddler, was diagnosed with a genetic disorder of Ocular Albansim at the age of six months old. It is often described as opporating with a broken camera- the lenses can’t be fixed, the machinery in the camera is broken, and the pictures are distorted. Now at the age of 2, her specialists ordered to sets of procedures to be done under anesthesia, an MRI to scan her brain for any other possible reasons for these observable issues with her eyesight and an ERG which takes detailed scans and images of her eyes for confirmation and monitoring purposes. Both procedures needed her to be completly still and we all know that it is nearly impossible to keep a toddler just ‘relatively still’, so anesthesia was required.

I am not a doctor. I am a teacher. And before that, I am a parent. I didn’t know the ins and outs of the procedures. I don’t know the instruments used. I didn’t know the terminology. But I did know that I was scared, I was nervous and that the unknown was terrifying. And if I was having those feelings as an educated experienced adult, my two year old daughter would probably also experience those same feelings about the unknown and strangers and instruments and the procedure as a whole.

So, I ‘Montessoried’ the experience.
We prepared the environment.
We respected her as a person who deserved information.
We gave her clear and honest commentary.

We did prep in the days before, “We are driving to Miami in a few days. We are going to see the doctors. They want to take pictures of your eyes. They will help you fall asleep and when they finish taking pictures, we will come back home.” We found a video/ animation created by doctors and educators that explained an MRI and we watched it as a family with our older son. We didn’t place emotions on top of any of the information. Just facts. Not too many facts, just the right amount of facts for her to comprehend. It wasn’t like she thought we were getting in the car for ice cream and instead got a sedative. We ‘prepared the environment’ (laid a foundation) by explaining the situation beforehand and not springing this event on her.

We then acknowledged Corson as the patient. Of course, the nurses and doctors and employees of the hospital spoke to us, we are her legal guardians. We need to know the information about what is going on but the patient also deserves to know, even if she is only Two-years-old. When we learned what was happening next, we spoke directly to Corson because she deserved to be included in the process. It is amazing how much a child will comply and participate when they are informed and respected for exactly who they are- a human being.

Finally, and perhaps the most important part in the process, we described the surroundings. We described the jobs of the people she was coming into contact with, we let her know what would happen to her body as the procedure was starting and what it would be like when the procedure would end. As adults who have spent a lifetime hearing stories and having experience, we know that doctors are people who heal, they have instruments that heal, and that hospitals are meant to heal. A toddler usually does not have that same information and experience. They see strangers in uniforms coming and going, who touch their bodies in rooms full of large and scary instruments and machines that make loud noises. It was our job to provide her factual and clear information about the experience without attaching feelings. We said phrases such as, “This is a doctor. She is here to keep you safe. She will give you medicine to help you fall asleep.” and, “This is the bed that you will lay on to fall asleep. The machines are here to help your body. This machine is making a beeping noise. Listen. Beep, beep, beep.” And although the following information made my heart ache for her, she needed to know, “The medicine will make your body feel tired. When you wake up, the doctors will be here to help you and check on your body. The doctors will keep you safe and Mommy and Daddy will come back when they doctors say you are done.”

I was scared, but I chose not to tell her that. We chose to be as calm as possible, as real as possible, as respectful as possible. And she responded with strength that we didn’t realize she had in her. She was quiet. She was calm. She was curious. She felt involved. She did not tantrum, she did not refuse, she did not cry. We had successfully ‘Montessoried’ the MRI.

When it came time for the next trip to Miami and another bout of anesthesia, we did it all again. We followed the same guidelines and you could see the surprised reactions of the staff and nurses and doctors as Corson, responded and participated and calmly went along with each step. The second time, there was a twist. Corson needed her eyes to be patched, both eyes, for an hour before the procedure even started. We had not been told of this extra step, so we had not prepped Corson. But you make plans and the real world shows up and then you adjust. So we told Corson that it was about to happen and as the more patches were added and the darkeness surrounded her, the nerves started to overcome her and she began crying. “It is dark with patches on your eyes. We are here. You cannot see us but we are still here. You are safe.” The tears did not stop. It was her breaking point and we needed to remember the tools- prepare and inform. My brain started racing. What does she need? What senses does she have right now? What can I do to help her find the calm again. I need to be calm and provide her with auditory input. I remembered that she uses the song, ‘Candle for Peace’ when she wants comfort. She sings it everyday in a safe place where she feels comfortable and secure- at school with her friends and guides. So I started singing and I didn’t stop. I sang that song over and over and over and over. I used observation and knowledge to adjust the plan and help bring her back to peace when she was having a hard time finding it on her own. She calmed. She quieted. Then she fell asleep.

In that singular moment- I felt relief for her and so much gratitude because without Montessori I wouldn’t have been aware enough, prepared enough, or skilled enough to have been able to give that gift to my child.

I not only needed to share this experience but felt compelled to share the experience because if I can help give real life examples of using these Montessori tools to others parents to help them help their children when they need it the most- that is success.

This theory can and should be applied to dally situations not just extreme ones. Going to the dentist, flying on an airplane, staying in a hotel. When a child cuts their leg or needs a haircut. Your children are capable human beings who can participate and can add value to any situation as long as we provide them the information.

Prepare the environment.
Respect your child.
Provide information.

Janet Lansbury and Magda Gerber are authors who write about Respectful Parenting ( RIE- Resources for Infant Educarers). Their philosophy goes hand in hand with Montessori and I highly recommend their work to help guide your interactions and your understanding of our youngest children and how we can help them along their own paths. Janetlansbury.com

“Sportscasters don’t judge, fix, shame, blame or get emotionally involved. They just keep children safe, observe, and state what they see affording children the open space they need to continue.”- Janet Lansbury

“When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know what you intend to do and give him a chance to respond. You assume he is competent and involve him in his care.”- Magda Gerber

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due.” – Maria Montessori

Today we learned about tolerance and the importance of being unique. Everybody is different or unique. What a person looks like on the outside has nothing to do with what is on the inside! Every person has special talents and qualities to offer the world.Today the Spanish Lime students searched for the most positive aspects of some very unusual “people.” Each student created their own unique parts of a person (head, torso, legs) and switched with other classmates to make them even more interesting. The students then came up with a short story describing their relationship with their “new friend.”

This activity reinforced the idea that one cannot always judge the quality of a person by his/her appearance; sometimes people can be appreciated for their differences.
Below is a picture of the students holding their “new friends” and the positive qualities and characteristics they posses.

“Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” MLK

“Love is the key to the problems of the world.” MLK

Through the development of concentration, self-regulation, problem solving, patience and internal motivation in a child’s first year at Montessori he/she now has the foundation for learning. The skills the child develops in the practical life and censorial areas of the classroom lead to greater success and mastery of academic studies. Without first developing these skills academic learning may be hindered and frustrating.

Four- year-olds in their second year of primary are in the middle of a three-year cycle.  Thus, the child can  see where he/she was last year and where he/she will be next year.  Opportunities from both sides present themselves often as older children will act as mentors and younger children provide a means of practicing leadership. Four year olds have been working on decision making and problem solving and begin choosing challenging work because they know that it will be difficult to complete or perhaps in spite of the difficulty level.

During this building year within the primary program, their responsibility widens, their independence continues to grow, and their interest in language and math seems explosive. If the child was in a Montessori classroom from age three, he/she has received many lessons from the teacher and are able to self-direct through the day. The four year old often looks like a very busy working bee – diligent and focused.  This year the child becomes aware of their internal love of learning and actively seeks out lessons/work as entertainment.  As the year progresses, the teacher steps back as the child steps forward.  Success during this  year strengthens confidence.

The child enrolled in a Montessori primary program is part of a community.  He/she feels a sense of belonging in life.  The feeling of being needed paired with understanding his/her place in the community often strengthens a parent-child relationship.  The four-year-old begins to understand the difference between parent and child responsibility and is willing to let go of the need to control.

The four-year-old often has specific skills that develop more quickly than others.  Sometimes, academic learning may have surpassed maturity and vice-versa. The second year is a turning point for the child; thus, it is important that the child is able to reach his/her fullest potential by completing the three-year cycle in their kindergarten year. This third year is the most important year of all the child’s years in a Montessori primary program. To find out why join us for: The Year of Mastery, Ages 5 to 6

***The information presented above is common but by no means a benchmark experience. In Montessori, we usually avoid generalities because of each child’s uniqueness. One child’s year in Montessori may vary significantly from that of another child. The equalizing factor is always the final year of the cycle. The first two years allow the teacher and child to set the stage for the final year when it all comes together.