We want to raise children to understand that every action has a reaction and we want our children to take responsibility for their actions and how those actions impact others and the environment around them. Sometimes we hear the word ‘consequences’ and immediately associate it with a negative response; yet in actuality, a consequence is merely a result or effect of an action.
One of the most beautiful aspects of a Montessori environment is how children are given the opportunity and responsibility to be held accountable for their actions. Actions are not viewed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ nor is the person preforming the actuon ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ We are a group of life long learners, working together in a common space, creating a community, figuring out how to meet our own needs while supporting others as they meet their needs. And one lesson that we learn over and over again, just in a variety of forms, is that our actions have natural consequences and how to respond and learn from those consequences.
For instance, the toddlers use a water dispenser with a tap to fill their open cups made of glass in order to quench their thirst. If a toddler leaves the spiget on, water quickly overflows and pours onto the floor. If a toddler fills the glass too high, the water spills out as the they stand up. If a toddler moves too quickly while holding the cup on the walk to the table, water splashes out onto the floor and table. If the toddler does not hold the cup with two hands, the glass slips out of their hands and falls to the ground. None of these actions are bad or wrong, but all of these actions have a consequences and an opportunity to learn something new. As the adults in the room, in becomes our responsibility to narrate, to describe, to support, and to model how to respond to those natural consequences.
All of the lessons within the toddler enviornment can offer extensions/opportunities to learn more and follow through when something ‘different’ occurs.
The remnants of natural clay on the art table lends itself to the table scrubbing lesson. Dirty dishes from the baking lesson lends itself to the washing dishes lesson. Paint on clothing lends itself to the cloth washing lesson.
Last week, a friend was moving quickly in the classroom (action) and knocked into a plant. Dirt fell out of the pot and fell onto the ground (consequence). The child went to the wall and chose the dust pan and brush to clean up the dirt (response). As the child worked to collect the dirt, it spread onto the carpet (new action). As the child continued to brush the dirt, it spread and become more difficult to collect from the carpet (new consequence). That is when we discussed how difficult it is to clean dirt from a carpet using a dust pan and brush and we determined that we would need to use a vacuum to clean the dirt (response). From one action, moving too fast, the toddler was able to learn so much more about the world, about cause and effect, about natural consequences, and about responsibility.
What makes it even better is that not just that one toddler learned all those lessons, but the whole classroom full of toddlers had the opportunity to learn those lessons. How do I know that? Because the very next day, a different friend used the dust pan and brush to put dirt on the floor so they could try and sweep it up and when the dirt migrated to the carpet, they requested the vacuum. That child was processing the cause and effect of knocking dirt on the floor and the response of how to effectively clean it up.
So try to view every situation through neutral colored glasses. Not good. Not bad. Just a chance to learn what to do next.