By Jule Boecker, Parent
I consider myself a language person. I admit, I have a thing for rhymes and anagrams and cryptic crosswords and limericks. Throughout my life, I have tried (with questionable success) to learn more than a handful of languages, from Ancient Greek to Modern Hebrew. As a native German speaker living in the U.S., I am happy to switch between two languages as part of my every day life. So my recent discovery came as no surprise to me: a new language. It is the language of Montessori.
My children, Julius and Catharina, have been fortunate to be growing their roots and spreading their branches in the Montessori universe that Stepping Stones Montessori School provides. Julius,4, has been in the White Pine classroom for the last two years; Catharina, 2, in the Tulip Tree classroom for more than one year. It has been an unbelievably enriching, wonderful experience that I am sure will influence their hearts and minds for years to come.
Through my children and their teachers I have been lucky to catch glimpses of a tool so powerful that I feel the urge to write about it: the Montessori language. It is unique. It comes with its own vocabulary and expressions and grammar which you need to study like any other language. However, it gives you something that more than any other language serves as a useful tool; a universal tool for mindful, respectful, and meaningful communication with your child.
On the level of individual words, think terms like: materials and prepared environment. Friends and guides. The bead chain and the binominal cube. Sensitive periods and practical life. Cosmic education and absorbent mind. Lesson. False Fatigue. Observe, play, and work, work, work. Google “Montessori vocabulary” and you will find your way to key words that make you a pro.
However, you might want to pay even more attention to the sentence level. In various situations, I have heard the teachers use phrases that all have one message in common: respect for and confidence in the child. Not only do the guides use these phrases for their conversations with students, but they also model how students can use these expressions to communicate well themselves.
A few commonly heard questions might spark curiosity such as: “How could we find this out?” Some other questions let the child participate in a search for answers: “What do YOU think?” Some questions can also lead to the next step: “Let’s discover it. Let’s find it out.” Notice how the adult is equalizing the exchange, turning “I” into “we”.
Other sentences can help students protect their space. “Can you please not touch my work?” “Can you please observe?” “This is my space.” “This is my work.” My two-year-old can say that last one and does not need to push or yell, because she is sending a clear message that my other children can understand. Well, most of the time.
Some expressions include techniques for resolving conflicts. For example, when a student brings a problem to the teacher, she answers: “Can you please send your friend a message?” More than anything this empowers the student to keep his body calm but his request firm. Other sentences give friendly reminders about expectations and procedures: “Do you remember what we do when …” This helps children to take responsibility for their actions and move past the conflict.
Also reflected in that language is the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries. Teachers ask: “Can I give you a hug?” – giving children a choice. Students are taught to say: “Please keep your hands on your own body” if they prefer not to be touched, or just a friendly “no thank you” to an offered hug. By giving our children these words to use as tools, we communicate to them that it’s okay to set their own limits when it comes to physical contact. We begin to give them control over their own bodies with just a few phrases.
Oh, and the voice that this language is spoken with! It is calm, yet firm. I believe that kindness expressed with that tone of voice is a very important part of the language of Montessori.
An infant room teacher told me that what she says most to the babies is “Yes, that is a ball.”I am sure this sounds different at the upper elementary level, but it fulfills the same purpose of reassuring and engaging the child. Each level seems to have its own phrases, while the message of respect, confidence, and esteem is universal throughout all ages in Montessori classrooms.
Which phrases have you found helpful? Please share in the comments! And let’s use this universal language – in any language we speak.