Work that is Worthy

By Amy Johnson – Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

Recently, I came across this quote from Dr. Montessori and have considered it many times since: “The child is much more spiritually elevated than is usually supposed. They often suffer, not from too much work, but from work that is unworthy of them.” – The Child in the Family. 

So, how does one determine which work is “worthy” and which is “unworthy”? We know that children especially, are active learners. They remember or understand most when they are invested—emotionally, physically or intellectually—in their self-chosen activities. This is human nature. It is how people (of all ages) learn and it is helpful to remember when we are looking for activity or “work” that is “worthy” of a child’s attention, focus, effort and exploration.

It is easy as parents and caregivers to look to new activities, toys, books or games when we want to engage these wonderfully developing minds and bodies in “worthy” activity. One look at Pinterest or a google search and you will find all sorts of suggestions, some of them even labelled “Montessori” and a few with pretty hefty price tags. If it is expensive, it must be good quality and “worthy” of my child’s time and attention, right? Counterintuitively, these pricy toys and treasures are often the opposite of what Dr. Montessori was trying to describe. Often modern, electronic toys and games, with all their lights, sounds, bells and whistles can “entertain” children but do so in a way that completely overwhelms their natural sensitivities and tendencies to engage, explore and experiment.

So, if it is not the latest gadget that our children need to engage with to develop their unique and amazing potential, what can we provide that might be “worthy” of their “spiritually elevated” attention? Amazingly, what children need, more than anything else, is to be invited and involved in life being lived. Do your children take part in the day-to-day running of your household, with whatever level of skill and ability they possess? Or does it all happen “magically” when they have gone to bed, or while they are watching their favourite show? Do they help to plan and to shop for food or other items? Do they collaborate with others to take on chores or tasks that need doing around the house? Are they allowed time to experiment, get bored and make mistakes in everyday life with everyday objects? Do they have opportunities for rich, authentic experiences with: music, literature, nature, language, culture, comedy/silliness, exercise, cooking, creating, dancing, stillness/calm, gardening, conversation, assisting others? Very few of these opportunities require a lot of money but they do take time, priority and sometimes a bit of planning.

As the weeks pass this term and they inevitably bring us closer and closer to the craziness we call ‘the holidays’, I challenge you to keep this in mind as you consider what is “worthy” of your child’s time in these precious years we call childhood.