Looking on in wonder

By Michael Draper — Physics Teacher

The mistaken idea that the adult must mould the child in the pattern that society wishes still holds sway…. The child is not simply a miniature adult. He is first and foremost the possessor of a life of his own that has certain special characteristics and that has its own goal. The child’s goal might be summed up in the word incarnation; the incarnation of human individuality must take place within him. (Maria Montessori, Education and Peace p. 15)

With our Tāwari students starting their NCEA exams and preparations for the end-of-year concert underway, I find myself thinking back to what it was like to be a parent of Wā Ora tamariki with the end of the school year approaching.

One of the things that always arose in me at this time of the year was the desire to find out what my children would reveal or demonstrate to show how much they’d achieved that year. I would find myself thinking, “What will my children produce? What will they have to show at the end of this school year?” Behind this was a desire to have things that I could point to proudly and say, ‘’Look at what my children have done. Look at what they’re able to do.”

I was also aware, however, that I didn’t want my enthusiasm for individual achievements to unbalance my children’s development of their own intrinsic motivations.

Maria Montessori understood this problem:

The child who has never learned to work by himself, to set goals for his own acts, or to be the master of his own force of will is recognizable in the adult who lets others guide him and feels a constant need for the approval of others. (Education and Peace p. 18-19)

Her solution was as profound as it was simply expressed: “We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself” (Maria Montessori, Education for a New World, p. 106).

The child, in fact, once he feels sure of himself, will no longer seek the approval of authority after every step. He will go on piling up finished work of which the others know nothing, obeying merely the need to produce and perfect the fruits of his industry. What interests him is finishing his work, not to have it admired, nor to treasure it up as his own property. (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind p.251)

As a parent, it is nice to remember that the examples of our children’s work that we cherish at the end of the year are only the tiniest glimpse into the true work that they have achieved, and that it is the children themselves, their growth and development, that is the far greater wonder.