Working towards Independence

By Tania Gaffney –  Deputy Principal Primary

Montessori had a lot to say about ākonga developing their independence and how we can help them.  I could just fill the page with quotes from what she wrote and it would tell most of the story by itself. For example, “Every useless help is an obstacle to development” or “ never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed”.

So what does this look like for adults involved in the life of a tamariki? Because reading between the lines Montessori meant that its us, the adults, that are the obstacles.  At the Montessori conference this year one of our speakers said, “If we do less than necessary we are abandoning the child, but if we do more than necessary we impose on the child.”  No pressure everyone, it’s a fine line we walk. So what should we be doing, that when ākonga leave home for the first time they are able to competently look after themselves and their lives?  As ākonga get older they need less and less help and we need to know when to pull back, all the while giving them the skills they need so when we do pull back they don’t feel lost. 

To figure out what we need to do (or not do) we need to observe – not only the child but ourselves.  We need to ask ourselves some questions – what have I swept in to do for the child, knowing perfectly well that they can do it but they’re not doing it like I would?  Or its just easier or quicker for me to do it?  Or did I just assume that they wouldn’t be able to figure it out themselves?

Have a go at surreptitiously observing your ākonga while they are doing something (not screen related).  Do they persevere with it?  Do they always defer to you or an older sibling?  Some children have figured out that if they wait someone will jump in and do it for them, or when they’re older if they do a shoddy job then you won’t ask again.  

If you need to admit to yourself that you’ve been doing too much for your tamaiti then how do you pull back?  It isn’t easy and it may take a while as you slowly retreat.  Ask yourself some questions.  Is this something I think they could do?  Then show them what to do and step back and watch. If they are younger they will try and replicate what you did if they are older they will probably do it their own way and that’s ok.  Another time, if you’ve already shown them how to do it then coach them through it.  Ask them, what do they remember first etc? This can apply to both practical and emotional situations. 

Here is an article that might be of interest.  It covers a range of issues, but it boils down to learning to be independent in all areas.  This is about parenting, but as teachers we also suffer from the same issues of stepping in when we should be stepping back and observing first.