Don't Take Away Discovery

I was working with Henry the other day on some math materials during his homeschooling time. We were working together on the multiplication beads. I had presented the work to him and he was working to fill in some sheets with basic multiplication facts. This work was really speaking to him, and he was surprisingly into it. Suddenly, as he was working, he looks up at me and says, "MOM! One times the number is always the same number! I discovered that!!" He was positively beaming. I simply replied, "you sure did! 1 times the number is always the number." 

"I discovered that!" 

That phrase hit me like a ton of bricks because as simple as it sounds, it is speaks to the essence of Montessori not only as a method of education but as a parenting philosophy. While my story involves an 8-year-old well into the Second Plane of Development, this feeling fo discovering is sometime we should all be striving to give our children at any age. We want to bring our children to the brink of discovery with us, and they let them discover the mysteries of the world. 

But why? 

It's through these discoveries that your child will gain confidence, that your child will be able to keep that natural spark of curiosity and wonder, and that your child eventually will start to question and explore deeper questions. Here's an example using a younger baby. 

I often hear stories of parents frustrated that their babies aren't "playing with their object permanence box the right way." They are feeling upset and confused why their baby won't put the ball into the hole. Instead, the baby just wants to play with/hold the ball.  They have presented the work and feel like the baby should repeat exactly as intended. So, sometimes in their frustration they take the toy away (assuming no interested in the toy) or they take the ball and repeat and repeat the work as intended. But, by doing so, what is lost? The child's discovery of the ball - and all it's glorious properties. And, also the discovery of the work itself. "What happens if I miss the hole?" "What sound is made when the ball taps the side?" "What happens if I stick the ball up the other way?" "Will this other toy fit into the box?" I could go on, but you get it! 


When we intervene too much or too quickly, we take away that discovery. We take away a whole series of questions we might not even realize our children are answering for themselves. We break their concentration. We stop that line of creative exploration. And we lose those beaming moments of satisfaction from self discovery. 

How do we protect and encourage discovery?

So, practically, what does this mean for us as Montessori parents? Here are a few things you can do to protect your child's opportunity for discovery:

  • Don't give all the answers - it's ok to wonder with your child, even if you might know the answer. This isn't to say we never give them information, but if we can provide the opportunity to make that connection, we should. Especially with younger children and motor tasks - stop yourself from doing it for them when they are trying to do it themselves.
  • The struggle is essential - let your child struggle sometimes. I know it's hard to watch our child try over and over to do something, but if their frustration level isn't too high, let the struggle occur, there is so much to learn in those moments and so much joy as a result
  • Provide the opportunity - We as the adult still need to prepare our environment to allow for these discoveries, we need to provide opportunities in our homes, in our classrooms, out in the world for our children to make new discoveries, to learn what interests them, and what drives them as individuals 
  • Lead them to the brink - presentations are important in Montessori! We need to present the materials and activities we are allowing our children to do in our homes. Materials in the classroom are presented. But, then we need to step back, let go of our expectations for perfection and simply observe. We don't know the direction they might take until we give them space and time to do it!
  • Exploration is the key - allow for reasonable exploration. Don't step in unless something is dangerous to the material, the child or another person. So much learning and discovery happens during the process of exploration. Let go of your judgments and just observe the joy and magic.
  • Give them time - this process takes time. Time away from business, time to work, time to figure it out, time to concentrate, time make mistakes, time to explore. 

Have you ever seen the joy of self discovery? How do you give your child the opportunity to make discoveries on their own? 

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