– that I learned as a Montesorri mom & Home school teacher during COVID -19
by Simone Pheko
There are probably some things I learned during a difficult childhood that taught me survival/ life skills which I never thought I intentionally wanted to teach my children, only without the hardship. Skills like problem solving, resilience, and possibly critical thinking skills to make sound decisions. Only back then I didn’t know it was called critical thinking skills and when I became a parent, I didn’t even know there are mindful ways in which they can be learned in a safe and healthy environment. While my time spent working in business is a lot more than what I’ve been working in motherhood, it does not take anyone long to figure out that there are a few x-factors that set good business decision-makers apart from poor ones and it had little to do with our education levels, knowledge or expertise.
There is a phrase by Dr. Donald Hebb that he first used in 1949, which is that “neurons that fire together wire together”. Trust me, having worked in adult learning and development for almost two decades I know for sure it is much easier to educate a fresh young brain in an area compared to an older one. I wouldn’t say I’ve analysed behaviour in adult upskilling and education but I’ve noted some very obvious life skills that are much more beneficial to our kids should they learn it at a younger age, so here we go:
A few practical tips for encouraging critical skills with your kids at home
Encourage and ask critical questions
When we received our first home school instruction on our parent WhatsApp group, I bombarded the teacher with questions not because I felt overwhelmed (ok maybe a little bit) but because I knew how many questions my five-year-old is going to ask me. It seemed that at his age he was a natural expert at asking questions and as much as I want to tell him to zip it most times, I understand that curiosity does not kill the cat. The teacher had to teach me what kind of questions I needed to ask and how to ask them because that in itself is also a skill learned and I was very committed to continuing creating this environment in my home now that my child is not going to be exposed to this environment at school for who knows how long.
My reason is simply that I want him to learn the art of asking other people about their experiences and views, enhancing his ability to work with different people in different situations. He can also look at various viewpoints, evaluate, be open-minded, and consider different ways of looking at possible solutions and collaborations. However, he will probably end up asking critical questions for a lot more significant reasons but I’m happy to start with that as my reason because I believe we all do things with a different why and intention in mind. My child must learn it is not offensive to ask difficult questions few people might have the courage to ask, it is critical for his learning and development. An expert on the topic will probably give you a lot more scientific options for you to choose a why from but this is just my mommy version.
Encourage emotional connection and communication
Now that my son is five-year-old we have conversations that sound something like this… “Could we have a conversation about something please” It would usually be me asking for permission to enter into his very personal space and having an expectation that he will share some of himself in this honest conversation. I love he almost run to sit down with me and talk about whatever the issue at hand is. If we are sitting down during these conversations, the rule is that we need to look at each other straight in the eyes and not out of sight until we are done speaking. It is important for me to teach him that his feelings are valid and that his voice is heard.
If we are standing during these conversations, the rule is that I bend down to his level so that we could look each other in the eye until we are done engaging. I am not a psychologist, but it is not that complicated to observe this child for only a few minutes and identify his attachment style, the level of emotional intelligence, the healthy confidence and the emotional security he already has. Additional skills transfer also happens in this space but it’s not something we focus on in that moment because there’s plenty of time to learn top-up skills if we have a holistic, healthy human wired together.
The first probing question I would ask him is, how did that make you feel and then peeling back the onion until we have unpacked and explored some possibilities and opportunities within an area we are discussing. He then does exactly the same as we get really deep and my son usually ends off by telling me how awesome he thinks I am, just acknowledging that he appreciated that healthy human connection he is experiencing in our home. We own our emotions; we don’t wish them away or shame them for what they look like and it’s something I do not want him to learn too late in life after having navigated through painful lessons so we practice as much as possible.
Encourage logical independent thinking
Most days he comes to me frustrated about not being able to solve a puzzle or can’t find a missing lego piece, followed by a dramatic scene during which we acknowledge the feeling of frustration but after which I sent him right back to sort it out. If he still can’t manage to do that, I encourage him to park it and come back to it another time which will give him error control to allow him to get to the outcome without my intervention as a parent and a sense of achievement when he discovers he did it all by himself through creative problem-solving.
Often as moms, we tell our kids to always be kind and confuse their inherent alert button for boundaries. I have learned via the Montessori way that kids are allowed to choose not to share with other kids if they are playing with a toy and another kid comes over and grabs the toy from him/ her. In the Montessori classroom, they are taught patience and tolerance from a young age, so they need to learn to wait until the next child is done playing with a toy or working with a piece of material. It was very difficult for me to continue that method when we had playdates with other families but COVID-19 home school gave me the courage to implement it as part of our family values and not just the school curriculum. We also intentionally teach our empathy towards others who are in a less privileged position than us by way of observed behaviour.
We all know how important birthdays and birthday cakes are to children so every year after my son’s birthday we take his birthday cake to an orphanage and he would share his birthday cake with someone who shares a birthday with but who doesn’t have parents to get him/ her a special birthday cake. I doubt my child will forget that lesson amongst many other empathy lessons I try to teach and model to him on our journey of growing up and evolving as human beings. These lessons will forever remain a part of our belief system, which I was inspired to adopt all thanks to COVID-19. I hope you too find inspiring ways and methods that are suitable for and resonates with your family’s unique value system in your journey of discovery through parenting and life.