Young children are naturally focused on themselves. This is a normal stage of intimacy and toddler-hood, but as children grow older it’s vital they start to notice the needs of people around them. As discussed in previous blog post, grace and courtesy on a smaller level typically begins with adult modeling and peers in the toddler and primary program. Once children begin in the elementary level, the idea of grace and courtesy takes on a wider perspective.
Most young children want to be a part of something grand, something important. Think back to when you were young, before doubt and accusation took hold. Did you want to be a doctor, a fireman, a police man, or maybe a marine biologist? Whatever position you desired it existed simply because young children have a sense that they have a vital role to play; they want to believe there is something in them that is needed and needed desperately. That being said, there is something fierce in the heart of a child and lessons of grace and courtesy bring this power to light. Clearly, we are not teaching a child to notice the needs of others. Instead, we are following their heart from intimacy and by modeling; imitation follows; imitation becomes character, giving the child an opportunity to follow their own innate desire…to be needed.
Broadening a Child Perspective at Community Level
In our attempt to encourage a child to transfer their focus off of themselves and provide them with a sense of belonging and satisfaction we begin by contributing to the community. A favorite activity among young children in our Montessori Tides Community is what we call “Community Service”. This is where an older child in the elementary level is welcome in the toddler and primary classroom. In the same way the adult of the classroom is “present”, so is the community helper. Administrator Brad Hatton, pointed out, “Community Service for the child is a chance to do something fresh and get out of the classroom. For the teacher, community service provides an independent student who wants and is willing to help.”
I will never forget the day a community helper from Mrs. Nancy’s elementary classroom serviced Mrs. DeAnne’s toddler classroom. I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but unfortunately I do not know this stunning child’s name. I did notice that she was present, watchful, and eager to fill in the gaps. What shocked me most was in the way she favored the youngest child. Perhaps, the youngest would need her the most and it’s there she would find the most satisfaction.
To fully understand the need of her presence this day, let me start by painting a picture. First I was in the room with my video camera. This alone can be disruptive in any toddler classroom. Mrs. DeAnne was busy preparing snack with several interested and participating children. In the midst of snack preparation, our community helper noticed a messy table. She stepped in and quietly and efficiently cleaned the table. Two toddlers were observing her in action, including the youngest child in the room. They immediately joined in and helped clean the table. While the three of them were independently cleaning, the other toddlers in the room were anxiously waiting to eat snack. A child dropped a plate and it broke on the floor. Our community helper jumped in again to fill in the gaps. Needless to say, her modeling was superb and her assistance was not only needed but appreciated.
Other activities Montessori Tides School provide that give a child a sense of belonging and satisfaction include activities as simple as picking up litter off the beach, shopping for food drives, bringing food to our local food pantry, recycling, holding bake sales, and creating baskets for school fundraisers. Regardless of the activity they choose to participate in, the most important factor is they understand their value in it and how it benefits other people.
“The child, in fact, once he feels sure of himself, will no longer seek the approval of authority after every step.”
“Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation.”