In Montessori education, teaching independence is a foundational part of the philosophy. Children are encouraged to do things for themselves as young as they are able. Montessori classrooms reflect this when children care for their environment by wiping tables, carrying their own work, cleaning up after snack. At home, children put away their toys, put their laundry in the washing machine, and help prepare dinner. By being independent, the child establishes in their heart a feeling of “I can do it myself” which gives them confidence and the ability to accomplish more complicated tasks in the future.
What is amazing, is when a child is so confident in themselves and their abilities that they, in turn, are able to care for others.
I had the great privilege to witness such an incident not long ago.
L and J are sister and brother. Big sister is five, and little brother is not yet two. She loves him with all her heart, and it was evident when he was a baby because sister would try and climb in to his carseat to give him a hug and kiss before school started. Both have been Montessori kids since babyhood, and sister has said to me on many occasions “It’s ok, Ms. Anna. You don’t need to walk me to class, I know where I am going.” That kind of confidence is rare, but beautiful.
This was a normal day at Montessori school, and L and J were getting out of the car at drop off. L jumped out, ready to face the day with a smile on her face. J took a few seconds longer, and both said goodbye to their mom. L put her backpack on, grabbed her lunchbox, and then looked at Little Brother, pausing with concern on her face. She then asked me if she could have his items.
“You want both backpacks and lunch boxes?” I asked in confusion. “That is kinda heavy.”
“Yes, please. I want to carry them for Little Brother.”
I gave her the backpack and lunch box, and off she went. She was a little slower than usual, but she happily carried her extra load. The smile on her face was worth all the banging she did as she lugged her two sets of supplies down the hall, encouraging Little Brother down the hall as they went. “You’re gonna *boom* have a great *bang* day today!” *slam*
What struck me is how she did not want any help with her items. Montessori children are usually full of independence with their work, but this was unmistakably difficult. She gladly carried the burden of her little brother, even though it made her walk slower. Her balance was thrown off a bit, but she happily deposited Little Brother into his classroom with a promise to see him at the end of the day. Then, she skipped to her room, her smile even bigger.
This is a true lesson to us adults, especially those encouraging independence. L knew her strengths as a five year old little girl, and she chose to aide someone who would potentially struggle with the weight of his belongings. I could have told her at the front door that it was Little Brother’s responsibility to carry his items, and that she needed to stand back and let him do it. I could have told her that it was too dangerous, or that she should get to class quicker.
But if we observe first, as Montessori taught, we would see that Big Sister’s potential has been freed. The potential to serve her brother with kindness. How many times do we need someone to carry our burdens, only to come up short?