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Why I Don't Correct My Child

Toddler pouring orange juice at How we Montessori  26 months
I've recently stopped correcting my child. Previously I would hold back for as long I could before correcting him. But I've found that my simple word prompts or suggestions are not helping him in the long term. I've also found that my child needs much more time than I thought to self correct. 

I was recently watching Otto pour a drink of orange juice. I could tell that he was going to overfill and spill the drink. I was about to give him a simple prompt "it's almost full", or as I've done before "stop! it's full!", but I decided not to. He overfilled the cup and a little bit of juice spilled onto the table. Not a big deal but he was able to see for himself, experience for himself, see the natural consequences of his actions. Perhaps next time he will notice and stop filling the cup in time. (We offer a small child size pitcher and there is only enough juice for one or two cups, so any overspill will be limited.)

I've offered small word prompts to my child when he is doing a puzzle and when I can see he is getting frustrated, "try over here...", "turn it a little", "turn the piece around". But this can cause a child to break their concentration, if the child doesn't understand the prompt it can lead to more confusion and frustration and it has been met with my toddler saying "no mumma". He doesn't want my help and he doesn't want my prompts. Sometimes he gets so frustrated that he stops working on the puzzle, but sometimes he demonstrates persistence, resilience and fantastic problem solving skills. And that's what we are looking for!

Skills like problem solving need to be developed. The child can only learn these skills by doing - through experience. If we correct too much or step in too early we are taking the opportunity for these skills to develop away from the child.

It is hard though, we are wired to help the child. If we can't stop correcting (or helping) altogether we can observe and just give the child a little longer to self correct. My child occasionally makes mistakes when putting his shoes on. Rather than point out his mistake, we've decided to allow him (usually only going short distances) to wear the shoes on the wrong feet. Not every time, but sometimes he self corrects once his shoes are on or once he is out walking. If I had corrected him while he was putting his shoes on I would have taken away this opportunity to feel the shoes on the wrong feet, I would have taken away the opportunity for him to notice the difference and to self correct.

So what do we do instead? We teach by teaching not by correcting.

  • Trust the child - we trust that the child will find their way, that the child has a natural desire to learn and over time and often through repetition will develop the skills required to do the work. 
  • Allow time - we give the child as much time as possible to self correct. Children often need more time than we expect. My motto is wait, and then wait some more.
  • Use self correcting materials - many Montessori materials have a control of error and these are fantastic for building all of those problem solving skills but also concentration as the child doesn't need adult involvement. 
  • Role model - as much as possible we want to show the child how it is done, this is true especially for practical life activities which we can role model in the home. 
  • Ask family members to role model - especially siblings or close cousins. Children often learn best from other children. It may also help if a sibling gives a demonstration. 
  • Give a demonstration - a child may need the materials, toys or activity demonstrated more than once, perhaps many times. Observe and see where the child is going wrong and focus on that step during the next demonstration. 
  • Accept the child's way of doing - we may do things differently, or like things done a certain way, if the child is doing the work and isn't in danger, there are times we need to accept how they have done it. Often it depends if they are left or right handed or how their teacher has shown them to do something. Accept imperfection. Don't sweat the small stuff. 
  • Remember the skills we want the child to develop - we want the child to develop a life long love of learning, we want the child to develop their fine motor skills, we want the child to develop problem solving skills, critical thinking, visual perception, coordination all of these are more important than having the shoes on the right feet or spilling a little juice. 
  • Keep on observing - with Montessori observation is always key. We can observe the child to see if they notice their shoes are on the right feet, if not perhaps we need to point it out to them. We can observe to see how far our child can work on a task without our involvement. We use observation to know when and how we can provide assistance, or help the child, or when not to. We can use observation to understand how each child learns, what we need to improve or focus on during our role modelling or demonstrations. We can use observation to determine if we need to make physical changes to our environment to assist the child in their work.
  • Set the child up for success - if we want the child to succeed we need to provide age and developmentally appropriate toys, materials and prepare the environment for them. This way they will actually need less help. There are many articles on ways we can do this. We can provide loose fitting clothes that are easier to put on, we can keep the environment in an ordered way, keep toys and materials easily accessible at the child's height, provide child sized furniture and materials that are all easier for the child to use.
  • Empower the child - we can offer the child lots of practise (repetition) at the skills they trying to master. We can encourage their participation and input at every opportunity. 

Pictured above is Otto (at 26 months) pegging his washing. This work was hard to watch, the cloth napkins were on all crooked and he kept on taking them on and off. Although it took him ages to get the pegs on it was all worth it. Perfectly imperfect!

Our child sized drying rack and clothes pegs  are c/o Manine Montessori.

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