The same way hunger can inspire a picky eater, boredom can lead to meaningful activity.
I worked in a Montessori School for a while in which the director’s mantra was: “Create a learning environment – then get out of the way!”
Our day-to-day schedule was based on the devout Catholic educator Dr. Maria Montessori’s teaching methods, which she cultivated (in a teensy-tiny nutshell) because she recognized the inherent genius in every child, but also because she was one lady in charge of a whole lot of students (often 50 or 60 at a time).
Montessori — a daily communicant who included prayer in the school day — honed her craft at the turn of the 20th century in Italy by creating a kid-friendly classroom full of colorful blocks, counting beads, and rotating stations in which the students learned from her, but also – most importantly – from one another. Montessori’s research led her to work with children from a wide variety of cognitive abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Her ground-breaking methods (still practiced in schools bearing her name all over the world today) champion the “intrinsic intelligence present in all children.”
It was in this loving, intellectually rich environment that I first discovered the importance of totallyignoring children. Sure, make sure they’re fed and safe, but then drop a pile of colored pencils and blank paper on the kitchen table and walk away. Or unload a fresh mountain of garage sale books in a strange spot on the floor – like the entry way or all over the couch – then hide. And don’t forget a cup of coffee and your own novel.
Let me be clear, I’m not talking about neglecting your children. Just backing off from the one-parent clown act that wasn’t part of the deal anyway. Let your kids be bored. It’s amazing what a little healthy boredom will lead to. The same way true hunger often motivates even the pickiest eater to finally grab a carrot, boredom may lead your kid taking a walk in the backyard. He may have to meander a while (so don’t interrupt). He’ll find a giant rock and jump off it a few times. Then tip it over. And a whole world of pink, squiggly worms will be waiting just for him, ready to fuel his wonder. But not if you squelch his journey ahead of time with a scrambled together play date, or a TV show, or another craft.
Seriously, eject out of your helicopter already. Also, you deserve that cup of coffee.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher [or a parent] is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I didn’t exist.’”
That’s one of my favorite Maria Montessori quotes, and I don’t know about you but after 1,000 days of quarantine, I’m totally out of ideas. I eliminated most of the screens in the house (none are in the living room) because too much screen time was becoming depressing. Also, I’ve noticed it leaves my kids drained and cranky when they get too much of it. Also, I’ve refreshed our “learning environment” main spaces with new comic books and used science magazines, musical instruments and carving tools (for my teens); building blocks, Legos and Play Doh for my tiny people.
Just about every morning someone says, “What are we doing today?” To which I reply with a smile: “You tell me.” This is their cue to get creative, to “figure it out” (my own favorite mantra). I then sit back, typing away on my teen novel (which, interestingly, has inspired a few of them to do the same). Sure, sometimes they try to interrupt me, but I haven’t noticed in a while — I’m learning not to hover.