I had an interesting conversation with a prospective parent recently who teaches at a local college. She shared that she and her colleagues are constantly discussing “how underprepared kids are for college in terms of ‘soft skills.’” By soft skills she meant skills other than the purely academic — the personal qualities, habits and attitudes that make someone a successful college student and, by extension, a good boss or employee later in life. She had just come from an observation in toddlers and primary and was surprised to have seen that in Montessori, “starting in toddlers students develop the self-motivation, independence, and follow-through that many college students lack!” In other words, beginning at these very young ages, Montessori children are already developing the soft skills that will benefit them so greatly later in life.
It was a pretty astute observation for a prospective parent seeing Montessori for the first time, and it got me thinking. When I talk to parents, I often describe a Montessori learning material, like the binomial cube, detective adjective game, or golden beads, that leads to the acquisition of academic or “hard skills.” Obviously, hard skills are important, but soft skills are equally so.
One of the most important is self-motivation. In my experience children are born self-motivated. Any parent reflecting upon their own child’s acquisition of the skill of walking is bound to agree. At no point did you need to motivate your child to learn how to walk, did you? Instead, he did it all on his own, through arduous repetition and gradual improvement. And what did he do after he taught himself this difficult skill? He added the next movement challenges — running, climbing stairs and carrying objects – entirely on his own initiative! So perhaps our job is often just to get out of his way, to remove obstacles from his path, and give him the time he needs to do his work. In other words, our job is not to motivate him but rather to be sure that we don’t inadvertently blunt his own internal motivation.
One way we can avoid that is by not doing things for her that she can learn to do them for herself. We can also allow her the time she needs by slowing ourselves down to match her pace, rather than forcing her to conform to ours. Of equal importance is allowing her to choose her own activities. When are you more likely to be self-motivated – when doing something someone else has chosen for you? Or, when doing an activity you have chosen for yourself?