Your Work/My Work

In the Montessori classrooms I’ve worked in, there are usually twenty-four children between three and six years old and just two adults. Each child has free choice of hundreds of possible activities in the classroom, and in order to maintain peace and order, we HAVE to create some rules and boundaries.

One of the rules is that we respect one another’s work. We don’t touch each other’s work, we don’t walk on someone else’s work rug, and we don’t clean up after each other. Each person is responsible for getting out, completing, and putting away their own work.

Several months ago I taught a class to parents of Montessori students and when I described the reverence and care we have for our work, a mother perked up. “Oh!” she said, “So THAT’S why my son gets so upset when I clean up his toys, he’s always complaining that I’m not respecting his work, but I didn’t understand why until now!”

I believe strongly in Montessori philosophies and use many of them as guidelines in my home with my daughter and now that she’s approaching two years old I’m beginning to understand what a huge difference this has made in the peace and order of our home.

First, I do my best to respect her work and often ask her to clean up after herself, before offering any help. So when she leaves something out, she can reasonably expect it to be there when she gets back. This provides stability in her mind and encourages her sense of order. She knows where she can find her things and she knows that there is no magical clean up fairy.

As an aside, I actually did think that something like a clean-up fairy existed when I was a young child. I had no concept of my preschool teachers staying after school to clean up, or of my mom and dad picking up after I was in bed. I just thought things magically reappeared in their original locations!

Of course, I’m happy to help my daughter clean up if she needs support, but I don’t make a habit of going around behind her and cleaning up after her.  As a result, I overheard her with her books yesterday. She was looking at the pages and talking about the content of the book and when she got to the end of the book she said, “Back” and put the book back on the shelf!

But here’s the real kicker. I also ask her to respect MY work. That means that she understands that my work is important and I’m committed to its completion. So when my daughter asks me to play with her I will often respond with, “Sure! I would love to play farm with you, but I’d like to finish my dishes work first, so you can go get started without me, or you can watch me finish my work, and then I’ll join you!”

One of the things I love about this is that she’s learning that life is filled with “work” that people enjoy and want to complete before moving on to new tasks. This promotes the concept of follow through while it also helps her to delay gratification while she waits for me to join her in her chosen activity.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that my daughter understands that her wellbeing is my top priority. And, I also want her to know that my own wellbeing is hugely important to me as well. The order of my environment helps me to feel peaceful and relaxed so that when I do sit down to play with her I can completely focus on her, rather than constantly thinking about my enormous to do list and only giving her my partial attention.

I’m sure I’ll write another post about organization and it’s psychological impact on us, but for now I’ll just say, it’s OK to let your child know that you have work to do when you’re at home. If we model respect for their work, they’re bound to learn to respect ours too. And when we honor and respect one another’s work, peace and love have plenty of room to thrive.

So, how do you balance playtime with work time at your house? I would love to learn some of your secrets to success in this area! Please share a comment below.

And have a fantastic week, Shelly