So...I am in the midst of taking a training course to become a real Montessori teacher. Someday maybe I'll actually teach in a real school. We'll see. But, while that is on hold, I can at least apply the things I'm learning to my own kids, right?
One thing I've learned is to not say "No". That came as a big surprise to me, because we definitely say "no" often to our kids. But this applies in a strictly school sense...as in, a Montessori classroom should only display things on the shelves that are accessible to ALL the children in the class. The shelves start out with safe, larger objects so that the youngest children won't hurt themselves or swallow something. As they get more proficient at using the safe materials, gradually the materials are exchanged for others that are smaller, messier, sharper, etc.
But that is just the Practical Life section. In the other areas of the classroom, as well, the materials start off easy. In math, there may be just number puzzles out at first. Language, a bunch of books. Other materials are introduced, but the classroom starts off this way so that the youngest children will feel welcome. Imagine a new barely 3-year old, coming to school for the first time, who watches some bigger kids do something that looks really neat and exciting...and the teacher tells her, "No, you can't do that" when she goes to take it off the shelf once they're done. Anything the teacher tries to show her next won't look as exciting as what she had chosen herself.
I said "No" a lot last year during our school sessions, and I saw the difficulties of it. The kids were sad they couldn't use the materials they wanted to.
But, there are always some limits in the classroom. It is definitely okay, and even a must, to say "No" when a child is misusing a material in a way that is hurting it, them self, or another person. The teacher can help them put it away, and say that they can't use it until the next day. But they will be given another chance, with perhaps a lesson first on the proper use.
I have put this into practice this year in our classroom. Everything on the shelves is accessible to everyone, even to Janie (just turned 2). If she chooses something that I don't think she is ready for, I still show her something she can do with it. Something educational...if not the complete lesson, then at least a mini-lesson. For example, she was in awe of the Numbers and Counters- laminated cards with the numbers 1-10 on them, and a bunch of colored stones to place under each number. She watched the other kids use them, and one day she got them out and put all the cards (in random order) out on the mat, and then put some counters on top of each one. She also counted (up to 20 or 30) as she put them all out, but she wasn't exactly counting them as individual stones. Last year I wouldn't have let her take it off the shelf, but this time I just watched her, and she was concentrating very well, and not hurting the material at all. She used them for probably 10 minutes (pretty good for a toddler!) and then put the cards in a fairly good pile, and asked for help with the rubber band. Since then she has chosen it almost every day we do school, and someday she will get the concept of exactly how to use it. For now, though, it doesn't hurt to let her do her thing.
One more example- scissors! I would never have given a 2 year old scissors. But she chose the cutting tray, and put her fingers in the scissors, and tried to cut a strip of paper. And she actually did (a little!). She has chosen this work a few times, and if I sit with her and run through the process of what to do with the strip after she has cut it (put it in an envelope, along with any pieces she has cut off), she really enjoys herself. Now, I really should make an easier cutting work for her (without an envelope, and just a container to put pieces), but for now this works. And I should have a tonging work out, and other works to strengthen her hand, but for now this works...
Not saying "No" creates a much more peaceful, pleasant environment:)