The following is one in a series of essays written by Catherine McTamaney about how to be a Montessori parent.
Setting a Tone
“Why is it so quiet?”
If you’re expecting your child’s classroom to be more like a circus than a sanctuary, you may be surprised by how quiet Montessori classrooms tend to be. What may be even more surprising is that the quiet isn’t a rule of the classroom. It comes naturally from the children at work, with little urging from the adults.
How can this be? Aren’t children naturally loud and raucous?
They can be, just like adults are in loud and raucous settings. But children who are profoundly interested in the activity they’re doing, or who are engaged in a thoughtful conversation with a peer or trusted adult, or who are concentrating deeply may make very little noise at all.
The key is in creating a space that allows for children’s interest and concentration to emerge and to be protected from interruption when it does. In Montessori classrooms, we support this by providing beautiful materials well-matched to the development of the children and appealing to their intrinsic motivation to learn. Modeling attentive conversation, we speak softly to children and listen attentively to what they have to say. Understanding that children’s ability to quickly execute their ideas may be more limited than that of adults, we offer lots of time for children to make their own choices, to develop their own plans, and to satisfy their own curiosity. Protecting the individual nature of each child, we establish social norms that allow children to work as long as they choose on the activity of their choosing, taking the time they need to develop as they are driven. The result: peaceful, thoughtful and engaged classroom communities in which the noise is more happy buzz than hoots and hollers.
Adults can work together to preserve the special sanctuary of the Montessori classroom by modeling some simple norms: Speak softly to children and to each other. Listen attentively to the children without prompting. Instead, ask follow-up questions that allow the child to tell you more about what he or she is interested in. Move slowly and carefully through the classroom to avoid distracting children who are interested in their own activities. Allow children to make their own choices, even when that choosing takes more time to implement than you’d expect. If you want the true nature of the child to emerge, you might have to put yourself in the background first. Step back and watch for a while. You might be surprised by more than just the volume.