Monday, November 16, 2009

Beads, Ballet, Bravo, and Boa Constrictor

Anika, 5, was like giving the performance of her life as she worked on the Thousand Chain. While Anton Rubinstein's Romance in E flat major was on the background and as she moved gracefully and meticulously, it felt like I was watching ballet.

"Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes through his movements." - Maria Montessori

This is something I made for Anika, who wants to be a prima ballerina when she grows up.

Anika said, "This is the hardest work I've ever done in my en-taaa-yerrr life!" The Thousand Chain involves getting rolls and rolls of rug, laying out the chain, counting/skip counting by 10 until you reach 1000, and placing arrow labels/numerals under the corresponding bead as you go along. It took Anika an hour to do this, but children always know when they deserve to be proud of their work.

Here's Anika who asked me to take her picture holding a sign she wrote:
I finished my work!

What Anika wrote is interesting. She is happy and confident after her work so much so that she did not need my, or anybody else's affirmation. We don't have star stickers or smiley stamps in a Montessori classroom. Rewards are unnecessary (detrimental, even) because children already essentially have an inherent will, a "guiding instinct" to learn and to work. And their "reward" comes from having done the work, not from having someone say "well done". In effect, just as the children are capable of self-directed learning in a prepared environment, they are also able to determine their own self-worth, without seeking external approval, in a consciously non-judgmental atmosphere.

So what do I do when someone excitedly approaches me and proudly shows me their work? I don't need to say "Bravo! Very good!"; they are already happy with what they have done; they already think it is good! That's precisely why they're showing it around. And if it's an art or a drawing, I dare not say, "What a nice house!" or "That's a pretty rabbit"--I don't want to run the risk of being like the adults in the Little Prince who said the then-future-pilot drew a hat when it was really a boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant whole!

So I just say, "Thank you for showing this to me!" Because I am truly grateful that they share with me their obras maestras, their "en-taaa-yerrr" life's hardest work.


  1. I really love the picture of the little girl Anika-how you validate her work as well as her dreams. It really touches me. As a little girl I had wanted to be a ballerina...I practiced very hard...if I saw something a teacher made for me like that well...I think it would have made me envision it that much more.
    That is wonderful, Mars.

  2. Hi Barbra, I've always believed that the dreams we had when we were younger, will always be worth pursuing and catching. I always say, maintain a certain idealism, an Intelligent Idealism I call it (my love for alliteration yet again). The world will already try to make us feel jaded and pessimistic without our help.