Monday, May 18, 2015

5 Alliterations to Remember to Communicate with Children Better

In college I took two semesters of then dean for the School of Humanities, Dr. Leo Garcia's philosophy classes and was introduced to Emmanuel Levinas whose Ethics, whose Totality and Infinity, whose philosophy about response and responsibility to/in "the face of the Other" changed my life. Thrice a week, Dr. Leo would talk, to a lecture hall full of the wide-eyed, inspired, idealistic; about how the Other calls me to a relation and compels me to service and about how a person can never be totalized or boxed into neat categories. However, it was only when I met Montessori that I realized that this responsibility, this respect is also applicable to children! Such a simple nuance, and yet I'm forever a different person.

And a way to concretize this respect of the child, one of the things that made me enthralled with Montessori, is the way we talk with them. So here are 5 alliterations to help us remember how we can, in line with Montessori, better communicate with children:

1. Practice Being Positive, Proactive, and Particular
Positive. It really takes a lot, a lot of practice for positive words and sentences to be our top-of-mind. I guess we're more reactive--we see someone run, we react to what we see and say "Don't run" or "No running". Maybe it takes an extra step for the brain to think, and for us to say instead, "Let's walk" or "The outside is for running. Inside, we walk." But with practice, and in my case also reading A Teacher's Bag of Tricks: Staying Person-to-Person in the World of Children by Greg Nelson every morning before class, pretty soon we'll see a shift in perspective and vocabulary (both ways and sides--for you and for the one you're talking to).

Proactive. I've always said that as a teacher, I should be proactive rather than reactive. I must have anticipated different classroom scenarios and must have prepared different classroom/child management strategies based on what works for each and every child. If someone breaks a glass from the Practical Life shelf, I should know better than "AAAHHH! Oh no!". I should also be able to stop, breathe, rein in reaction, quickly assess a sudden surprise situation, and act upon it with the usual and necessary respect for the child. This also means identifying the areas and circumstances I usually tend to say "no" to and prepare the environment in such a way that it becomes a "yes space".

Particular. I've also found that while being positive is life-changing, we also need to be particular, specific. For example, saying, "Let's be quiet" seems positive enough, but maybe also be more particular by saying, "Let's see if we can use soft, whisper voices when inside" or "When we put the blocks inside the box, let's try to see what's the littlest sound we can make." Or "Let's walk slowly, just putting one foot in front of the other." And I should add another "p" here--PRESENT--show what you mean--through presentations you are able to communicate your expectations.

2. Model Manners, Mood, and Modulation
Parents in our Montessori schools always appreciate Grace and Courtesy presentations as it is always heartwarming to see a child invite a friend to a snack saying "Would you like something to eat" with ready politeness or encourage a classmate saying "You're working hard and you can do it" with sincere care. These things are modelled to the children in their daily interactions with the teacher and their peers so much so that it becomes their vocabulary, their language, their perspective.

3. Ponder on Praises, Encourage Efforts
A quick Google search will lead to many resources about Montessori and praise and encouragement. I mentioned it on a previous post when one of my students finished the Thousand Chain.

Other links:
Here, for now, I'd say ponder on/before giving praises and consider observing, stating, and encouraging efforts instead of the banal "good job" and the likes as go-to phrases.

4. Build Them Up By Brainstorming
Some years ago, when my youngest sister was around 8, we shared the same room and I was the one who woke her up for school everyday, which was always a challenge. Challenge wasn't the way we both wanted to describe our mornings so, after some thought, I invited her to assign a notebook as Brainstorming Notebook and we listed ideas that we think would help. My sister came up with having her own alarm clock and decided that was the best way to go. Because it was her idea, she gladly stuck to it, happily waking up to the alarm clock every morning thinking that her idea is working.

5. Find Facts, Tell the Truth, Explain with Enthusiasm
During my internship year, a 5-year-old boy asked my fellow intern, "What is the enemy of the gazelle?" My fellow intern, because she admittedly was busy said, "None." To this the boy said, "What do you mean, Teacher? All animals have enemies." And if you think about it, he really made sense. That day I made a little promise--that I will always, always find facts, tell the truth, explain with enthusiasm.

There. More than 5 alliterations actually. I hope they make for more conscious, purposeful, respectful, responsible conversations.

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  1. It is so refreshing to find a like minded person. I enjoyed your Montessori Alliterations and the wise details following. It was a pleasure to read our post and I look forward to many more. I signed up for emails. I like your sense of humor, too!

    1. Thank you, John! Your encouraging words mean a lot to me. Like-minded indeed as I saw that you also wrote 'Children Deserve Our Truth' and talked about "the power of I don't know". Thank you again!