As spring unfolds here at Pine Grove and our little caterpillars begin to sprout their
wings, you may begin to see some new and interesting behaviors emerging on the
playground (and in the classroom). As our children naturally grow and develop
academically (and get a touch of spring fever!) so does their social behavior grow and
change. Although our peace curriculum runs wide and deep all year long, at this point in
the school year we may have to refresh the foundation of appropriate conflict resolution
and peer problem solving skills that we laid earlier. You may also see notes on your
classroom wipe-off boards regarding specific classroom meeting topics that are being
revisited and reinforced.
We pride ourselves on the fact that “Pine Grove is a peaceful place” and most of the time,
it is. However, our children are continually learning and honing their social skills.
Rather than be adults that are quick to jump in, intervene and solve disputes as they arise,
we will continue to facilitate your child’s affective growth and to empower them to
handle a variety of social situations on their own. (However, be assured that if we sense
that any situation is escalating too far, we will step in to mediate.) As you read the
attached article, “Tolerating Caterpillars” by Sharon Caldwell realize that a few tears or
hurt or angry feelings may very well be a sign of “I’m still learning!” and are also
important signs of emotional growth.
By Sharon Caldwell, East London, South Africa
“Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars
if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.
It seems that they are very beautiful”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Natasha Brown withdrew her child from his Montessori Casa class after seeing a four-
year-old hit another child. She informed the school administration that Montessori
environments are suppose to be peaceful places, and that she was looking for a school
where the children are not allowed to be unkind to one another.
This scenario is all too common, but it is unfortunate, as in the majority of circumstances,
the parents’ efforts at protecting their children are misguided, and could end up actually
disempowering their children. Just as children learn practical daily life skills and
cognitive skills through practice in real contexts, so affective skills can be developed
through real and meaningful interactions.
Parents often question whether the Montessori classroom prepares children for the ‘real
world.’ Disagreeing with other people, and sometimes having to cope with aggression
and violence in others, is all too common in the ‘real world.’ Failing to prepare our
children to handle their own anger in appropriate ways, and protecting them from all
threatening situations, deprives them of the opportunity to practice peace-making and
Young children often hurt one another. This does not automatically imply that a child,
who sometimes bites or lashes out is a nascent bully. It is, on the contrary, the indication
that he has not yet acquired and mastered appropriate social skills. The child on the
receiving end of this behavior may also lack the skills necessary to avoid such physical
conflict and strategies to deal with them when they arise.
A teacher, who stands back when such a conflict arises, risks the accusation of
abandonment or of being irresponsible. This is the point at which the skills of
observation come into play. It is necessary for the teacher to know her pupils, and,
obviously, no caring adult will stand back and watch a five- or six-year-old attack a two-
year-old. If a teacher knows her students well, and has provided adequate indirect
preparation through a variety of lessons which provide the child with a range of strategies
for handling conflict and possible aggression, she should give the children the space to
bring those skills into practice. In a mature multi-age class, older children are able to
provide scaffolding for younger children when necessary, empowering them as mediators
as well as helping the ‘combatants’ learn that adult intervention is not always necessary.
There are clear disadvantages in the assumption that all conflicts (even those which may
involve some level of physical aggression) require the intervention of an adult. On the
contrary, adult interference often teaches the opposite lesson to that which we intend.
The natural tendency is to console the apparent victim, and in some ways chastise or
correct the apparent perpetrator. The child who bites, hits, or kicks, however, may well
have been responding in an impulsive way to a situation of frustration or even perceived
threat to himself. Adult intervention in favor of the ‘victim’ may convey to the aggressor
that his needs don’t matter, resulting in further aggression. Adult intervention to directly
solve or mediate children’s disputes reinforces dominator paradigm strategies – get
someone stronger to handle a situation – and fails to develop skill sets that would enable
children to both deal with aggression and anger, as well as the abilities needed to evolve a
culture of peace in the environment. As Dr. Montessori pointed out, peace is not merely
the absence of war. A peaceful classroom is not a classroom where the adult ensures that
no conflict can occur, but one where the children, themselves, develop ways and means
of resolving real life disputes as they arise. Each new child entering the environment
upsets any equilibrium which as been established, and presents new opportunities for
Montessori teachers and administrators can help parents to become partners in this
process by highlighting that peace in the environment is a process which is ongoing.
Inappropriate aggressive behavior in young children should be seen as an ‘error.’ Errors
provide opportunities for learning and children can be helped to use visual and verbal
cues from others to moderate their own behavior. As a child gains control of his will and
greater control of a variety of communication strategies, so he will begin to either avoid
conflict or to handle disagreements and challenges in proactive ways.
By all means, the teacher should intervene if a child is in real danger of being injured, or
severely distressed. Occasional tears, hurt feelings, or physical discomfort are, on the
other hand, important constituents of emotional growth. Standing back and ignoring
disputes, or brushing off a child’s distress is, indeed, abandonment. Rushing in to
prevent a potentially aggressive situation or to resolve all disputes is the affective
domain’s equivalent to doing a child’s math problems for him, or directly correcting the
child’s work. Guiding a child to understand that you are available if your help is really
needed, but clearly conveying to the children that you have the faith that they are able to
handle a variety of situations alone is immensely empowering.