What does maturity mean for a preschooler?
We are heading for first conference time here at Community Montessori School. It's time for first assessments, reports, and making plans for next semester. As I get ready to delve into these tasks and make plans for conferences, I am thinking about some of the words we use and how they might be unusual or unexpected for parents. So here's a quick insight into what you might see.
First though a quick explanation. We love our parents. Heck, we ARE parents. As such, we are some of the most irrational, protective people on the planet. After taking the time to carefully research schools, interview nannies, background check babysitters, and find the best pediatrician we can, we still second guess many things we are told. Of course we do. The most important person in the world (our child) deserves no less! The downside is that sometimes those of us on the other end have the job of finding the right words to express difficult truths with tact and sensitivity. This is a figurative minefield for us. Use language that is too soft and potential problems get swept under the rug. Use language that is too abrupt or harsh and we alienate a family or stoke fears unnecessarily. So please, remember that your child's teachers are human. And also that we've probably kept ourselves up at night worrying about your children!
So here we go. You get your child's bi annual report and there is talk about maturity. Wait a minute, my child is three. How mature can they be? When we use this term we are usually using it as a general descriptor of their daily behaviors compared to their peers of the same age grouping. Are they reacting to emotions the way we would expect a three year old to? Are they throwing tantrums due to a lack of language skills? Are they throwing the tearless tantrums because they didn't get their way or because an adult expected them to act a certain way? This may be seen as a lack of maturity. On the other hand, are their verbal skills well developed? Have they begun to use conflict resolution instead of needing an adult intervention? Then we may say that they are showing a high level of maturity. I will sometimes say that we are seeing them work on an area that they are "gaining maturity" in. It means that we are seeing them grow into this area. We will be patient. Children can be at different maturity levels depending on the area we are speaking about. If you are seeing that your child is having maturity issues, you might need to reassess how much independence you are allowing/expecting from your child. It may be time to step back and realize that your child is quite capable. Ask us what they are able to do at school. Sometimes parents are stunned at how many things their kids can do!
Next, you might see talk of expected vs. unexpected behaviors. As with the aforementioned maturity comments, it is our way of giving you an idea of where your child is functioning along a spectrum of behaviors. An expected behavior might be a newer two year old student who is fascinated by water and makes a lot of puddles all day. An unexpected behavior is a kinder student with the same fascination that is hindering his ability to focus on something else. On the other hand we might say your kinder is having challenges retaining the symbol names for number-this is unexpected at this age. But it's perfectly expected to see a three year old not remember all of the numbers every day.
Finally, we have the areas to improve. This is NOT a criticism of parenting styles, decisions, or choices. I have personally asked families to work on fostering independent eating skills, dressing skills, respectful language with adults. In these specific instances I was seeing behaviors that either were, or had the potential for negatively impacting the child. The eating skills revolved around a kindergarten child that was still being spoon fed at home. She was understandably upset when her parents tried to feed her at a school function. The rational was that she refused to feed herself healthy foods at home. So we offered tactics to help. The dressing skills involved a four year old who could quickly put shoes on when it was play time, but suddenly was unable to for anything else. Meltdown tantrums and thrown shoes would occur if a teacher did not put his shoes on his feet. As it turns out, no one at home believed he could do it. Once we sent a video of him eagerly getting shoes on for playtime, the family stopped doing it for him. It was loud an difficult for a time, but eventually he stopped fighting this bit of self care. And finally respectful language with adults. One of the cornerstones of Montessori education is our focus on Grace and Courtesy lessons. These include polite interruption, asking instead of telling, and polite responses to questions. We are helping children build the adult they will become. To this end, we expect them to ask for help, not demand an adult do something for them. Respectful tone and words ARE important. And more than one student has been asked to "try again" because they "aren't allowed to speak to me that way". I have never had a child be confused about what tone or words I am talking about. So this tells me that they are getting results somewhere with that type of behavior.
Please remember that we are part of the team. Your pediatrician wants your child to stay healthy and grow in an appropriate way. Your babysitters and nannies want your kids to be happy and secure when you can't be there. Your children's teachers want your children to not only develop a deep seated love of learning, but to also be successful as they learn and grow in academic and social situations.