Wishing You a Montessori Holiday

As the northern hemisphere readies for the darkest period of the year, families worldwide prepare for festivals and celebrations as diverse as humanity itself. The child stands firmly – or should, at least – in the middle of all of them.

Dr. Montessori called the young child a a point of union, a link joining the different epochs of history, the different levels of civilization. She spoke very eloquently of the child’s role in preserving and evolving human culture from generation to generation. Now, we know that important holidays are already stressful times for parents of small children. Does this mean you should forget worrying about giving your child a magical Christmas… and start worrying about your obligations to preserve the Christmas Spirit for countless generations after?

Not quite. Instead, we may choose to look at her message as a an admonition to shift our view – to shift our perspective away from the adult, tracking the various measures of our lives, and instead look at the child and the experiences they live. The child does not have “built-in” expectations, for holidays or for everyday life. Instead, they create their humanity based on what they encounter, what we share with them.

So this holiday season, I encourage you to:

  • Prioritize experiences and time together. Instead of hunting for the “perfect gift”, ask yourself – what are the best memories from your childhood around this time of the year? Or what are the ones you did not experience and want to, even now? Whether it’s decorating your home, a special meal, a particular tradition: go ahead and share them with your child.
    Remember that you, too, are entitled to your own preferences and joys, or activities that others may not find as compelling. Indulge those as well. Chances are, your family might find them more enjoyable that you’d expected; and if not, it is their opportunity to experience the joy of giving that experience to you.
  • Allow your child to take an active role in preparations, rituals and traditions. Life is not something that should “happen” to a child without their involvement, and holidays are no exception. Too many parents fall into the trap of trying to “give” their children the perfect holiday experience, working hard to lay it at their feet – but it is human nature to not value that which we have had no part in. Instead, allow children to share in the work of preparing your celebrations as well as the sweet rewards of all that effort.
  • Demonstrates to your child some key skills and lessons: the meaning of compromise, acceptance of our mistake and limitations, and handling of failures. There is so many trappings around festive times that threaten to go wrong and “ruin” celebrations – but in reality they rarely do. Children are uniquely equipped to accept things as they are, after all, rather than as we think they should be, and are ready to laugh at life’s little disasters as soon as we do.
  • Help your child to reach out to the larger community and the world. Holidays are the perfect time to focus on the bonds that tie us to our friends and family, but also the larger circle of humanity. Whether through acts of giving, service, or simply reaching out and talking to someone you usually wouldn’t, allow your child to see that what we share is ever so much more important than what divides us.