To Comply or to Conform… that is the Question?

“How do your children transition to first grade?”

I wasn’t surprised by the question which typically comes up during a tour.   I was surprised, though, that this Dad was worried about first grade readiness.  His baby wasn’t even born yet.

Immediately, my mind sifted through to the barrage of information, research, affirmation, test results, lesson plans, teacher qualifications, school accreditation checks and balances which I typically share with Primary aged families.  I looked into the father’s eyes then glanced over to his wife; what could I tell these soon-to-be parents that would help guide them in their decision making process on how to provide best for their infant in a way that would prepare him or her for the rigors of later academics and life itself?

My thoughts turned back to our current Kindergarten students; what attributes do these individuals convey that best prepares them for elementary success?  Each armed with unique gifts, resourcing abilities, temperaments, family cultures, weaknesses requiring scaffolding, testing abilities, self-regulatory capacity.  Looking outside my office door, the eldest student answered the father for me.

Together the Expectant Parents and I watched as the six-year old began negotiating with two of his peers deciding who would get to play chess with him and who would watch- they both wanted to play.  Michael tried several tactics to please both of his buddies, but neither seemed happy with the solution.

Michael did not give up, finally giving up the chess game for a work which could involve all three of them.  Later that morning, he was able to return to his first choice of chess once his friends’ needs had been met.  Many things struck me about the interchange we witnessed- at the core, what struck me most was Michael’s ability to know himself and his desires, appreciate and respect the desires of his friends, stay in tune with the group throughout the discussion and then comply with a group request of togetherness without conforming by giving up his own desire.

He was able to say, “OK.  Right now we’ll do what you want.  It seems really important to you.  Later I will do as I desire.”  – something that some adults have difficulty managing.

So where is this foundation laid?

We think early on- at infancy- from the moment of birth and first through our everyday care-giving routines.

A RIE baby attains a strong sense of value and respect beginning with how he is cared for during eating, sleeping and diapering routines.  At play, his concentration and motivation are carefully observed and the environment is prepared to follow his interest and regard, which he shares with his primary teacher by touching base and refueling.  The discovery is open-ended and while the routines may be predictable enabling security, the timing is set by the child.

On the other hand, parents are advised that in order to be wise, they must put children on adult centered schedules, feed by the clock rather than body cues, wear their babies on their bodies throughout the day or place them in positions the child can not get herself in and out of.  With the best of intentions, well-meaning parents and educators ask an individual child to conform to their expectations; in her efforts, the baby adapts and develops a need even for that which is preset for her.  It can be difficult not to ask a child, though, to conform to an adult schedule or activity which allows for us to ensure that everything that needs to be done for baby and adult is taken care of.  However, it can be difficult for the child later to know what she wants and resource herself in getting needs met, to regulate his own body, to feel secure without the presence of outside support, to trust herself.


Learning to comply- a necessary skill in becoming a contributing member to society- or learning to conform- requiring the input of another to move forward starts with our regard of babies.  An infant regarded with love and respect by his primary caregivers develops the skill to read and understand his community and wants to contribute to its success.  Eventually he complies- sets his impulses-or will aside (self-regulation) in order to help the group, to which he feels he belongs to, be successful.



A RIE baby isn’t asked to conform- he is invited to cooperate.

A RIE baby complies- she wants her family to succeed.

Being true to yourself while being sensitive to the needs and desires of others is not only a vital life skill, it also assists the child in transitioning to new environments.  To collaborate, cooperate, comply takes time and a degree of sophistication.

Care of the Environment – the RIE way

Recently my husband and I hosted an 8 year old birthday party at our house for our middle son, Valin.  Keeping with tradition, every other year he is invited to include as many friends as he would like- surprisingly many considering his tender age.  Reaching back, Valin drew up a list of names bringing together children and families from his Sunday school, current public elementary class, past Montessori preschool friends,  even children from his RIE Parent Infant group.  As the group of more than twenty+ kiddos converged, we stood prepared.

Midway through the festivities, my husband organized the games while I took a moment to tidy up by gathering forgotten half- eaten lunch plates, wayward cups, or bits of trash which missed reaching garbage containers.  My travels brought me to the bubble blowing contest and as I bent down to begin picking up the wrappers that had been tossed aside in the eagerness, I remarked out loud, “If anyone has any trash, I can take that for you.”

A section of the bubble blowing group separated and formed around me.  Gum wrappers appeared from closed hands or withdrawn from pockets causing me to stop.  As I looked up, I was taken aback by the faces which met me- they were all Montessori kids.

As a Montessori parent and educator, I often take for granted the “care of the environment” part of our curriculum, it’s long term effects however, now stood before me a testament to the foundation laid early on. Wrappers properly disposed of, the children turned back to the task at hand while I set off chasing a few remaining ones caught by the wind.

Of course I had to share the story with our Head of School, Megan Nordoff, sparking our contemplation: when do children absorb and demonstrate the desire and ability to Care for the Environment and why?  Is this strictly a Montessori thing?


 We find ourselves reaching beyond our observations of the primary environment discovering at Little Learners Lodge INFANTS seemingly driven to and spontaneously taking on this care of the environment as the child develops a sense of self and desire to become a contributing member to her community- think Maslov and Sense of Belonging.

All along the RIE Baby is respected and valued as a member of the family community.  When following Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach, Parents and Educarer collaborate in providing for the child and in doing so, develop an enduring relationship.  Dr. Emmi Pikler, Gerber’s pediatrician, recognized infants absorb the care they receive and assimilate that care as part of her individual psyche remaining throughout her life.

A child who is respected gives it back.

We see it first with CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT.

When CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT is modeled in an infant’s daily life, we have observed at Little Learners Lodge that somewhere around 13 to 18 months a  RIE baby will initiate becoming a member of our community by participating in CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT.  With Sensitive Guidance,  a RIE baby will build upon his self esteem via the contributions he feels he makes to the group.

It All Starts Here.

Playing Favorites in the Montessori Environment

We might not admit it, but it’s true- we teachers have our favorites- be it a child or something in the environment that speaks to us directly.

Yes, a child often touches our soul in a special way over the years and long after she may have graduated from our school.  And yes- I have a favorite Montessori material that I can’t help getting my own hands on.  One  I wish I had access to during my early childhood experiences.

One of my teacher trainers, Pat Pope, recognized the special bond Montessori Guides may form with a child or work in her environment.  While these feelings may exist, while in the classroom Pat advised “checking it” at the door and focus on the unique gifts and beauty of each child and material comprising the environment.  How would you know if you were getting it right?  I remember Pat saying, “The child should feel safe emotionally and respected by the guide at all times.  You should remember something special that he did during the week and share it with the parent.  When getting together one mom might say to another, ‘You know Sue is Ms. Nicole’s favorite.’ while the other will remark, ‘That can’t be for it’s certainly Mark.’  With the materials, Guides should visit each throughout the week working with the material yourself, deepening your own understanding and appreciation for the genius of Dr. Montessori’s understanding of connecting the environment with the child’s sensitive periods of learning.”

I often share Pat Pope’s words with our faculty members and issue a challenge of sorts.  While not allowing them to advise me of their favorite child or material, I’ll make a guess.  While they have yet to inform me of their favorites- I’ll tell you one of mine.

The Montessori chains.

I stand at wonder that Dr. Maria Montessori conceived that such a material is of importance to the Primary Aged child of 2.5 – 6 yours.  Really?  The square and cube of each number one through ten-  color coded and often memorized at completion of the Kindergarten year- a material that can be adapted to meet the needs of a child who has yet to recognize the symbolic representation for the numeral 5, while at the same time be absorbed seemingly without effort by some at the completion of the Kindergarten year.

Yes, I love the Montessori Bead Cabinet the most .  What a gift that some will avoid that tedious memorization at the dinner table of square and cube of 1 – 10.  But shhhh….. don’t tell anyone.