Bodywork in Montessori Lessons
As those of you who teach in Casas will know Montessori gave two key lessons to young children which require them to use their bodies – Walking on the Line and the Silence Activity. As Montessori’s we want to engage the whole child, and yet, apart from these two activities most of the lessons focus on the child’s delicate use of the hands, senses and brain. The children we teach today often have less opportunities to use their whole bodies than the street children the first Casas were designed for. Children who I teach spend their time in their homes, malls, purpose built play areas and the classroom. I hope the ones you teach have more time to engage in nature and your outdoor spaces have more potential for large gardens, fields and the balancing equipment Montessori describes. Lets have many beautiful outdoor experiences for children.
I wonder though if we are teaching enough about the inside spaces – the child’s mind, our own mind. This is a less obvious but equally important space and from this we find we need less extravagant and extraordinary places to take the children too. We want to refine the capacities for awareness before we can refine the senses and not all of the children we are working with are coming from ideal backgrounds. To be aware we need to feel safe, included and respected so we can let our defences down and let the world in.
As teachers, carers and parents we need to do this for ourselves and model it to the children. Ive been on so many trainings where we say, ‘I have no time to observe’, ‘I know we need to go slowly, but I can’t today’, so we tell the children to ‘go slowly’, we kindly encourage them to take their time while not stopping to drink water all day or withholding bathroom breaks from ourselves. No wonder we end up so tired, exhausted, overwhelmed and crabby towards the children and ourselves by the end of the day. Instead of adding ‘slow down’ to the list of demands we are making on ourselves, we need to work on our inner space too.
There are a few methods I have found to help with this and for myself I would like to see me putting them into practice this academic year, but I wish to say, ‘I’m unsure how I will’, our culture does not help us to slow down, our managers, colleagues, parents and the children themselves do not, so we need help from our community and from anyone outside it who can influence us.
Self care with Bodywork
In the ‘Learning Journey’ I refer to the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais, if you live in a big city you might find affordable group classes you can attend. These bodywork classes emphasis going slowly, experiencing sensorial information completely, to do bodyscans through the day, so you may notice fatigue, reluctance, thirst, irritability before you are overwhelmed. My Feldenkrais teacher asks us, ‘Who can be the laziest in the class at this movement?’, ‘Who can do the least?’ these questions are shocking in an educational environment, what he means (I think) is who can resist the voices to ‘try hard’, ‘be perfect’, ‘never accept yourself or your efforts as good enough’, ‘resist the urge to push’, we have all been trained to be ‘good’ to sacrifice ourselves and this moment in time and not to take care or luxuriate in the wonders of now. Of course sometimes we need to be intentional, to get things done, but we also need to slow down, to stop, to look around and we need our children to do so if they are to have novel experiences, make careful decisions, take responsibility and notice their sensorial and felt experiences.
Focusing and the ‘Felt Sense’ for Montessori adults
The ‘felt’ sense is not our feelings and emotions but the whole ‘fuzzy’ feeling which comes when we relax for thirty seconds and turn our attention inwardly and see what arises within our bodies. It is always something unexpected and if we bring our attention to just this moment, just what we can feel, it is pleasant, and connecting. If their is unpleasantness which we want to avoid when we go in to find it we will discover that their is always nuance, detail, space around it, other feelings, more than we expected. This method is called Focusing and it can be done throughout the day in the classroom. when you have thirty seconds you can have a check to see your emotional state, how your body is and get a glimpse of your felt experiences. When you have finished work, to pause for lunch or at the end of the day you can use this to connect with yourself in a relaxed way to continue your day without the stresses of work hanging over you. In this way you can maintain your energy and your connections with your friends and family, rather than rehearse what you need to do next or examine all of your regrets. This is a kind and compassionate practice to help you keep your energy up. Focusing is most powerful when shared, you can offer your colleagues an opportunity to recharge themselves rather than get lost in the difficulties of their day, and keep your self from being pulled into their difficulties as well as your own. You can also use this practice to help children connect with their difficulties and find that in their sadness and hopelessness their are ways to move forward. This can be verbal and non verbals for young children or those who have difficulty expressing themselves in words.
Non-violent Communication and Montessori
Nonviolent Communication offers a structure to connect verbally with everyone else you meet. But you must start from a connected sense of self, for which focusing is very useful, and the desire to connect – not manipulate or teach! Nonviolent Communication offers a way to find the needs in you which have been met or unmet and to hear the needs in other people rather than their judgements, criticisms, overwhelm or demands of you. This process can be used between teachers and teachers, to parents, managers, with children and taught to children for them to use it with other children. It is also an amazing way to connect in words with yourself as you go throughout your day. When you wonder why you immediately said, ‘NO’ to the child who asked a question, dread a meeting with a parent after school, hope the management wont make a certain decision or wonder why today was a particularly wonderful one even though you had expected otherwise. This process helps us to see that at the level of need we are all the same. Once we realise that we all have the same needs, for pace, clarity, rest, acceptance, contribution we are no longer engaged in a fight, disagreement or in an unending struggle to protect ourselves we can find novel strategies which serve everyones needs. But, as importantly as this, we also discover that we are able to work together, negotiate and live in peace with ourselves. Almost all of us long for a community like this this is a method for finding other people who are working like this now and for being able to decode the humanity in everyone we meet.