The Toddler’s Good Morning

Today I want to dwell on the morning drop offs to my daughter’s Montessori school. The routine almost never changes — everyday we manage to create the same rhythm of things (for good and various reasons). We reach the school gates very early, usually by 8:30 A.M. but school starts only at 9:00 A.M. My daughter loves being at school early because it gives her a chance to swing on one of the only 2 swings in the playground before other children get to school. Sometimes I’d like to think that is her meditative time. She is quiet and sort of reminiscing even, enjoying the wind on her face while carefully balancing herself on the swing. Sometimes she is absorbed watching a butterfly flutter nearby or looking at the airplane that just flew above until it is no longer visible. I like that they have just a wooden plank without backrest for a swing. Having fallen off it while learning to balance, she now knows to also swing carefully while learning to sway her upper body gently along with the motion of the swing.

This is an indelible part of my routine every morning — I stand at the gate and watch quietly, whilst she grabs this little piece of her world, completely oblivious to my existence at the gate.

It is however what happens just before her tete-a-tete with the swing that has always fascinated me. We push the gates open and Shreya says a quick bye and walks straight ahead to her classroom to drop off her bags. I see her Montessori teacher in a beautiful crisp cotton sari with a benevolent smile on her face waiting to receive her. She says “Hi Shreya, Good morning!” whilst making eye contact and looking directly at her face. Shreya never answers back, yet. She looks up, stares and goes on her way. The teacher smiles. She doesn’t stop Shreya and I never hear — “Shreya, when someone says Good morning, you must say it too!”

The beauty of Montessori Education is manifest in the routine of the morning greeting. The teacher never hurries the child that is not ready. The teacher will do this every day for what might be years until, one fine day, the child will answer back with a cheery “Good Morning, Meena aunty!” When the child is ready to answer back or even take the lead in greeting, she will do it with everyone — the watchman at the gate, the auto rickshaw guy, the friend who is waiting at the bus stop. An all encompassing, from the heart, brighten-your-day-with-all-my-love kinda good morning — that is so entirely complete in itself. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this transformation in children and there’s a world of difference between going through the motions while saying good morning versus ‘hey, I’m here and I really wish you a good morning’!

There are multiple reasons why we Montessorians think the child is not yet ready to say something as simple as a “Good morning” and there is a deliberate avoidance of an instruction to the child. On many occasions, I wince when I see parents try to tell their two or three year old to say something “Say sorry, Peter”, “Say Thank you”- You will find this to be prominently non-existent in a Montessori environment. Saying please, thank you, sorry, interrupting while someone is speaking- are all part of grace and courtesy lessons both inside and outside the Montessori classroom. The precious lessons are never instructional, but always entirely observational.

The teacher will deliberately say “Thank you” for any real life instance that warrants it, with the absolute consciousness and cognizance that the children in the classroom are watching and learning from her. She has utmost respect for the child’s innate learning abilities and observational prowess. She therefore models the right behavior from the start- always waiting for the child to notice that she said “Thank You” without ever pointing out that she did, without ever telling the child to “say Thank you” — for we do not know if the child has truly understood what a thank you is and why she has to say it until she has seen it in action. The Montessori teacher relies solely on the fundamental belief of the child’s ability to keenly observe and learn from his environment and the knowledge that children love to imitate the adults around them.

We always wait for the child to reveal herself.

For many months, the child will not register the good morning at all. She might be intent on establishing and following her routine first. In this case, it is walking straight to her classroom and dropping off her bags in her cubby- for a toddler, it takes a lot of work and concentration to remember and not be distracted during this process. Only when they have repeated this enough to master the routine, they start to notice that the teacher is actually addressing them with some pleasant words. It is incredibly important to give children the time to master the routine, for order is their lifeline. It is what helps them feel safe and only when they are assured of their safety, they can learn and grow.

When the child has seen this morning greeting being repeated every day and has noticed the other adults/older children respond to such a greeting, she imitates and keenly watches to see what effect it has. Then she internalizes and truly understands the good morning. When we don’t instruct and instead allow her to discover, she can see that her response has brought a smile to the other person’s face- she notices that she has made another person happy, cheerful. Children are incredibly intuitive- as long as we let them. When we don’t instruct, they can glean more than what was the intended lesson.

Until then, until my daughter is truly, really ready — the Montessori teacher and I wait, unhurried and patient. For when she does say it, it means she really wants us, all the way from the bottom of her tiny little full-of-love heart, to have a really good morning and it will all be worth the wait.