Way back in March, I had the honor to witness the fabulous Judi Bauerlein receive a lifetime achievement honor from the American Montessori Society called the Living Legacy Award. Judi, now a retired teacher, was one of those teachers straight from legend: classrooms lit up wherever she would instruct, children were motivated by her and devoted to her, learning from her was so vibrant students were eager each day. I know it sounds too good to be true, but I have seen her in action! It was how teaching was meant to be.
Not only did Judi teach children, she has traveled all over the planet instructing others about Maria Montessori and training teachers in her methods. She was a pioneer back in the 70’s and brought Montessori education to the public school system. This is where I first met Judi, as a student at the school where she was teaching. Unfortunately for me, Judi was never my teacher, however, she helped my Mom get her Montessori training, so I got the benefit of Judi’s instruction through my own Mother. I got the best of all worlds.
Judi generously talked with me prior to receiving the award and we discussed various topics ranging from technology to helicopter parenting. She has three children and five grandchildren of her own, and was a classroom teacher for 44 years. This woman knows parenting and education! Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Since my boys are computer nuts, but I know we need to be strict about their usage, I wanted to discuss how Maria Montessori would have felt about computers. “Dr. Montessori would have embraced computers as one more tool to help children learn,” said Judi, “but it cannot be used instead of, or in spite of, everything else. They cannot replace human beings or materials.” Some games such as SimCity can teach problem solving skills and critical thinking. These types of games are the kind that use computers as a tool and not just a toy. Judi also pointed out, “Dr. Montessori was such a researcher and scientist, she would have wondered what all of the computer activity was doing to brain development.” Judi cautions that too much computer time is not good for children and under a certain age, not appropriate at all. In an instructional situation, teachers need to follow up the computer time with dialogue and interaction about what went on during this time and what was learned.
No Means No
I was interested to hear what Judi thought was the biggest challenge facing parents these days. One of the biggest challenges I have with my children is, “No means no,” not “Let’s argue about this for another hour.” She remembered seeing a student in a video store with his parents and the horrible time this student was giving the mom about the movie he wanted. “All of the options and choices available to families today puts too much pressure on parents. Children believe ‘you need this’ from the consumeristic push that is everywhere.” She went on to explain that parents feel stressed to have just the right thing, or buy whatever their kids are begging for at the time.
I felt so validated to hear her say this! She was right. We want to give our children the best we can and this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us in our adult lives. So many choices and so much pressure to make the decision equals worry and concern instead of just doing our best with what we have.
This desire to provide what is best for our children can often lead to overscheduling them in activities. I asked Judi, how much is too much when it comes to after-school activities? “The activity level for children today is outrageous. It’s just too much. 3rd and 4th graders have private coaches for soccer. Sports seasons go on longer and even overlap on each other.” She says it is important to listen to what your children are interested in and let them explore these interests, but make sure they have free time. Doing one sport at a time and one “lite” activity (like chess club) is a good balance. Phew! Hearing this made me feel like the LOML and I are on the right track. Those are the parameters we have established for our boys.
Your Child Is Not the Center of the Universe
Parents often feel pressured to get children everything , pressured to let them do everything, and pressure them to perform as perfectly as possible on the testing in schools. This can cause parents to hover and become helicopters in their children’s lives. Judi knows this is not a healthy way to parent. “When did the child become the center of the universe at age nine, ten, eleven? That’s not respecting their own ability, their own sense of responsibility. Developmentally they don’t need us to do and be everything for them.”
Oh thank goodness! I don’t want to do everything for them anymore. I can barely do everything for myself, much less for all my boys. I want them to do things for themselves. The sooner the better! Babies need their parents to do everything for them, not our children who can feed themselves, get dressed on their own, and learn to make decisions for themselves. Wahoo!
Judi attributes the reason for parents’ concern to “too much reporting on all the awful things that could happen.” This causes parents to be fearful, understandably, but these fears keep us from being effective parents to our children. We need to teach our children as best as we can and then “trust kids to make really good choices.” Hearing this from her, I know that for the health of my boys, I am going to work to trust them as they get older. This sounds easy to say, but difficult to perform in reality.
Judi ended our talk with her favorite quote by Erik Erikson, “Without outer security a person or child cannot have inner reality.” She told me this to enforce what we had discussed: our children don’t need parenting rooted in perfection and fear. I learned we need to work to create an environment where children feel trusted, smart and capable. Judi spent her entire adult life creating just that for her own children and students, and taught others to do the same. That is why she is the Living Legacy for the American Montessori Society.
Thank you, Judi, for giving me so much of your precious time to answer my questions. I am honored to call you my friend and thrilled I got to see you receive your award. We all benefit from your energy, dedication, and tireless passion for the education of our children.