Today was Rowenna’s last day of Montessori preschool. For the end of the year program, parents joined their children in a circle as they sang their favorite songs with their teacher. The children either sat on carpet squares or on their parents’ laps in the circle, singing and performing hand actions.
Rowenna? She was walking around inside the circle, smiling and happily gesturing along with the songs. She was the only child moving around. It was apparent that Rowenna wasn’t doing it for the attention (the “awww” factor from the audience) but from a need to simply move her body.
Since this is a Montessori school, her teacher did not try to have Rowenna sit down. As long as a behavior is not harmful to another child or too distracting for an activity, children are usually left to make choices like this. (Her teacher had also pre-emptively let me know that Rowenna would probably do this and that it would be fine with her.) And while Rowenna was the only one standing and the only one moving, she wasn’t terribly distracting. In fact, I got the distinct impression that her classmates are used to her doing this, and even heard a delighted exclamation or two from her classmates of “Look at Rowenna dance!” I’ve learned more than once over the course of this year that children really are so accepting of differences and the things that might cause an adult to raise an eyebrow are simply seen as a classmate embodying her joy.
But while watching my girl soak up this music and participate in her own way, I stole a few glances at the other parents. Most were absorbed with their own children – and rightfully so – but there were a few casting quizzical glances at Rowenna and occasionally looking back at me.
Clearly, my child was not demonstrating age-appropriate behavior. Even the 18 month olds in the group were sitting quite happily as they sang. Clearly, there was something different about Rowenna, and in those quizzical glances I could see them trying to figure it out. Rowenna was crossing A Line by not sitting with the other children, but she was also quite obviously happily engrossed in her movement.
Sometimes I wonder about The Line. The Line between allowing Rowenna to simply be Rowenna and helping her understand social boundaries and customs. Maybe that seems too much to consider at such a young age, but considering Rowenna’s slow – but steady – learning curve, it’s good to plant little seeds ahead of time and to watch them blossom later.
Where’s The Line between simple compliance and autonomy? What do I take from her if I insist that she simply comply? But what do I take from her by allowing her to act on impulse? Where is The Line, and how do I successfully straddle it so Rowenna has some autonomy, but also some understanding of what it means to live in a society, to be a friend, to be a classmate? When do I meet her where she is developmentally, and when do I ask for age appropriate behaviors?
Is Montessori, with its safe environment for exploring things of interest to Rowenna, the best choice for next year? Or would a more structured environment that functions on the idea of compliance be the better choice?
How important is it that Rowenna sit in the circle – or is it more important that all children have the freedom to dance with her in the middle of that circle? (For what it’s worth – if any child had wanted to join her in that this morning, they would have had the freedom to do so.)
And I suppose that brings me back to what we’ve been turning over in our minds all year – what is the best school environment for Rowenna? What is the purpose of a 3 year old attending school? Do those reasons apply to Rowenna and if so, in what way?
And as always, I’m left with many questions and nearly no answers, but time enough to figure it out.