Choice has always been something we have struggled a fair bit with in our Montessori inspired homeschool. When Aidan was my only "official" homeschooling student we had more of a tutor:student relationship. I didn't initially set up a dedicated space or routine because we didn't need to. We worked each day, but I never left him to struggle to make his own choice from the school shelves or modeled that process with my own actions. I determined starting and ending points to lessons more than allowing him to determine the natural point at which he felt the work cycle was completed.
As Caleb began to join us more regularly, I had this vision of Aidan peaceful choosing of independent work as I began to work with Caleb. Well first of all, I didn't ever teach Aidan how to choose and second of all, although we didn't know it at the time, Caleb has autism. Autism and free choice are not always the best of friends. On one hand, he can entertain himself for hours with an activity he loves, but when it comes to schoolwork he has always craved a checklist. He needed to know a finite start and stopping point. Generally work plans wouldn't be used until later in Children's House or even E1, but I didn't have a choice. I had to give him some guidance and if I gave it to him, I had to give it to Aidan (I thought then, when I was a young mom, homeschooling only 2).
Again failing to teach Aidan how to choose.
A checklist or assignment mentality has had the dual affect of prohibiting going deeper.
Even though I have always spoken of going deeper and working on their own with a topic, it is only rarely that I see them make that step. With at least one child who has never attended a public school, they are oddly locked into the idea that they must do A, B, and C in a certain way. Quantity over quality (their preferred approach) has been a constant struggle with my older two boys. Both are exceptionally independent IF I give them a list of exactly what they need to be doing.
I was hoping that my self-directed elective study this year would provide an extra level of encouragement in the direction of choice, but so far I feel like this has been a failed experiment. Caleb sees the entire outline as a checklist to be completed...one project in each subject area and Aidan sees the whole thing as optional, to be put off for later.
I have been mentally tackling this problem for almost seven years now and while I do not think I have the answer to the problem of unwillingness to self-initiate, I am noticing some changes in my younger children that give me hope. Kylee and Logan are close in age and came into our homeschool in near succession. They came in while I was still heavily involved in working with the older two boys. As a result, they did not have me to hold their hand through our work period each day. They slowly learned which activities were good activities to do and which ones were not allowed. I would give them a lesson every day or so, but they didn't get their hands held in the classroom when they were younger.
I (out of necessity and sometimes fzrazzledness) was not a barrier to their development of choice.
And as a result, they seem to know how to do it! I'm noticing that even while Kylee has a daily checklist of her math and language work, she isn't inclined to stop working automatically when she is finished the way the boys are. She will often choose something else that she wants to do. In just the first couple days of this week, she made a map of North America and did some country study and spent an extended period practicing her cursive writing. Especially, in her writing she is working towards a self-determined goal and chosen level of mastery. She checks in with me often, but she doesn't need me.
Logan is the same way, except he prefers to spend some time in choice work before having lessons instead of after. This is a great help because when he chooses something from the shelves to start the morning, Lucie will also choose something from the shelf to start her morning.
The entire motivation for this post, because I worry that she is coming full circle back to Aidan. Not because I am making all of her choices for her, but because her siblings are. Logan chooses a work at the beginning of the morning and by the time he is finished, Kylee is ready to choose something. Lucie tends to want to do her version of whatever they are doing (World Map instead of Continent Map for example, or "writing" with her crayons on paper) and they are often helping her take things out and cleaning up for her. Logan will often "help" her with card work in a way that really means he does it for her. In one way, they are taking on the expected role of a classroom assistant and/or older student in a typical Montessori classroom. In other ways, however, they are allowing her to rely on them for the important work of choice.
Now Lucie is a fairly strong-willed threenager, who is generally not afraid to express her opinion so I am hopeful that this will not turn out to be too much of a detriment. That being said, it is something I am watching closely. Experience has shown me that she is really in the most sensitive age for developing her ability to self-direct and I want to make sure that we don't interrupt that for ease of a distracted and busy worker. I have been making an extra effort the last week or two to make sure I don't overlook a lesson for her every day or so. It is my hope in being exposed to a wider variety of materials that are at her developmental level she will gradually begin to be more attracted to those activities instead and begin to make her own choices.
Like this afternoon when she "chose" that she would not wear underwear any longer today and went and changed into her bedtime pull-ups..... somehow that isn't what I had in mind.
This post has been shared on the Montessori Monday Link Up at Living Montessori Now.