Thursday, 21 July 2011

Process, Not Perfection

One of the things I really love about most natural learning methods, and in particular the Montessori method, is the focus on process, rather than perfection.  Too often we expect kids to just "get it" first try - to master a task to perfection without really coming to understand the whole of it...and that, at least to my way of thinking, is the opposite of how learning should work.  A lot of it stems from impatience - on our part, and on theirs.  This is a world driven by instant results, and children pick up on that very early in their development, like the little social sponges they are.

Natural learning methods, like Montessori, Unschooling and Waldorf are like a peaceful breath of sweet, mountain air.  The child sees the world stretching out before their feet and can explore it at their leisure.  They can touch it, taste it, smell it...manipulate it into something that makes sense to them.  No one is telling them to be perfect, to get it right, to be the finish it now.  They are truly liberated, and in so being may move forward purposefully and with curiosity that is self-driven and self-rewarding.  They want to learn.  They want to understand...not because someone is forcing them to pass a test at the end of it, but because learning has become such an intrinsic part of their living that it is impossible to separate from their being.  How can you argue with that?

Children don't always want us to butt in.  They don't always want their mistakes highlighted.  Do you?  I know I don't!  Children don't always want our help.  This has been one of the toughest things for me to handle, because I am...basically...a control freak.  I admit it, freely.  I like things to work.  I like them to be right.  I feel...anxious when I see things going wrong. When I see Niamh not getting things right.  Oh no!  She can't count to thirty?  How will she ever cope with life?!!!  Ahem.  Well, you know what I mean, anyway...

And so it was with utter joy that I watched my beautiful daughter exploring the new activity I made her (inspired by THIS post at Tot School).

Pretty self-explanatory as to how it is meant to work:

I started her off with just 3 to explore, mainly due to space limitations on the table - she couldn't physically reach more than three!

Going pretty well:

And then...the final result...
Yep.  Okay, so it's not 100% wrong.  She did get all the pieces of the pear.  But you know what?  It doesn't matter one bit to me that it's not "right".  The activity wasn't about getting it right, first try.  It was about exploring.  It was about learning that she can twist the pieces different ways.  It was about learning order and disorder.  It was about learning that sometimes, you just get things wrong...and you know what?  That's great!  Because recognising that something isn't exactly right!

Later, she tried a little 25 piece octopus jigsw puzzle.

And how did she go?

Ta-dah!  She was SO pleased with herself, and yelled, "Look, Mama!  I did it!  I did it!  They all fit!"

And that, my friends, is process.  To her, she didn't see the finished picture of the octopus as the goal.  The goal was getting the little pieces to fit together.  And they did.  Exactly the way she wanted them to.

She had so much fun with that puzzle.  She went back to it probably 10 times during the day to play with it.  And each time, she was eager to learn more, and came away happy with her achievements.

And a little later, another go with the fruit puzzle:

She knows it better than I do.  Process doesn't make perfection - it is the perfection we all are seeking.

And perfection tastes pretty good, too.


  1. I love her determination on the fruit puzzles!!

  2. Hehe yes, it's great, isn't it! You'll notice the wooden frog bowling pin nearby on the table. She was teaching "froddy" how to do the puzzle...and in doing so, taught herself how to do it, too!

  3. Cute! Love this post and I completely agree with you on the insistence on Perfection that adults have because of which sometimes kids give up even attempting the activity as the end result is not always the goal for kids. Stopping by from montessori monday!

  4. What a wonderful post. Thanks for linking up to Montessori Monday. :)