Strong self-esteem is something that all parents wish their children to have and is an essential element of good mental health. Recent research shows that overpraising children for the things they do, rather than building their confidence in their innate value actually undermines children’s confidence in themselves. What has been found to have a direct positive effect on self-esteem is a feeling of acceptance (warmth and unconditional regard) and competence (ability to face and overcome challenges and build capability).
Montessori said: “Feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” From the smallest child to the oldest adult we all need to feel that we have a reason for being.
At our School we help to build self-esteem by providing children with an environment that enables them to develop freely. This is an environment created with detailed intentionality, laid out to provide a framework of experiences and exploration that builds physical, intellectual, social, and emotional engagement and growth for the children. In the Children’s House this environment contains delicate and cherished items representing many cultures and designed to entice the children: dainty porcelain jugs and bowls; woven baskets from faraway lands; an iridescent silver teapot; a glass paperweight with an intricate pattern; a carved figure of solid wood smoothed by the hands of generations; a gleaming brass candlestick; and a pair of soft, leather shoes. The Elementary environment is brimful of glassware, microscopes and fragile specimens; the children have to navigate their way between rooms, tables and friends occupied with collaborative work. And as those attending our Montessori in the Home courses will find, parents and caregivers can create a home environment that allows children to explore materials in a similar way at home.
By trusting children with cherished items, they are attracted to them and want to work with them; to lovingly polish, pour, scrub, take care of, create, and be inspired by. These activities, amongst many others that they will continuously engage with throughout their Montessori experience, lead to increased capability and independence and the ability to participate and make a positive impact on their environment. Above all, children develop within themselves an “I can” mindset leading to soaring self-confidence and the feeling that they are capable of making a significant contribution to the family or community that they live in.
Montessori said “the consciousness of knowing how to make oneself useful, how to help mankind in many ways, fills the soul with noble confidence…” and “all work is noble; the only ignoble thing is to live without working”.
Whether we are three or ninety-three what we all need is to feel valued for what we can do and for who we are, and these feelings are based not on what we are told we can do but on what we actually do, it is this experience that lets us know what we are capable of. Our self-esteem grows when we feel a valued member of a community and that is based on what we can personally contribute to the communities that we belong to. Whatever form the community takes – our school environment, our place of work or our home. Children with healthy self-esteem not only feel capable in themselves but do not feel the need to judge themselves as better or worse than others.
Karen Gelson, Acting Deputy Head of School