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Why doesn’t my preschooler want to learn new things?
Q: The teacher at my 3½-year-old daughter’s Montessori preschool told me that she doesn’t like to be challenged with learning anything new, no matter how simple. She likes to play or watch everyone else do activities. When the teacher tells her to pick an activity, she cries. Her language development has been slower than average. So far she has done most things about four months later then my friends’ kids.
A: It sounds as though there might be more pressure for pre-academic learning in your daughter’s school than one usually finds in a Montessori classroom. But it also sounds as though the program there is not completely true to Montessori principles. A cardinal tenet in the Montessori theory is that children will select activities they are “ready” for and will continue to do them until they are ready to move on to something else. In keeping with that point of view, children in most Montessori schools are given a great deal of freedom to choose what they want to do and are not expected to move forward in lockstep with the other children.

I wonder whether the teacher is giving your daughter some freedom in what she selects or offering only a limited array options—one that does not include anything your daughter feels she can do well. My guess is that she doesn’t want to do the things the other children are doing because she is afraid she can’t do them satisfactorily and falls back on “playing and watching.”

You mention that her language development has been somewhat slow. This may also be a factor in her resistance to participation in classroom activities. It is possible that she does not always understand just what it is that the teacher wants her to do. Without generating additional stress in her, do everything possible to help her at home. Make certain that reading to her is a daily ritual, being certain to choose short and simple stories so she can remain attentive. Occasionally sit and play with her when she gets out certain toys. And arrange for her to play with just one or two other young children, rather than with an entire classroom like at school, as a means of gaining more social skills. And try not to judge her by your friends’ children. It’s hard, but you can do it.