Harvard psychologist, Dr. Susan David, used the word “sawubona” which is a Zulu greeting from native South Africa. It means, “I see you.”
Sawubona means creating a space in your heart and in your home or classroom where your child is seen.
When our children attend a Montessori school, as parents, we sometimes feel helpless in knowing what to do with our children at home after school, during breaks and while traveling.
Being Montessori trained myself, I probably have a distinct advantage in understanding my child. I wanted to share this understanding and how it came to be.
The important thing Montessori taught us was to “follow the child”. “Follow” seems so simple but it has a deeper meaning. It means to really observe, to shine a light from behind and guide the path while following.
Observing is not easy if we do not strongly believe that the child is capable of developing himself. We may have read about or ‘seen’ children of various ages develop and what we saw commonly, we assumed was natural. Yet, this may not be the case.
“A teacher draws the best from the children through understanding, through studying their individuality and then putting the child on its own resources, as it were, on its own honour. And believe me, from my own experience of hundreds, I was going to say, thousands of children, I know that they have perhaps a finer sense of honour than you and I have.
The greatest lessons in life if we would but stoop and humble ourselves, we would learn not from grown-up learned men, but from the so-called ignorant children.”
MAHATMA GANDHI, 1931 LONDON
What does it mean to follow the child? How do we “sawubona”?
“Montessori is a way of life.” – A very cliched statement and much misunderstood. Montessori is a way to learn about your child’s development. Your child already knows what is good for him or her. It is us who needs to realise that they know.
We may get lots of ‘Montessori toys’, or ‘Montessori hacks’ or cute activities in a tray but if we forget to focus on our children and see them as who they are with understanding and respect, the effort with the rest of the things we do, becomes futile.
When I say “focus on your child“, I mean really spend time together, observe what their needs are, listen to them, talk to them, live with them, cook, sing, play, go out, shop, read books and do this again and again. When we do this, we start appreciating our children and learn so much from them. There are a few instances that happened recently which led me to write this blog post…
Sawubona in Instance 1
One day, my son told me that he is writing a story about the Elixir of Life. I have not heard the word ‘elixir’ for a long time and was immediately paying attention. A friend asked me what ‘elixir’ meant and I started fumbling for the Hindi word for it. I described it as a pure potion of sorts and she said ‘amrit’ was the Hindi word for it. My son immediately piped up saying, “I know ‘amrit’! I learnt it while working with the ‘ri’ mantra (joining sound) while learning Hindi at school.” I was amazed at the instant connection he made. Making these connections is a big part of education. Without connecting, how could we ever comprehend complex systems in the universe?
Sawubona in Instance 2
The other time, my husband and I were discussing about social responsibility and how it is difficult to preach to others to be responsible. We were discussing the recent measures by the Singapore government to help curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus and I was asking my husband, how he would feel if he was asked if he had washed his hands? Would we tell someone we did not wash our hands if they asked us? Or would we lie? Why then would children not lie if asked such a question? Wouldn’t it be better that we just told them to wash their hands rather than ask them if they did or not? My son gave me a very worried look at this. His worry was that, he also would have lied rather than face the shame that came with being questioned.
Sawubona in Instance 3
Small things like this, teach us how to deal with difficult times with our children. We must not only share the problems but also bring in moments of joy for them when they are curious, exploring and wanting to understand the world. With the current tense situation here in Singapore where people are mostly staying indoors, my son and his friend wanted to visit Ikea to buy the base plates of the perler beads he was recently given. He had started enjoying making miniature models with those beads and he needed the base plate to continue the hobby he just got into. I took the opportunity and decided to go out to Ikea. We discussed how many people would not be going to Ikea because of the fear of the virus and how it would be safer for us. However, my son’s friend argued that others would be thinking like us too and so it would be crowded. I asked how could we know for sure? They told me only by going and seeing for ourselves. I said if it was crowded we would return early and so we invited another of his friend to join us and I chaperoned their going out to Ikea. I spoke very little throughout the journey and just listened to their conversations. They discussed about various things just like adults do. They talked about how some houses are so huge compared to theirs, each giving an example of what they have seen in their life. They talked about the youngest person who climbed Mount Everest in India (based on a movie they recently saw) and how early marriage and pregnancy caused so much pain to one of the fictional characters in the movie. The others contributed by talking about who the first person was to ever reach the peak of Mount Everest and I was learning so much sitting there silently, just listening. I later checked on Google if the facts they told each other were true and each one was true!
Later at Ikea, the children offered to carry the bags that we bought and took care of all the food that we ordered to eat as well. They maintained the highest level of hygiene I could imagine and were at the forefront, even at the billing counter, trying to help out with putting the things and trying to pay with the money that they had brought. I have never witnessed this level of responsibility and could see first hand how their Montessori education was helping them with responsibility and life, as well as, strengthening my convictions on the beauty of a Montessori education. When we were back home, they worked for 4 hours making creations using the perler beads and base plates they purchased.
Montessori feels natural and simple because it is only following the natural laws of development which are already within your child. All you need to do is pay attention to them. Sawubona!
Anjum is one of the founders of Lodestar Montessori School. She wishes that everyone discovers Montessori the way she did. She lives in Singapore with her husband and son.