"In the child is much knowledge, much wisdom. If we do not profit from it, it is only because of neglect on our part to become humble and to see the wonder of this soul and learn what the child can teach."
—Maria Montessori, The Theosophist
"Bryce, it's time to go to the pool. We are all waiting on you, buddy." My voice was calm, my breath steady, but I could feel the frustration rising in me. I had twelve other children in my care. We were late, and it had been a long day.
I stood by the double doors of the passenger van and watched as he ignored each of my requests. Not once looking up, he stared quietly and with unflinching focus at a seemingly ordinary piece of bark broken off from a nearby tree.
I couldn't help but think of the other children waiting in the van. We had to go. There was no time for this behavior! Taking a deep breath, I remembered a piece of advice given to me by my mentor and boss at the time. "Join first, redirect second."
I walked to where he was seated on the patch of grass near the curb. I sat down next to him and joined. "What's that?" I asked with a curiosity that suddenly felt genuine. "It's a boat," he said, with a matter-of-fact tone. "Would you like to bring your boat to the pool?" I asked. "Sure," he said. Broken from his trance, he jumped up and joined his peers on the bus.
I was stunned. During the first weeks of camp, I thought he was misbehaving; he was disrespecting me as the adult in charge, I had labeled him as challenging. At that moment, I realized that this small piece of bark sparked his imagination, it held his attention, it fascinated him. His appreciation for this simple gift from nature was one of beauty. I had simply failed to see it. My rush, schedule, and pride kept me from seeing the human unfolding before me. It took me asking a simple question to find connection and understanding.
The trajectory for my career and my future as a mother changed that day. I learned the first of many lessons, but this particular one sticks out the most because it challenged me to change my whole perspective on children and people.
When we label children, we fail to join them. We fail to see them. Our job is to guide them; we respect who they are by meeting them where they are. Sometimes that means stopping what you're doing, getting down on their level, and asking them a simple question with curiosity instead of judgment. In this practice, we can humble ourselves and respect the wonder inside each child.