“It’s the process, not the product”.
One of the most famous guiding principles of Montessori.
But what does it mean?
The truth is that it means many things to many people, and can be applied in a variety of situations.
To me, today, right now, it means holding back my desire to point out to my toddler that as he unloads the dishwasher, he’s putting cutlery into the crockery cupboard instead of the drawer where it belongs.
It means reminding myself that it doesn’t matter if he reaches the ‘product’ that I might expect (an empty dishwasher and a neatly sorted cutlery drawer), because the ‘process’ he’s exploring is innately important to him and to his development.
It means that my ‘right way’ to do something, or my ‘reason’ for doing it, does not have to be the same as his process or purpose.
When I unload the dishwasher, my aim is to get the crockery and cutlery into the cupboards and drawers where they belong as quickly and directly as possible so I can move onto something more important to me.
That is not Robin’s aim.
I can’t be completely sure of exactly what his intentions are, because I can’t peek inside his mind, but I can make an educated guess based on observing his behaviours and understanding his disposition and development.
I think his main motivation is to emulate what he sees as part of the culture of his home, to feel a sense of belonging as a contributing member of his family unit.
I also believe he is driven by a desire to move. To lift, to carry, to walk back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, experiencing the sensations of the motion, exploring how his load changes his balance, and perfecting his movements as he goes.
Neither of these aims are truly served in this moment by doing things quickly, directly or correctly.
In fact, if I interrupt him right now to tell him where the cutlery actually goes, it’s quite likely that I’ll disempower and distract him. I don’t think he’ll get back into his flow state and finish the job with equal enthusiasm according to my specifications. I think he’ll feel deflated and move onto something else. So, I don’t interrupt and I don’t instruct.
He is not focused on the ‘product’ of the empty dishwasher and neatly sorted cupboards and drawers.
He is attached to the process of contributing and moving.
He is doing both of those things effectively already, in his own way. He is showing that he is a caring, contributing member of our family by spontaneously volunteering to help with a job that is part of our daily routine. He is building his body with every step he takes, with every spoon he takes. His process is perfect for the purpose he is pursuing.
My role, as his trusted adult, is to avoid getting in the way of what matters to him. My role, here and now, is to respect his process rather than interrupting to impose my preferred product.
So I watch, with appreciation for who he is and how he is helping. Later, I will subtly sort the cutlery. Another day, I will ask him if he’d like to sort the cutlery with me so I can teach that Practical Life skill in isolation without interfering with his innate motivation. I’ll get the plastic insert out of the top drawer so he can see it clearly, and I’ll prepare a limited number of each of the utensils, and if he’s interested then I’ll help him master that. But today is not the day, now is not the moment. Right now, he is doing exactly what matters to him, and I am respecting his process, not worrying about the product.