“The mouth is the cause of calamity.” I recently read this old Chinese proverb in a book that I had been browsing through. The Japanese believe that through the use of indirect language, they will save-face and help others do the same, thus creating social harmony. As I was driving to work it kept resonating in my head in regards to teaching children and how leaders of children, whether parent or teacher, practice this philosophy in their daily lives.
In the Montessori environment tone and voice level are strongly emphasized while dealing with children. For example, adults never speak above a whisper, modeling the volume we want children to learn. We remind children to use their “inside voice” instead of their “outside voice.” Speaking softly is an effective method for management of the classroom, but more importantly it also is teaching children social skills and building their abilities for their future development. This applies to the classroom as well as outside of the school environment.
Children are influenced more by what we do rather than what we say. Thus, they pick up on how we say something verses the words used. By speaking softly and respectfully to them consistently they will in turn take up our cue and begin to do the same. The soft tone also has a calming effect on the students. A polite calm voice sends the message that you are in control and know what you are doing. This has a reciprocated calming effect on them. Some may say even soothing for the child’s psyche. Just as we as adults like being respected by others, children enjoy the same. They want to be trusted with information and not be inundated with the same request over and over and aggressively. By speaking pleasantly and softly when giving directions the message goes down a lot smoother and is more acceptable for them.
When we speak softly the child becoming more physically calm. Children learn that activity creates noise around them but when they are still then they can hear better what needs to be heard. A softly spoken instruction or word of encouragement can also cause the child to slow down and strain or lean in closer so that they may hear what you have said. This helps them to understand what is being said and they will watch how you utter the words, or how your mouth is forming the words, which assists in their own learning of language.
The Montessori classroom functions because of the peaceful atmosphere created by demonstrations of mutual respect among the children and adults. Learning respect, good listening, and a desire to follow directions can be achieved by the soft tone.