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Why are my child’s shoes on the wrong feet?

  • 9/30/11
  • Posted by: (nicole)

 “Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his own shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects his joy and sense of achievement, the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.”      

                                       ~ Maria Montessori

 Does your child come home from Montessori school with shoes on the wrong feet, coat upside down or pants on backwards?  “What is going on?” you may wonder.  What is going on is INDEPENDENCE and SELF SUFFICIENCY! 


The Montessori Toddler and Primary classrooms encourage children to develop independence and self sufficiency by supporting and allowing children to attempt a wide variety of self-care needs on their own and providing children to experience the internal satisfaction gained by doing and caring for oneself.  Adults in the Montessori environment guide children, giving them the tools they need to be independent and self sufficient.  We focus on the process and success of the doing rather than the end result.  The child is so pleased with herself for having accomplished the task, even if not to our adult expectations. She has accomplished a huge feat for a young child of only 2, 3, or 4 years-old. 


Even after only a couple weeks of school, we see the children relishing in this newly found independence.  One of our Primary teachers shared this story: 


It was time to get ready to go home.  A three-year-old was in the hallway getting his belongings together.  Suddenly, through the open door from the hallway came, “I DID IT!” The boy came into the classroom and made a beeline for the teacher.  “Look, I put my coat on.  Can you help me zip it?”  The teacher, occupied with another child, suggested the boy ask an older child for help. 


The boy approached a Kindergarten girl, “Can you help me zip my coat?”  The girl notices that he has his coat on upside down.  What do you think you would say to this boy in this instance?  “Well,” she says, “I don’t think we can zip your coat the way it is.”  The boy looks at the zipper and then, with a smile, HE realizes his coat is upside down.  He takes off his coat and the older girl proceeds to exhibit our “Up and Over” method for putting on a coat (see below).  She sets his coat on the floor, shows him to stand at the collar end, and how to put his arms in the sleeves and pull the coat over his head.  The boy gets his coat on with the collar at his neck and the girl helps him zipper it.  Now he is ready to go home.


Consider the positive, learning outcomes resulting from this interaction and experience.  Throughout this process there were no negative messages.  No one said, “You’re coat is upside down.” Or “You put your coat on wrong.”  Only positive, problem-solving language and attitude was in use.  The boy was excited and clearly pleased about doing something on his own.  The girl, with two years more experience getting coats on, recognized a barrier to accomplishing the final goal of zipping the coat. She’s is in an excellent position to show her new classmate an invaluable skill of getting ready to go home all by yourself. Together, this 3-year-old boy and this 5-year-old girl solved a challenge without any adult input and with everyone’s pride intact.


The next time your child walks out the school doors, shoes on the wrong feet, coat upside down or pants on backwards, but oh so happy to see you at the end of a day full of new accomplishments: new work, new songs and stories, new rules, getting along with new friends, using the toilet without help, and putting on their shoes and coat, realize that it’s no surprise all of these new challenges were not achieved to perfection.  


This is a unique opportunity to connect with your child and encourage your child by relishing in their accomplishment, “You put your shoes on yourself!”, “I see you have your coat on and are ready to walk home.”, “Your pants must have gotten wet, we’ll bring another pair for your cubby tomorrow.” These messages encourage your child to try again the next time and, with practice and encouragement, your child will master each of these skills and will become independent and self-sufficient.


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Thank you to all the families who are participating in our new inside shoes practice.  This is giving the children lots of opportunities to do the very important Practical Life work of changing shoes.  This means there are more incidences of shoes being put on the “wrong” feet.  If it especially important to you that your child’s shoes be on the correct feet, try this: To help your child put their feet in the correct shoe, you can put a dot sticker (in an easy-to-see, contrasting color) on the inside side of the shoe and show your child that the dots want to stay together when the shoes are on.  Or, if your child’s shoes have a design, characters or lights on the outside side, explain that those parts should face out to see what’s going on around him.  It will take some practice and that is how we all learn anything worth learning.