The Dump Truck Story
What happens when we normalize ‘disaster’ thinking and accept the mess
by Alicia Diaz-David
When my son was two years old, he scribbled on his dump truck with a brown marker and announced that he would wash it right there in the middle of our living room floor. My first reaction was to gasp when I noticed the brown scribbles. My second reaction was to see where his plan of action would take him.
So, I watched as he used the foaming soap dispenser to lather his hands and then rub the foam on the dump truck that was still on the living room floor. And I watched as he headed to the bathroom to fill his large bath-time cup with water to rinse off the foamy soap.
And that’s when I jumped in. Not stopping him but offering him another line of thinking by asking what would happen if he poured the water on the truck right there where it was. Thankfully, he responded that it would spill. I suggested we bring the dump truck outside to our front steps, where a giant water spill would not matter as much.
And the rest happened as you might imagine. My son happily poured water over the soapy brown marker and watched as it splashed on the cement pavers, instead of the living room floor. He went back inside the house to get a towel, which he smoothed over the water droplets on his beloved dump truck. And he smiled proudly at all that he had done.
If you are familiar with the principles of Montessori and the practice of following the child, this story may seem reasonable enough. It may seem as nothing more than a toddler exploring and experimenting with his dump truck and a mom observing and conscientiously guiding the learning moment that would unfold. However, when I submitted this story for a recent publication, it was changed. The edited version included the words, “This is going to be a disaster,” and I admit it stopped me in my tracks when I read it.
Not only was I impacted by the fact that a piece of original writing would be so altered, but also by the idea that our current thinking about children exploring and experimenting is so readily equated to things turning into a disaster.
The truth is, there is a great deal of learning in the so-called disaster. The mindful parent recognizes the learning potential when a child is following her own reasoning. The prepared adult is ever-present, jumping in to help only with the hard parts. That is the true meaning of Montessori parenting, as I’ve read in countless books, learned in Montessori training, and experienced personally with my own children at home.
So, I write today to challenge this thinking and normalize what we would otherwise consider a ‘disaster.’ When we let our children explore their ideas, when we observe this process, we realize that we are truly being given the gift of watching a genius at play.
Our job as adults is not to limit or edit this experience but to let it unfold and only redirect it when necessary. What I learned from my two-year-old son that day—what I witnessed—was a young toddler exhibiting complex executive-function skills, a little boy filled with resolute determination, a confident multi-cultural child ready and willing to solve problems in the world.
I hope that in the future, we don’t edit stories like this. These are moments to cherish for what they are … the awakening of life itself. •
Alicia Diaz-David is a parent and educator with over 15 years’ experience in education. She has followed the Montessori approach at home since her children were born and is a certified Montessori guide for ages 3-6. She is also the founder of TeachLearnMontessori.org, which is dedicated to helping parents better understand the Montessori philosophy and simplify the approach. You can learn more about supporting children’s growth and development using Montessori via the real-life stories she shares on Instagram @MontessoriwithAlicia or on her blog at TeachLearnMontessori.org.