My little boy is three-and-a-half. He is the sunshine of my day and the most important little heart in my world. Nothing comes easily when it comes to making decisions on his behalf about his well-being. The most important decision I’ve ever considered though is how I prepare him for life… but…
I let him be a child.
Children are naturally inquisitive from the moment they are born, and most experts and parents agree that the young child learns the most in their earliest years. These are also the years they are emotionally most fragile and are learning how they fit in within their family, their environment, and their life. They are learning how to use their body, how to communicate with their verbal and non-verbal body language, how to express their emotions using their face and words and body, and how to express their personality. They are creating beliefs about their world and themselves. Because of this, they need more love than any other human being. More understanding, more patience, more devotion, and more tenderness.
I enrolled my son in kindergarten recently so he can get just one little day to play and learn next to other children his age, and enjoy everything that is great about being three. He has loved so many aspects of the Montessori pre-school method, such as working at little tables with activities that challenge his little hands to coordinate with his eyes and mind. My heart swells to see the look on his face after he completes a puzzle, when he started off so nervously. He is so proud. And he is ready for another challenge, and eagerly looks around at what his friends are doing to see if he can have a turn playing and learning another one.
From the research I have done, this is what Montessori is all about.
It’s about individualised pacing and allocating of activities to children that suit their emotional needs and mental capabilities.
It’s about letting a child master a skill and feel confident, and letting them naturally seek the more difficult challenge in their own time when they are ready to learn.
It’s about putting them in an environment that lets them enjoy the natural challenges of their age for the pure joy of it, NOT because it is a pre-requisite to learning something harder later.
I love that my son can explore his real environment, tailor fit to suit his size and abilities, in his own good time. I want him to be taught to use his imagination because this is what he loves RIGHT NOW. I want him to be told stories. I want to him to feel and express WONDER. I want him to look-around at his friend’s faces and see that they, too, are feeling and expressing WONDER. I want him to understand why the challenge he just completed is so important for his life right now. I want him to feel like he has achieved something WONDERFUL just by being himself, picking and choosing the challenges he is comfortable with, showing how much it interests him, and shining when he has completed his challenge because he was ready to learn and has won within himself.
I have a mentor who is a Waldorf-style home-schooling parent. She wrote once that the curriculum for a young child is absolutely laying a foundation. This is done through:
- Unrushed time
- Cuddling and Snuggling
- Singing, fingerplays and toe plays
- Playing, especially in natural environments where they can get dirty!
- Real work and helping you do real things
- Experiences that nurture and protect the senses
- If they are 5 or 6 years old, artistic experiences
- Physical play and mobility – riding a bike, running, climbing, balancing,
And in my opinion, this list is in order of priority.
Third: Unrushed Time.
Child-development experts agree that children learn best when they are permitted to explore and challenge themselves when they are ready. In their own time. When their care-giver notices that they have found something interesting, they are wise to stop and share the joy of discovery (or step away to give the child uninterrupted time to explore) until they have fulfilled their hunger for learning and are ready to move on. Even if it means the child moves away from ‘the herd’ for a few moments.
From the moment babies realise they can move their hands, we surround them with age-suitable props and environments to help them discover what they can do with their body and their new-found capabilities in a time that suits them. When babies learn to crawl and walk, we let them stop on the pavement to explore leaves and ants, in their own time. When they are learning to talk, we know it works best to set a good example and assist them in finding and pronouncing words when they find a need to use the word.
Seeing an immediate reward that is usable in today’s life is what learning is all about.
What children are taught to learn NOW must be usable and relevant to their present life.
- My son learns how to wash his hands, because he needs this skill to be able to survive now in his environment. He can get his hands dirty and germy all by himself these days, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to select and eat fresh fruit, because he needs this food to fuel his play-time. He wants to play and use energy, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to paint and draw creatively and without rules and guidelines, because he needs creativity now to see what he is capable of producing for himself to feel wonder and satisfaction. He loves colour, crafting with his hands and seeing his completed work up on the wall now, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to speak to me and communicate, with his whole body and range of emotions, because he needs me to understand what is important to him. He wants to get along with me, to feel secure, and to feel understood, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to sing the alphabet because he likes the tune and quirky riddle, and he can sing with his friends for fun. It brings a smile to his face and it’s a playtime activity we can all enjoy together today, so it is relevant.
- My son learns how to tidy his toys and clean up spills because he knows that a clean workspace gives him room to play and build. He wants to feel like he is helping and he likes his belongings to stay in good working condition, so it is relevant.
- My son learns how to sew with a needle and cotton, to cut paper and trim flowers with scissors, to make paper, to climb ladders, to build sand-castles and towers, to clean with a cloth and spray, to break-open eggs, and to feed the pets, because he enjoys using his hands, body and mind. He can see an immediate reward and can reach a new level of interest that he has his heart set on, so it’s relevant.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin
– copyright, Joanna Becker. Contact for permission to reproduce, photo of girls playing by Nir Nussbaum, some rights reserved.