The Magic of Science

By Carolyn Bohm – Rata Teacher

Science holds a valued place among Montessori’s vast collection of lessons and is a doorway to encouraging students to all other fields of study. Children are natural observers and explorers of the world around them. Their curiosity, wonder, imagination and eagerness to learn make them excellent scientists both inside the classroom and outdoors. The science lessons and opportunity for exploration is the backbone of the Montessori curriculum; a means to kindle their interest and encourage their own inquiry.

So, what is a scientist? “We give the name scientist to the type of man who has felt experiment to be a means guiding him to search out the deep truth of life, to lift a veil from its fascinating secrets, and who, in this pursuit, has felt arising within him a love for the mysteries of nature, so passionate as to annihilate the thought of himself.” Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method.

In the preschool environment scientific studies are sensorial in nature. When outside, a new discovery in nature will spark the child’s interest, resulting in a spontaneous lesson around what the new object is, what it’s called and what it feels, tastes, smells, sounds and looks like. After formulating a concrete understanding of objects in the natural word, children begin to take on the more abstract learning processes of planting seeds, watering plants and caring for classroom pets. They are also ready to look at the different parts of a plant or animal and begin giving names to these parts.

Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”  – Edwin Powell Hubble.

In the primary classrooms, scientific exploration changes from sensorial observations to questions about “how” and “what if”. In this stage children are at the sensitive period for imagination and stories. The science curriculum in the primary classroom begins with the five great lessons, which create the framework for future science and history lessons. Further study branching off from these lessons is done in the form of hands on experiments, impressionistic charts and independent research. From these initial demonstrations and experiments, students move into more complex understandings, using the scientific method. As they come across topics that really catch their imagination or fascination, students use research as a means to further their own understanding of the world and share that knowledge with others.

Science is not merely a means to encourage students to study other curriculum fields or to create an excitement for learning, it is also a means of bringing the world together. Through the common goal of trying to better understand our universe, our planet and ourselves, humans collaborate and share information across languages and borders to further our collective knowledge base and this is the message of peace we want to share with our children.

Why I Montessori!

By Amy Johnson – Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

When people ask me why I have chosen Montessori education for my children (or for my career), it can be the beginning of a long conversation. There is a reasonable sized list of reasons for my choice and for my belief in this special environment for child development, however all of these can be boiled down to a couple of key principles.

An element I believe to be a cornerstone of our philosophy is that our children, whatever their age and stage of development, get to commit hours and effort doing two extremely important things. Firstly, our children get to continuously work toward knowing themselves and their abilities better every day and secondly they get the opportunity to discover and follow their passions and personal inspiration. Given time and freedom, within understood limits, our children are encouraged to discover themselves, their various roles in their community, their strengths, their interests, their ideas and their unique observations and gifts.

Dr. Montessori wrote, “Doubtless the fact that the child learns by himself, that he can overcome so many difficulties by himself, gives him an inner satisfaction that enhances his sense of personal dignity. The possibility of choosing his own activities also helps foster traits that we do not ordinarily think of as characteristic of the child – a sense of independence and a sense of initiative, for example.” Education and Peace. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, 2008. p 82.

The adult’s role in the environment is to create a safe, welcoming, ordered, accessible (physical, emotional and mental) space that calls to the child’s natural tendencies and interests. The Montessori guide strives to provide an environment rich in learning opportunities and to hold a general trust and respect for what Montessori called the child’s ‘inner guide’. Watching a child apply him/herself to a self-directed task is a true joy. Observing the concentration, the perseverance, the passion and the self-satisfied accomplishment that results is incredible. It might emerge as a child learns to tie a bow, or shoot a basket, pour from a jug or to read. It might be a pencil sketch or a lego construction, but if you observe closely as Dr. Montessori did, you might see how these freely chosen pursuits enhance your child’s “sense of personal dignity.”

How do we support our children through this personal growth and understanding?

* Freedom/time/opportunity – this is sometimes the hardest thing to give in the midst of busy lives and schedules, but time to experiment and make mistakes is a necessary part of any learning process.

* Demonstration/guidance/guidelines – how do they follow this interest safely? What guidelines need to be in place? We can all use a little help with this element when pursuing passions, but children especially. It is key to observe your child and offer the minimal amount of help needed, but ideally, just at the right time.

The Importance of Micro-economy

By Emma Stoddart  – Biology Teacher and Careers Adviser – High School

If you visit the preschool playground on a Friday morning, you have probably seen our Kawakawa ākonga selling items ranging from coffee to cake to wooden boxes. This is a part of our timetable called micro-economy. The goal of micro-economy is for our adolescents to gain experience in the practical skills of accounting, marketing, Human Resources and business planning, as well as the oral and written communication that goes along with talking to members of our community. Above all, it is a controlled, social organisation for our adolescents, who are wanting to try out the real world and adult responsibilities. The Kawakawa micro-economy has grown from the original café group to now having a wide range of groups including those who make beauty products, Kawakawa flavoured tea, frozen fruit desserts, handmade cards and sewn items.

The Maria Montessori quote that best defines the idea behind micro-economy for me is, “…that something is produced which is useful to the whole society, and that is changed for something else.” For adolescents, that “something else” is money!

When a new micro-economy group starts up, they are given a loan to purchase materials needed to begin making their product. This loan is ideally paid back as soon as possible and any other money made here on in, goes back into that micro-economy. Montessori’s ideal micro-economy involved producing items from the land. This works well for farm based Montessori schools, but is a little more difficult for our urban based programme. Hence, many of the items we sell may not fit Montessori’s idea of “useful to the whole society” (except for maybe the coffee sold by Sarah-Jane’s group!).

As a teacher who works in both Kawakawa and Tawari, I see the ongoing benefits of micro-economy. Although there is no micro-economy in Tawari, these ākonga are now looking beyond school at getting themselves part-time and holiday jobs. When Tawari ākonga come and ask me for help with writing their CV’s, I encourage them to include their time in ‘Kawakawa Café’ or the money handling skills they’ve learnt in ‘Cute as a Button’. The experience they gain on a Friday morning selling is just as valuable and important as what they would gain in any other job. In this last week I was able to be a referee for one of our Tawari ākonga for a part time job they had applied for. When the employer asked me, “Would you employ this person?”, I was able to say “Yes!” and give specific examples of where I had seen this young person display the qualities I knew this employer was looking for. Fingers crossed they get the job.

Finally, a little plug for my own micro-economy group, ‘Cute as a Button’. We are planning on attending the Eastbourne Christmas market again this year. For sale will be our famous felt Christmas tree decorations, also a new range of baby hats and infinity scarves. See you there on the 10th December at Days Bay.

Tiny Seeds Flourish

By Stuart Mason  – Chemistry Teacher, High School

It was in the latter part of 2016 when two girls from a class in the primary school knocked on the door of the Tawari laboratory, full of senior chemistry students.  I was handed two folded paper envelopes that had been labelled ‘coriander’ and ‘silver beet’ in neat pencilled italics.  Yes, they were seeds and yes they were for me and no I didn’t owe them any money and goodbye, because they were off to continue their mission sharing seeds.

As negligence is my main gardening technique, I was never going to be up to the task of honouring the generosity of the giving, so the seeds were passed to the one with the green fingers in our household.  This picture shows Sonya’s success.

Silver Beet (1)The fact that I can only acknowledge the girls anonymously highlights for me, a challenge that can arise within our school despite community-wide events such as Matariki celebrations and Peace Day, as we spend so much time working within our own prepared environments, suited to the relevant plane of development.

The teachers in the High School particularly get asked questions about what goes on in Tawari, the 15-18 class.  Do they do NCEA?  How is it different from the other classes?  Yes, students do NCEA courses at Levels 1, 2 and 3 and in general they have been very successful.

The High School is a ‘School of experience in elements of social life’ (meaning the adult world).  There aren’t the same kind of materials on shelves, but the adults in the classroom are a part of the prepared environment and the students’ work is to test their adulthood.  By the second half of the Third Plane, the students in the 15-18 programme are moving away from the earlier investigation of identity and personal place within a community into an exploration of the roles they will play more specifically as they move out into further education and work.

The timetable gives students choices of NCEA subject classes and options for how to best use independent work time.  They meet together, alongside the teachers, to make decisions about how the community will run.  There is community work, seminar discussion and reflection time.  As in earlier years, the students take care of a ‘house’, and this experience is reflected well in a quote of an American Montessori High School graduate on her first university flatting experience with other, non-Montessori students: “Mom, these people don’t know how to live!”.  The Tawari class is still growing and is expected to reach a roll of 60 students within the next three years.

I gather the next step in the seed-sharing business is that I will harvest seeds from the silver beet plant and pass them on.  I will have to talk with Sonya about that.

The Use of Imagination

By Joel Batson  – Totara Teacher

Have you ever heard that phrase, “Hasn’t that child got such an active imagination?”  It’s often said in relation to a young child acting out some story with or without props, with or without other young children.  While there is truth to the statement it is actually referring to a behaviour, which is often misunderstood.  A clear understanding of what imagination is and how we, as humans, use our imaginations increases the chances of a child reaching towards their full potential.

So then, what is imagination?  Is it something weird and mystical?  Something which some people have and some people just don’t?

Imagination is a creative power of the human brain.  It is the ability to create new ideas based on what is already known and it’s also the vehicle with which we are able to traverse time and geography.  It’s a process based on what is known (reality) and moves to what is either unknown or unknowable.  For it to be used correctly, the use of the imagination must start with the known.

Imagination, therefore, is different from fantasy, thinking and reasoning.  Fantasy is that place of make-believe and is largely based in an alternate reality.  Think elves, fairies and other brands of escapism.  Thinking is not necessarily a creative power and can be defined within the bounds of mental recount and memory.  Also different from imagination is reasoning; more of a deductive power.

These definitions help us to understand the difference between the use of imagination at the first (in the pre-school) and second (in the primary school) planes of development, in the context of how the brain is operating at these stages.  The first plane is concerned with the construction of the individual, giving real experiences the child absorbs with the help of their absorbent mind.  It’s all about the ‘what?’  The second plane is more about the ‘why?’  The child loses their absorbent mind and develops the reasoning mind they’ll have for the rest of their lives.

The first plane is the set-up, laying the building blocks for the use of the imagination that begins to develop in the second plane (and stays with the child for the rest of his or her life).  In the second plane, we begin applying this imaginative power to problems and solutions.  This is what has allowed humans to spread across the earth, adapting to pretty much any environment.  This is also where we see that the imagination is tied to the power to choose our actions, meaning that we actually have a responsibility to use our imaginations wisely.

Following are a few examples of how the imagination is used in class at the second plane: solving problems, creating business opportunities, imagining life in locations such as Ancient Egypt and how they used to re-measure their fields every time the Nile flooded and solving conflict by imagining how it is for others.  This all is based on what is already known.

Independence

By Tania Gaffney – Deputy Principal, Preschool and Primary

This year I have had the privilege of having my workspace situated in the pre-school.  It has been 20 or so years since I have spent time within a preschool environment for any great length of time.  I have been having a great time watching the kākano (3-6 year olds) and seeing what they are capable of in their environment.

IMG_1403 (1)The other day I walked past 2 little girls on the deck, one was leaning over the other girl’s feet, practically with her nose on them, putting all her effort into helping put the shoes on.  When it was finished they both hopped up pleased with the result.  No words were even exchanged, but by the looks on their faces, I could tell that each was happy with the outcome.  Another time there were two boys on the deck, one helping the other to put on his top.  When I first saw them, the top was on and the first boy was saying, as he helped to tug it down, “Mmm, now is it meant to be scrinched up like that?”  And it certainly was! I had wondered how he had even managed to get it on.  I went away and when I came back they were still there and the top was off again.  The helping boy was using his words of encouragement “You nearly got it that time. Let’s try again.”  At some stage later I saw them outside working, so I presumed that between them they had sorted it out.  For both these scenarios they didn’t need adults to swoop in and help; they were quite capable of sorting it out themselves, because one of them had a few more skills or experience and could help the other where needed.

In Montessori we strive to guide ākonga towards independence in many different ways. Examples include the way in which the class is set up, the lessons that are given in the area of practical life and the amount of adult intervention that we allow.  A well-known saying in Montessori is, “Every unnecessary help is a hindrance to the development of the child.”

As human beings, we strive for independence, not only so we can help ourselves, but so that we have the skills to be able to help others.  We might be highly skilled in one area, but not quite so capable in another and this therefore grants the opportunity for others to be able to help us and for us in turn to reciprocate by assisting them.

It’s sometimes easy for us as adults to forget just how much our small children are capable of, given the right guidance.  The trick we adults should always try and remember is to stand back, instead of rushing in and instead, let our children develop this side of themselves – it is a gift they deserve to have.

Orienting our Children for Change

By Kerry Pratchett – Rewarewa Teacher, Preschool

Last year Jan told us that she had handed in her notice after many years of working at Wā Ora.  I think, whilst it was a shock, we also knew that she wouldn’t be with us forever.  Whilst transitions can be testing, I think that Jan prepared the community well for the changes ahead.  We did not have long to wait before we were told that Ava would be taking over in the role of Principal.  We even had a chance to sample the change when Jan went on a sabbatical and Ava came to ‘visit’ us for a term.

As we begin this new term, the preschool has had a number of tamariki move over to the primary school; at the same time, we have also welcomed new children into our preschool classes. This time of change can be quite stressful for a class or family, where we are getting used to new people, rules and expectations.  Orientation is a human tendency. Dr. Montessori spoke about how all humans need to orient themselves to their environment.  If we think of a child coming into a new environment they need to familiarise themselves with the new teachers, classmates and surroundings.  Once they have completed this process and feel safe, they then begin to explore and concentrate with certainty.

We are very lucky at Wā Ora to have our education go from 18 months to 18 years, as this means that students can see, ahead of time, where they will be moving to.  This hopefully makes those times of transition a little easier and since Montessori classes are grouped in three year bands, children don’t have to do it so very often!

Notwithstanding, these times of adjustment can still be challenging. To make life a little easier for everyone during these times, there are a number of ways support can be offered:

  • Communicate with your child about the changes that will happen and when they will occur.
  • Build a relationship between yourself and the new teacher – it is important that your child does not see your anxiety.
  • Punctuality – arriving on time allows for a relaxed start to your child’s day.
  • Allow time to chat – this does not need to be you directly questioning your child about school; often children will open up during those quiet 1:1 times.
  • Be prepared for your child to be upset, quiet and missing their old friends.
  • Allow time – parents, who have already been through a transition with a child, know that after a while all of the worries that you both had are just a distant memory.

As the school goes through a huge transition, I can see that both Jan and Ava have prepared us well.  I wish Jan all the very best in her new position in Bali and really look forward to getting to know Ava better.  Happy Transitioning!

Wonderful Mischief

By Richard Goodyear – Kawakawa Head Teacher – High School

In the wonderful book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice has many encounters with the Cheshire Cat who baffles and amuses, confuses and helps and at one stage disappears to the point where only a grin is left. Alice remarks, “I have seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat”.

Those tendencies to amaze, adapt, amuse, push boundaries and occasionally perplex us, can also remind us of our wonderful teens. They are inconsistent but not untruthful, frequently helpful, often mischievous. In equal measure sincere and sarcastic, robust and fragile, bumbling and straight talking, watchful and oblivious.

Dr. Montessori put it like this. ‘It’s a delicate age…an age of doubts and hesitations, of violent emotions, of discouragements.’

As educators, our job is simple (but not easy). Understand the characteristics of the age-group, prepare the environment and remove obstacles for normal development. Considering the flip-flop nature of the adolescent as outlined above, what environment is needed?

Dr. Montessori named it ‘a school of experience in the elements of social life’. This is one of the ways we think about what we do in the high school. A place where our rangatahi (young people) can try out aspects of the ‘real world’, but where it is safe to make mistakes and where they will have a strong community around them. There are many aspects to this. I’d like to highlight some of the ways we address the need for a healthy emotional environment.

We place a huge emphasis on relationships, and on building a strong, supportive community. We consciously provide many layers to this approach, some visible to the students, while some work away in the background.

Each student has an ‘advisor’ who is their key person for any pastoral issues. That teacher builds a strong relationship with the parents, who are another vital element. If things get too much, a counsellor is provided by the school.

We provide many opportunities for issues to be resolved including restorative meetings. We meet in groups once a week where all those students who share an advisor can discuss what’s going on in the classroom, in a slightly more public way. Then we have our weekly community meetings where students acknowledge each other’s efforts and where class issues can be discussed and resolved.

In the background are regular advisory teacher meetings where we discuss how the teens are going as individuals and how the community is ticking (or spluttering) along and what needs to be done in the coming week as a response. In our full high school meetings (which regularly include specialist teachers) we can have similar discussions but with the full teaching team.

All of this can seem like hard work, but actually what’s happening is that our adolescents, like the Cheshire Cat, are reminding us that life is rich, unpredictable and varied. The more we work to provide an environment that acknowledges this, the more interesting our job is.

Montessori “Elevator Speech”

By Sharon Udy – Totara Teacher – Primary

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, we seem to have a conversation along the lines of, “What do you do?” “I’m a Montessori teacher.” “Oh, what’s Montessori?”

When I was a new teacher I would sometimes avoid this by just saying, “I’m a teacher” but I soon realised that not enough people know about this gem we have discovered, so I changed my answer to, “I’m a Montessori teacher” and tried to answer the inevitable follow-up question the best that I could. This is a daunting prospect, as there are so many aspects that could be discussed, but so little time to do it justice. You may only have a minute or two (at most) to give a compelling and clear statement about the essence of Montessori education.

One term for a short explanation like this is an ‘elevator speech’ – so called because the speech can be given in the time it takes for an elevator to go up (ie. 30 seconds to two minutes).

My Montessori ‘Elevator Speech’ has varied greatly over the years and I have given more or less information based on who I am speaking with and the reaction I am getting from them. As a parent of a Montessori child, as well as a teacher, I can now add more to the speech, but the problem has always been how to fit enough in, and what to leave out!

The Montessori philosophy encompasses all aspects of human development. We learn in our training about the four Planes of Development, their characteristics, and how we can meet the needs of each in our learning environments. Then there are the Human Tendencies and how these manifest in each plane of development. This is the incredibly valuable knowledge which forms the basis of our work, but it is far too much jargon to inject into a short speech.

Instead, I talk about the innate curiosity of a child – their deep desire to learn and their endless questioning. I talk about how students in traditional schools often lose this love of learning very quickly. I talk about students in Montessori schools choosing their own work and choosing how long to continue with it, or about our long uninterrupted work cycle and our open-ended, integrated curriculum.

I talk about the three year levels in each class, where children learn from each other and become teachers – where there is no stigma when 9, 10 and 11 year olds have a lesson together because they are ready for it, or it is a topic of great interest for them.

I talk about how traditional schools are only now experimenting with discovery or inquiry-based learning, flexible seating arrangements, individual and small group lessons, personalised learning and learners and teachers working together – these are all integral parts of the Montessori philosophy and have been for over a century!

Have you got a Montessori ‘elevator speech’? What core elements do you include?

Freedom, Responsibility and Social Development

By Jackie Kirk – Kauri Teacher – Primary

In a Montessori primary environment there are certain freedoms given to the child which must be balanced with responsibility. The amount of responsibility that the child has, determines the amount of freedom that can be given to them. In other words, the more responsible a child is, the more freedom they will have.  The teacher assists the child in being accountable for not only their own learning, but for their social interactions within the community, which in turn aids each child in his/her own ‘self-construction.’ “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”  Maria Montessori

Some essential tools used in the primary class to assist freedom and responsibility are the child’s personal work journal, regular meetings (conferences) between each child and the teacher and societal expectations.

The work journal is a written account of how the child spends their day. The journal is not a place to plan work ahead of time or write down feelings. It is simply a responsible monitoring of the lessons and freely chosen work that the child participates in daily. This includes the date, the name of the piece of work/lesson, and the start and finish time. The child using their very best handwriting skills, can add their own individual artistic flare to beautify their journal and include details, so that they may recall what they did at a later date.

Another tool used to assist with freedom and responsibility is conferencing. This is a formal meeting between the child and teacher, ideally weekly. Older and extremely responsible children may meet less often. It is a time for the teacher and the child to look over their work journal and take a close look at how the time is being used and to share finished and unfinished work. These meetings enable the following questions to be explored: Is the child responsible for the freedom given to him/her? Is the work of expected quality? Has the child explored all areas of the environment or just a favourite? These meetings allow the opportunity for the teacher to be prepared to offer supportive guidance to enable the child to think of alternative solutions, improvements and suggestions to be responsible for their education. Whatever is discussed during these meetings must be followed up on in the future.  If the teacher neglects to follow up, the child does not have a clear responsibility check on their freedoms.

The final tool is societal (Ministry of Education) expectations and are talked about with children and incorporated into conferences for the child to consider when looking at what lessons they would like /need to have.

The teacher is responsible for using these tools in order for the child to be able to explore the universe while fostering freedom, responsibility and social development.