Discovery through Exploration

By Amy Johnson  – Kowhai Head Teacher – Pres

During the first weekend of the holidays, many of the Wā Ora staff were lucky enough to attend the MANZ conference in Hamilton that focused on the topic ‘Exploration – a joyful experience! Hoparatia – he wa pai’.

Since our return to school, I have been part of many different conversations among teachers applying ideas and strategies that came directly from the inspirational presentations and discussions at the conference. It is so encouraging to be reminded that the child’s exploration is an essential part of our curriculum.

One of the unique and amazing aspects of a Montessori education is the encouragement of children to explore their world, their interests and the prepared environment around them. Combined with the child’s natural curiosity and tendency to explore, the materials that surround them in their classrooms allow for personal and self-satisfying discovery.

A child will discover cultural, mathematic, linguistic or scientific facts and gain understanding through their own curiosity, ideas, effort and exploration. Because this information is not just handed to a child by an adult, every child, at each stage of development in a Montessori environment, feels that the learning and discovery is their own personal reward and accomplishment. From very early on they are gifted with the idea that knowledge is something that is gained by exploring one’s own interests and abilities, not something to be chosen or dictated by an adult. All of this self-satisfaction, self-recognition, self-discovery and self-confidence is linked directly to the experience of exploration that the Montessori learning environment encourages for our children as they grow and discover.

There are two key elements required for true exploration that are important to keep in mind, not only in the classroom environment but at home as well.

  • Time is the first thing that children need to explore as their curiosity and inner guide dictates. It is a precious commodity in our modern world and is something that is easy to overlook as we approach each day with our own adult priorities and perspective. It is important for those of us with our eyes on ‘the big picture’ to make a conscious effort to create plenty of free time for children to try things out, to discover on their own, to think creatively about different ways to do things and to make attempts and mistakes as they explore.
  • The second thing children need in order to feel free to explore their world, is what we call, a ‘friendliness with error’. Encouraging the idea that a mistake as a valuable learning opportunity, rather than a failure or problem is one of the best gifts we can give a curious, growing child and it is vital if they are to develop a thirst for exploration and a love of learning.