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.