The Dual Environment – the Classroom and the Wider World

By Carol Palmer – Tawhai Teacher, Primary

As the end of the year draws nigh, attentions in the primary classes are all turned the climatic experiences of the year – school camp for the 9 -12s and EOTC week for the 6 – 9s.  It would be easy to think of this as a way to make the last few weeks of term go quickly, or perhaps a reward for the year’s hard work, but the value of these events is far more than either of these things.  In Montessori education we talk about the dual environment where the classroom is only a starting place for the child’s discoveries and the wider world is freely accessible to them for their research.  We encourage children to ‘go out’, both because we want them to see that there is so much more to learn about in the world than that which is contained within their classroom, and also as the primary child has an ingrained need to explore the world beyond their immediate environment.

When we go on camp we disconnect from technology and bring living back to a basic level.  Last year children built their own shelters and slept in them overnight, the year before they made fires – without the use of matches – and cooked bread from scratch over them.  In doing things like this the children learn that with a few basic techniques they really can be independent and could, if necessary, take responsibility for their own survival.  It is a great and empowering realisation for the child that, as Dr Montessori said, “… it can go through life, carrying on its back all it may need.”

In the same vein our 6-9 students have EOTC (Education outside the Classroom) week currently and are utilising environments such as the Marine Life Centre, Wellington Zoo and shared bush walks with Montessori students from Berhampore school to expand their learning.

Dr Montessori, who was a friend of Lord Baden-Powell and a supporter of his scout movement, was a huge advocate of encouraging the child to “put their pack on their back’ and get out into the world.  Where Dr Montessori said that the child is asking us to ‘help it to do it by itself’, Baden-Powell instructed his boys to ‘Be Prepared’ – both ideas being designed to propagate confidence and independence.

The fast approaching summer holidays is the ideal time for children to explore their growing independence and interest in their environment. Here in New Zealand, we are fortunate to have such great opportunities to explore nature with the easy accessibility of bush walks, beaches and rivers to explore. There are several scout, kea and cub groups in the area and geocaching is an example of another innovative way to get out and about.

Geocaching sees you participating in a ‘sort of’ global treasure hunting community who leave ‘caches’ for each other to find.  The possibility of something secret hiding somewhere along the way is an enormous motivator which leads to all kinds of adventures of its own – the Palmer family highly recommends it – have a great summer!

Self-discipline and Normalisation in the 3-6 Child

By Kerry Pratchett – Rewarewa Head Teacher

I have spent the last two years going backwards and forwards to what my family call my ‘Sydney Apartment’ to do my 3 – 6 training. The last 3 weeks were spent reviewing the theory of the Montessori approach with exams at the end.

Dr Montessori had many strange terms that she used and one of these terms was ‘normalisation’.  This term is strongly linked to self-discipline. She observed that tamariki (children) are constructing themselves and in order to do this they are driven to ‘work’.

In her writings, Dr Montessori speaks about tamariki needing to have the freedom to do purposeful work.  I am sure that you are aware that in the preschool environment the tamariki undertake a variety of purposeful work – they prepare their own morning tea, wash laundry, clean windows, set tables and much more.  It was observed that when the tamariki are involved in this type of purposeful work their concentration is built up and ‘deviations’ are left behind.

We support the tamariki in the 3 – 6 environment by allowing them freedom within limits.  For example, they are able to work with a material provided they have had a lesson on how to use it, or they can choose to work anywhere they like so long as they do not distract others.

With each of these freedoms however, there are limits or consequences and responsibilities just as there are at home.  To illustrate, a child can prepare morning tea but must also clean up after him/herself.  Through this journey towards self-discipline and normalisation the child’s will develops meaning that they are able to obey themselves; they are no longer under the command of their internal drivers.

Some examples of a developed will at play are listed below:

– When the child expresses patience.

– When he persists with something for a long time.

– When she corrects her own mistakes through the material’s control of error.

– When the child does not need praise as this is an attitude of the mind.

– When he carries a glass of water on the line so carefully as not the spill anything.

– When she restrains herself from being disorderly in her movement.

– When a child overcomes his/her anger and uses the appropriate emotions.

With a developed will the child is granted an even greater amount of freedom and trust within the environment.  The child now has control over their mind, muscles and nerves.  They are normalised!  Dr Montessori stated that “A unique type of child appears, “a new child”; but really it is the child’s true personality allowed to construct its personality normally”. (Secret of Childhood, p. 185).

What’s the point of studying social sciences?

By Rose Langridge – English and History Teacher, High School

History is about analyzing the past. It is never finished. The way we remember things over time changes and the things that are really important to us are not always important to the people around us. Ᾱkonga (students) navigate their way through a full history and do not just engage with the good. We include many voices in the narrative of history and we discuss which voices dominate and which voices are left out. Ᾱkonga learn to find empathy for people from the past and also how to critically evaluate the world the way it was in the past.

In senior social studies the emphasis is on now and the future. How can we change the world and solve its ‘wicked’ problems? A ‘wicked’ problem is a social or cultural problem that is either difficult or impossible to solve. There is no template to follow when tackling a wicked problem, although history may provide a guide. In the words of Mark Sheehan a senior lecturer at Victoria University, “knowing about the past is the business of informed citizens”.

Maria Montessori spoke in the same way with the world in turmoil in 1948. She saw the importance of adolescents understanding the government and said that, “It is necessary that the human personality should be prepared for the unforeseen, not only for the conditions that can be anticipated by prudence and foresight … but should develop at the same time the power of adapting itself quickly and easily”. This is the aim of the social sciences, to guide the adolescent and give them the tools to adapt to the world around them.

Most social problems such as political instability, poverty, disease and famine are wicked because they cannot be ‘fixed’. These wicked problems can be seen as happening somewhere else. Whilst the ākonga at Wā Ora are in the lucky position to help others, there are wicked problems that they will face as they leave school – climate change, global youth unemployment, growing social inequality and battling multinational and voter suppression, just to name a few.

And this is also important in the workforce. Managers around the world, when quizzed, said the main thing they were looking for in a prospective employee was someone who can solve unstructured problems with strong interpersonal skills.

We can help ākonga learn how to be designers of change. Though they may not fix the problems, they can indeed mitigate the negative consequences of these problems. In a time when the pursuit of happiness is such a fundamental part of people’s expectations of the world, learning about the problems of the world and engaging in how to help should be a fundamental part of education. We need to empower ākonga to ask difficult questions and to find ways to develop skills to become social change makers.