Screens – The Technological Double-Edged Sword

By Jan Gaffney – Principal

Kia ora Koutou whānau

There is so much to take into account when working with children and such a lot of conflicting advice that comes out in increasingly large amounts. This is particularly the case with screen time. I read recently that from quite a young age, children were regularly watching screens for up to seven hours a day. This includes TVs, tablets, phones and more, and includes those times when children are in shops/waiting rooms where there is usually a big screen conveniently located. Also this number of 7 hours only counts time spent ‘out of school’ so for those children in today’s typical schools where each child has their own device, that number could well increase.

For the longest time, The American Paediatrics society recommended no screen time for children under two. While they maintain this as the ideal, they have however also acknowledged that it is almost impossible to avoid exposing young children to screens of one sort or another in today’s world, so instead are now saying to ensure that the total amount of exposure is monitored and have conceded that things such as skyping with Nanna do have other benefits so perhaps could be included.

Increasingly, we are hearing about devices (lap tops, tablets, phones) becoming synonymous with modern school environments and best practice in teaching and learning. After having read more and seen some in action, I remain convinced that our approach here at Wā Ora of limiting screen time while children are young is the right one.

The literature more and more tells us how young children’s brains are actually changing because of over-exposure to screens; in fact recently I read about how adults’ brains are changing as well. One study found that increasing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with ADHD, even though they have had no signs of this as children. Teenagers’ brains are also affected, especially those who are addicted to being on-line and gaming. Studies have shown loss and shrinkage in grey matter and damage to the area that controls empathy.

It’s a worry when you see groups of children/teens/adults out together but instead of looking at each other, they are staring at their screens or interspersing their conversation with texts and on-line behaviour. It is increasingly rare to see people out and about without their phone handy.

The problem is that screens can be very useful tools and help us in many ways. So then, what can we do to put limits in place – for ourselves and for our children – to stop the over-use and limit the addiction, that we adults, just as much as the children, experience?

We can simply start by keeping technology out of the bedroom – the blue light from the screen interrupts sleep, so instead, charge your phone in the living room and get an old fashioned alarm clock for your bedside. We can have designated screen-free times; meals would be a great time for this, as would ‘family fun nights’ or whatever you do as a family to be together. As adults we should model for our children (and I find this one really hard) not looking at our screens in the morning before school/work and not looking at them for an hour or so before bed time.  All simple strategies that can help to pull back over-use.

You may also have other techniques that you use – it would be great to share these on our face book page. I’d love to hear what you do!

The Emotional Curriculum

By Robin Wilkins – Puriri Teacher, Primary

In Montessori, when we talk about the ‘prepared environment’ we are talking wider than just the equipment which is on the shelves. Ākonga want not only an environment to be enjoyed and mastered, but also one which will help establish the whole personality – moral, social and intellectual. The much needed emotional safety this environment provides is built upon support, consideration, mutual contribution, a sense of belonging, protection, acceptance, encouragement and understanding.

It is interesting to note that emotional safety and the ability to learn have been correlated in contemporary education and brain research. This research has shown that the emotional centre of the brain is so powerful that negative emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety automatically ‘downshift’ the brain to basic survival thinking. Under such stress the reasoning centre of the brain shuts down.

To create a desirable environment therefore, it is vitally important to put the study of relationships at the centre of the curriculum alongside the ‘core subjects’. In Montessori classrooms therefore, we have two curriculums – emotional and intellectual, each of equal importance; each balancing the other.

In the emotional curriculum the children are learning behaviour and self-management. While we all accept that children need to learn to read, to write and the processes of maths, it can be easy to forget that their knowing how to behave socially is not inherent, but also must be learned, therefore many lessons are given in class on grace and courtesy.

We also provide ākonga with new opportunities in which to learn ways to express themselves, listen to others and work interdependently so that they become primary contributors to the cohesiveness and vitality of the classroom. We help them to think about how their actions impact the class community. Role plays are powerful ways to step into another’s shoes and also offer ways of both expressing and listening from the heart.

There are numerous ways in which the classroom is an aid to the moral life of ākonga – their developing sense of right and wrong and their ability to act on their values and beliefs.  An important part in the development of their character is their growing awareness of their (and also of others’) developing integrity, ie, the inner part of them that drives their actions. Who is their true self when others aren’t looking?

Remembering the steps in any activity is difficult and needs to be practised many times. By giving children the opportunity to practise with the freedom to make mistakes, they will be able to undertake the hundreds of repetitions needed to master a skill.

And then, one beautiful day, they will arrive at a place where they have both the necessary experience and skills to manage themselves in situations of a social or moral nature – not by accident but through the safety of the prepared environment and lots of practice.

The Outdoor Environment in our Preschool

By Tara Israelson –Nikau Teacher, Preschool

For many, the outdoors holds a special place.  The wide open spaces, the ability to get lost in nature, the many scientific discoveries to be made – these are all unique in the outdoors. I want to share with you how we are extending our Montessori vision into the outdoor environment in the preschool.

Years ago here at Wā Ora Montessori School, we made a conscious decision to do away with a traditional lunchtime recess and to rather have children be free to move between the indoors or outdoors as they felt the need.  As we made the shift to the ‘indoor/outdoor’ flow we began to notice a sense of calm come over both the tamariki (children) and the kaiako (teachers) as we began to find some purpose in our activity outside.

The space was changed to give way to more purposeful activities, often to assist with physical development.  We set up these activities like the ones inside, so that each activity met with a specific purpose.  Each activity was created to allow a beginning (the choice to engage), a middle (getting lost in activity) and an end (satisfaction and leaving the activity ready for the next person to use).

Since we have made this shift we have developed a productive garden that the tamariki are incredibly involved in.  How thrilling is it that a child who plants the carrots in December gets to harvest and then eat them in February?  We have introduced activities to care for animals, as well as activities to care for the space itself.  We have given the children space to just “be” outside.  We have searched our own childhood memories for games to teach the tamariki such as “Mother may I?” and “Duck, Duck, Goose.”  Sometimes they come up with their own games and we watch and learn from their enthusiasm and joy.

It is lovely to see the calm, satisfied nature of the children who use our outdoors every day. I believe that we can see this because we have decided to treat the outdoors with the same respect as we do the indoors.

When we, as parents, decided to send our children to a Montessori school it is likely that we loved seeing how peaceful, happy, kind and helpful the children were.  So often one of the comments made by observers is, “I can’t believe how peaceful it is and how independent the children are!”  This peace and independence is afforded by the prepared environment that the children manage and we are now seeing this evidence outside too!  It is due to the consistency that we are allowing now, as the children do not have to deal with two sets of expectations.

The child in the 3-6 classroom is desperate for order and needs to trust that the environment (and the people in it) will uphold the order.  I am pleased and honoured to say that with the dedication of the kaiako (teachers) and the trust from the community, we are well on our way to achieving our goal of a seamless indoor/outdoor flow.