Our connection to the outdoors

By Rick Bellagh – Kauri Teacher, Primary

At the end of my AMI Montessori training in Portland, Oregon last year,  all of us newly trained teachers sat down with our trainer, Elise Huneke Stone, to try to get some insights into the nuts and bolts of how to actually implement this Montessori theory in the classroom.  As we worked ourselves up into a frenzy of questions, I remember Elise smiling and telling us not to worry.  “If all else fails, remember there are two magic spells you always have at your fingertips:  Sing with the children, and take them outside.”  After a year of practice here, I can confidently say that she was right on!

With our Cosmic Curriculum, we tell the story of the coming of life and show the Timeline of Life.  We tell the children that diversity is the result of Life figuring out better ways of meeting its needs and that humans too have benefitted from this process – we have a special brain, a special hand, and a special kind of love that extends to others of our species.

I presented the First Timeline of Humans last week, which invites the children to imagine human life before the invention of all our modern trappings.  They were absolutely inspired by this conversation.  The human body became what it is, not to drive cars and use iPads, but rather to move in the environment, climb trees, hunt, move rocks, and dig for roots.

In this modern day and age, children are often completely shielded from the exact activities that their bodies are designed for – they spend their days at school with books, pencils and computers, and are all too quickly entranced by smart phones and other screen time.  But deep inside their cells, these children are looking for a connection to their Cosmic Task, and they find a resonance that they don’t intellectually understand out in the bush where they can climb and dig and explore.

Dr. Montessori writes that, “Education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiment upon the environment.”

As teachers, we are tasked with creating an environment where the children can feel secure to explore their world.  We go to great lengths to do this, and yet just outside our classroom, away from all of our human construction, exists nature’s perfectly equipped classroom for which the children’s bodies are sublimely prepared.  Their joy in the outdoors is a primal one.

When I first felt that primal connection of being out in nature and knowing that my body was doing what it was designed to do, I also knew that whenever this modern world overwhelmed me with its confusion, frustration, or stress, I could return to the joy of the river and the trees, and sing my heart back to peace.

This is a gift our children deserve.

Freedom and Discipline

By Kerry Pratchett – Rewarewa Head Teacher

The concepts of freedom and discipline, while on the surface quite different, are in fact very intertwined according to Montessori philosophy. Dr Montessori states that freedom and discipline are like two sides of the same coin, as we cannot have one without the other.   As an explanatory note: when Dr Montessori refers to ‘discipline’, she is actually referring to ‘self-discipline’.

If we work backwards from the goal of having self-discipline, we can ask: What does a child needs to develop this quality?

Montessori believes a child needs to be able to work actively and independently within his environment as a foundation for developing self-discipline.

Montessori refers to ‘active’ discipline, an idea which is very closely linked with independence.  Dr Montessori firmly believed that children learn through movement and doing an activity themselves, so that if the child is unable to do something for himself, then his learning and development may not be as embedded as it would have been if he was able to learn through movement and experience.

Often I find that I have to remind myself to ‘never do for the child that which they can do’, as a child’s development can be hindered if an adult helps unnecessarily.  This is because the child needs to make mistakes in order to learn.  Dr Montessori discusses schools where the desks are fixed into place and if a child bumps into them, they do not move. “…([S]ilence and immobility of this type actually keep a child from learning how to move about with ease and grace.”  (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, p.48).  If the environment is conducive, then optimal development can occur.  This is why we have breakable objects in a Montessori class and the children move around freely; the environment self corrects the child.  The child becomes independent and in turn satisfies their inner directives.

How then do we enable a child to move about actively and to be independent? It is by allowing the child to have freedom.

There are two types of freedom.  The first is complete freedom where the child is able to do as he/she likes.  The second type is the freedom that Dr Montessori referred to as ‘the development of the child’s inner directives’ – the freedom that each child requires in each stage of development.  The child needs to make choices to assist with being independent and the educator’s role is to assist the child in making the right choices.

This freedom does not stretch to enabling a child to do as he/she likes.  Through careful observation, the teacher will offer the child as much freedom as he/she can manage and help the child to make the right decisions.  “A child’s liberty should have as its limit in the interest of the group to which he belongs” (Montessori, Discovery of the Child, p.49/50).

How do you support your child on their journey towards self-discipline?