Freedom, Responsibility and Social Development

By Jackie Kirk – Kauri Teacher – Primary

In a Montessori primary environment there are certain freedoms given to the child which must be balanced with responsibility. The amount of responsibility that the child has, determines the amount of freedom that can be given to them. In other words, the more responsible a child is, the more freedom they will have.  The teacher assists the child in being accountable for not only their own learning, but for their social interactions within the community, which in turn aids each child in his/her own ‘self-construction.’ “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”  Maria Montessori

Some essential tools used in the primary class to assist freedom and responsibility are the child’s personal work journal, regular meetings (conferences) between each child and the teacher and societal expectations.

The work journal is a written account of how the child spends their day. The journal is not a place to plan work ahead of time or write down feelings. It is simply a responsible monitoring of the lessons and freely chosen work that the child participates in daily. This includes the date, the name of the piece of work/lesson, and the start and finish time. The child using their very best handwriting skills, can add their own individual artistic flare to beautify their journal and include details, so that they may recall what they did at a later date.

Another tool used to assist with freedom and responsibility is conferencing. This is a formal meeting between the child and teacher, ideally weekly. Older and extremely responsible children may meet less often. It is a time for the teacher and the child to look over their work journal and take a close look at how the time is being used and to share finished and unfinished work. These meetings enable the following questions to be explored: Is the child responsible for the freedom given to him/her? Is the work of expected quality? Has the child explored all areas of the environment or just a favourite? These meetings allow the opportunity for the teacher to be prepared to offer supportive guidance to enable the child to think of alternative solutions, improvements and suggestions to be responsible for their education. Whatever is discussed during these meetings must be followed up on in the future.  If the teacher neglects to follow up, the child does not have a clear responsibility check on their freedoms.

The final tool is societal (Ministry of Education) expectations and are talked about with children and incorporated into conferences for the child to consider when looking at what lessons they would like /need to have.

The teacher is responsible for using these tools in order for the child to be able to explore the universe while fostering freedom, responsibility and social development.

Lucky and Unlucky Behaviours

By Jan Gaffney – Principal

Last term, while I was on sabbatical, I went to the states and attended two international conferences and visited schools. I was looking at established high schools mainly and what they were doing to ensure their programme fitted the needs of the students and stayed true to Montessori philosophy. More on that later.

The first conference I attended was in Austin, Texas and was the NAMTA adolescent colloquium where high school teachers from all over get together once a year to discuss what is happening. This was an amazing conference and joined with the AMI refresher, so there were teachers of all ages there. There were close to 1000 attendees all up and we joined together for the key note each day before going off to our own workshops.

The first keynote was Dr Ross Greene. His talk was fascinating and worth sharing in my opinion. Dr Greene isn’t a Montessorian, but what he said reverberated with me and with the other Montessorians in the room.

His talk started with us all agreeing that children want to do well. Then he told us that while many people thought children did well if they wanted to, his research and that of others, proved that children did well when they were able to.

He then talked to us of some children having lucky behaviours and others having unlucky behaviours.  He said both of these behaviours were designed to tell us that the children weren’t able to do what was asked, but the difference was that some children showed us this in a more socially acceptable way than others, leading to the terms ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ behaviours.

He described lucky behaviours as crying, raising a hand, whining (though I didn’t necessarily agree with that one), complaining, sulking, withdrawing, asking for help, etc. Unlucky behaviours were described as hitting, biting, screaming, swearing, etc.

And then he said that both sets of behaviours were designed to tell us the same thing – that the child couldn’t do what was being asked of them and they needed help in order to do so.

He said that if we could reframe the behaviour in our own minds to be, “That child is unlucky in that he or she can’t show us what she needs in order to succeed”, then maybe we could be more empathetic and collaborate with them to help them build the skills to do so next time. He said that the problem was not that the children didn’t want to meet our expectations, but that they couldn’t. And then he topped it all off by saying, if the children couldn’t meet our expectations, then we needed to change our expectations and help them gain the skills so that they could meet them.

Profound words and ones I really enjoyed hearing. If anyone wants to find our more, he has a website where he goes into much more detail than I have room for here. I’ll end though on the fact that this fits in so very well with Montessori philosophy, where we are supposed to take a child as they are and help them move on from there. Easier to do with the academic subjects – consider how much help we give to a struggling reader or writer – but harder to do with behaviour because of all the societal expectations. Harder to do perhaps, but just as important, if we are to help each child meet his or her full potential!

“Help me to Help Myself”

By Tara Israelson –Nikau Teacher, Preschool

During our recent MANZ conference, Montessori kaiako (teachers) from all over Aotearoa were welcomed by tamariki (children) from Montessori schools around Wellington.  Wā Ora was represented by both preschool and primary children and it was lovely listening to their sweet voices.  The song that the preschoolers sang was “Help me to Help Myself”, a song written by Mary Coffey, a local teacher.   I thought I would elaborate on its message here with you.

Dr. Montessori, through her years of tireless observation, came to the conclusion that children are innately driven towards work that helps to develop their bodies and minds.  They are constantly observing and absorbing the world around them and are eager to act in and on their environments without interference.

Parents of Montessori children will often hear kaiako (teachers)  talk about “work” in our learning stories and our informal chats about your child’s day at school.  As adults we may resist that word, as to us, “work” is a kind of toil – something we would rather get out of.  According to Dr. Montessori adults have two laws governing their relationship with work:  division of labour and maximum gain with minimal effort.  Basically we want to be efficient and share our load so we aren’t working so hard.

The child has a vastly different approach, because a child’s “work” is, of course, to construct him or herself.  For this reason children do not wish to “divide their labour.”  You may have experienced this as a parent when you reach out to help and they angrily say, “No!  I can do it!”  These young children also do not strive for efficiency, as their need to develop their body and their character outweighs getting the job done.

They cannot however, in all reality, do everything for themselves.  We, the adults in their world, have a minor role to play.  We are responsible for providing children with the tools to act in, and on, their environments independently, with as much time for repetition as needed.  This is the message in the song “Help me to Help Myself”.  We must be there to give the little lessons:  how to dress, how to wash, how to tidy, but we must refrain from doing the work of dressing, washing and tidying.  Dr. Montessori said, “every useless aid arrests development,” meaning that we need to think twice before rescuing a child when we perceive a need for assistance.

During the day in our Montessori classrooms there are many moments when the kaiako (teachers) could step in and help, but we resist!  We watch as water is spilled and then cleaned up, or a child struggles to put his shirt on, but keeps at it until he’s dressed.  We sit and wait for many minutes for a child to put on her own shoes before heading outside to work.

As the adults in their world, we must remember that our role is to offer the tools and our patience, so that the child is free to do the important work of creating him or herself.