“Where has my sweet child gone?”

By Robin Wilkins– Pūriri teacher–primary

Parents often ask this question after their child has moved to primary. They feel despondent and wonder where their adorable, well-mannered child has gone. Be assured, this is perfectly natural; the child has entered a new stage of development, one that is loud, messy and rude–what Montessori called the ‘age of rudeness’.

Dr. Montessori identified four major planes of development through which humans grow and mature. She observed common developmental characteristics within roughly six-year increments, which she referred to as the planes of development.

As the first plane child approaches three, they are ready for a prepared environment that serves as a bridge to the outside world. Learning materials are for individual use and encourage the child to sensorially explore the real world. At approximately six however, startling changes begin to happen indicating a new direction in their development, as they move towards the second plane.

At this stage, children become intensely social. Lessons are now given in groups, whereas in preschool, they were one-on-one for the most part, and group work is the norm. The classroom becomes a dynamic, vibrant, sometimes chaotic and messy environment through which the children move.

They develop a new physical strength and stability giving them great stamina and energy. They are adventuresome, ‘rough and tough’ and they enjoy overcoming obstacles and facing challenges.

Imagination develops, as does the reasoning mind and the ability to think abstractly. They begin to question how and why things happen and begin to wrestle with moral questions and making judgements. This is the age that the concept of justice is born. They not only want to discern just from unjust acts, but they want to fight injustice whenever they become aware of it. ‘Tattling’ is a result of this and they will continually report on the behaviour of other children even though they may not be doing the right thing themselves.

Behavioural changes are also evident with the second plane child becoming more extroverted–they want to be with other children and be like them. They play social games and establish groups with new rules. These often involve secret languages, passwords, hidden treasures, hideouts and bizarre rituals.

Kids will be mean to other kids because they are establishing a place in this new social grouping which is so key at this age. At this age they are still somewhat ego-centric, seeing everything in terms of how someone else hurt or embarrassed them; rarely do they see their own part in it. When talking through issues that arise, their stories are often told with glaring omissions which only come to light with deeper investigations.

Every day we help ākonga navigate their social journey and support them in making decisions that positively impact their social relationships.

Expectations and Consistency

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa teacher

When discussing a child’s behaviour at school with a parent I often hear the comment “Why doesn’t my child do that at home?”–‘that’ being anything like: follow instructions, put things away when they are finished with them, or get along well with others.

The two words that I always go back to are expectation and consistency.

Our akomanga are set up to build our class cultures. For a large group of people to be together day after day, learning and getting on, there has to be some boundaries. We keep these to a minimum and they are mostly based on the respect of others. These then become the expectations that we all hold each other to. For example, when an activity is finished with, it is replaced in the correct place just as it was found before moving onto another activity. This is out of respect for others that may want to use that activity and to preserve the order of the class.

However, having expectations is only half of it – you then have to consistently hold each other to these expectations. Simple right?

Of course this is not as easy as it sounds, especially outside the bubble that is school.  At kura we have a whole class full of people to uphold these behaviours; it doesn’t just come down to one or two people (especially in preschool where our four-year-old ‘police officers’ remind everyone of the ‘rules’!). We also have the luxury of time–at home one day you may have the time to follow through on the expectation that your child will tidy up their breakfast mess, but the next morning you forgo that for the sake of getting to school on time. Decide ahead of time what the consequences will be when this happens, which is then consistently applied. Perhaps it is there after school for them to tidy, perhaps they get up earlier the next morning so that they have the time needed.

However, the more you set boundaries around the behaviours that you expect and then consistently stick to these (with yourself as the role model), the quicker these expectations will become habits. Start small with realistic expectations, involving your child in these decisions if age appropriate, help to set up the forming behaviours and then build from there.

Another common question concerning consistency I get from parents is, “What can I do at home to be consistent with what my child is doing at school?”

I’m going to plug our parent education nights and fortnightly blogs here! Interact with your child’s teacher and with the school community. Give feedback on areas that you would like more information on; whether that be literacy, preparing for transitions, behaviour, Montessori philosophy… The information we share via parent evenings, blogs, newsletters is going to be more relevant to you if it is about topics that you are interested in finding out more about!

Me korero ano – let’s talk more!

A change of occupation

By Richard Goodyear – Kawakawa teacher

A key part of our curriculum in Kawakawa is called ‘occupations’. I’m sure you’ve heard bits and bobs about this over the years or you may have children in the adolescent programme already so know quite a bit.

Occupations is one of the main pillars of our programme. It is both a collection of traditional subjects (science, technology, design, communication and more) and a mandate for a way of working (going out to meet professionals, seeing projects in society and inviting experts in to help us, and working on hands-on projects that serve the community).

Currently, the students get a lot of choice about what projects they join but once in that group, often the autonomy for the project sits largely with the adult guide. That model is not so different from what many mainstream adolescent programmes are doing around the country.

We are going to change that next year and at the same time expand the purpose of our projects. Projects will exist within themes that are both current and future-focused in Aotearoa.

The first of those is kaitiakitanga, the notion of guardianship. As our society comes to grip with the impact we have had on the land, we know we are going to have to adopt economic activities that see the land, water and life thrive while the people also thrive. Kaitiakitanga projects will be focused on this and other related themes and be based on the high school site of course but branch out into the forests and streams on this side of the Hutt Valley.

Manaakitanga is another occupations overarching theme. This uniquely Māori concept encompasses hospitality, respect, caring for others, hosting and many other ideas. It will look a bit like growing food and serving people lunch, but it will be so much more. We might put a hangi down but before we can do that we will need to investigate the soil chemistry of our site (it used to be a plastics factory after all). We might make a pizza oven and explore the physics of insulation and heat first. Ākonga will have the opportunity to follow ideas of their own and ones worked out by their teachers.

And lastly, we will have a good old-fashioned zone for tinkering and creating. We are calling it ‘Maker Space’. It will evolve into something we can’t imagine yet but no doubt it will be a place to build, create, code, solder, print 3-D models, solve problems and so much more. It will be full of tools and will be a place to try weird and wonderful projects. Some of which will have a purpose, some of which may just be created. Just because. One of my hopes for ‘Maker Space’ one day is to create a plastics recycling factory (designs are online). But we’ll see.

Exciting times in Kawakawa.

The outdoor classroom

By Carolyn Bohm – Rātā teacher

Summer is here and as the days continue to lengthen and warm up, it’s a great time to think about active outdoor undertakings. Active time outdoors comes with a range of benefits for children (and adults) from increased physical health, to learning about the natural world, to gaining a sense of independence. Movement is critical to a child’s healthy growth and development. Spending time outdoors and moving helps children maintain healthy immune systems and decreases their chances of future problems with obesity and heart ailments. Further, physical activity increases children’s appetite at meal times due to the energy they burned off playing, walking, swimming or biking and helps them sleep better at night, tired from their physical adventures.

Taking children to the playground or a park is a great way to get them active as well as socializing with other children. When allowed to free play at the park, children learn to make new friends outside of a structured environment, how to navigate the dynamics of playing games in a group (which is much different than playing with just one other friend on a playdate), and how to successfully interact with people who have different temperaments, lifestyles and past experiences. Free play also allows children to develop leadership skills and a co-operative spirit that encourages bonding.

Time spent outdoors free playing, exploring, or engaging in science inquiries encourages a sense of independence in children as well. When at the park or playground with their peers, children can experience the opportunity to do things how they want and be in control of what happens. Outdoor play time fills kids with a sense of energy that encourages them to push themselves in exploration and discovery.

Experiences outdoors are perfect for giving children a better understanding of the world around them, whether an understanding of botany, zoology, geology, physics or astronomy. Nature’s constantly changing essence helps children hone observation skills around the cycles of life and terrain that leave the world around them simultaneously in constant flux, but also reassuringly familiar. Positive experiences with and appreciation for nature in childhood helps children develop a stronger sense of environmental awareness. Treks, planting trees, gardening, fruit picking, going to nature exhibitions, or visiting botanical gardens are all great ways of combining physical activity with time spent learning outdoors. If you are looking to do more structured outdoor science exploration there are plenty of books and websites that give outdoor science activities (and explanations for those activities) that use materials you either might have at home already, or could easily pick up from the store. Many of the science explorations I have done in the classroom have come from science books I picked up from the library, some of the my favourites being the “Science Lab for Kids” series.

In the Montessori classroom we strive to make learning a fun, engaging activity that encourages a love of exploration in children. Learning, therefore, is not a chore or something to need a break from, but an exciting endeavour for all times of the year.

The prepared environment

By Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal

The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.     Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

There is a lot of jargon associated with Montessori education and one such phrase is “The Prepared Environment.”  Here are some of the considerations that are given to providing an environment that allows tamariki to engage with it.

Firstly, it is an environment that supports the freedom to move and explore.  Tamariki choose an activity and take it to where they want to use it. It may be inside or outside. Once a child has been given a lesson they are free to explore the activity again and again until it is no longer calling to them or the skill has been mastered.

The mixed age group is a feature of a Montessori classroom. Tamariki are able to learn from their peers at their own pace and through their observation of how things operate within the class.  The older tamariki are the role models and naturally provide support for the younger ones, as they too were supported when they first started.

The classroom is aesthetically beautiful with care and thought going into every item that is placed within the space.  Natural materials are preferred such as wood, metal, glass, cotton as opposed to plastic. Everything has a place and activities are returned to the correct position on a shelf, complete and ready for the next person.

All the furniture is child-sized.  Shelving within the environment is at a height which allows tamariki to independently use items without adult support.

Utensils are fit for purpose i.e. if tamariki cut up fruit they use a knife with a sharp edge.  Plates and glasses break if they are dropped which is an opportunity to learn how to carefully clean up.

There is only one of each material. If tamariki choose to do an activity already in use, they have to wait until it is back on the shelf. This naturally supports the concept of patience.

Materials are complete.  If a piece of equipment is broken or there are pieces missing, then it is removed from the shelf until it is fixed or parts replaced.  Many of the Montessori materials in a preschool class have a “control of error” – the clue to the child that either it has been completed correctly or something isn’t quite right, thus supporting the repetition of the activity until the correct solution is found.

The outdoor environment is also prepared using the same principles.  It is also a place to observe nature and take part in the practical activities associated with a garden.

Individually, you may see aspects of what has been discussed in other preschool environments but it is all of these aspects collectively that make the prepared environment a key part of Montessori philosophy.

Montessori reflections with a parent hat on!

By Amy Johnson – Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

I was thinking the other day about how many of us wear multiple hats in this community. Many of us are parents/teachers /PTA members/administrators/Board members/class parents and/or relief staff here at Wā Ora. It is interesting to see this community and this system of education from lots of different points of view.

Before I became a parent, I was a directress in a Montessori environment for eight years. I was leading parent education evenings, on the board of directors and was head of school for seven of those years. I gave a lot of guidance and advice about children’s needs and phases of development, long before I had children of my own. I am sometimes asked if having my own children has changed the advice I give parents? I have found that actually, my explanations and advice have changed very little. My understanding of how challenging these lofty goals are in the real world however, has changed a lot!

In harmony with the Montessori philosophy, we strive to give our children time and opportunity to pursue their interests and passions, to try and fail, and try again without judgement. We provide clear, consistent, developmentally-appropriate boundaries that allow them to explore and we do our best to be in the moment with them as they stretch themselves and discover wonders. All these opportunities are incredible gifts to both our children and ourselves. Before I had children, I was practising these things while I spent hours in an environment that was specifically (and scientifically) designed with these purposes in mind. Let me say that again – our classrooms are specifically (and scientifically) designed with these purposes in mind! These special environments have been modified and honed over the last 110 years to serve exactly the developmental stage your child is at right now. Incredible, right?

But the rest of the world? Outside the Montessori environment? Yeah, not so much.

Ever wonder why it sometimes feels so difficult to parent at the grocery store or in the car or the mall? None of those places were designed with children in mind. I have learned as a parent to continue to strive for all of these ‘ideals’, but also to keep in mind that this is not ALWAYS possible. And that is OK.

Another corner stone of Montessori philosophy is something called “friendliness with error” and it is exactly that; a feeling of warmth and friendliness when things don’t quite work out as we would like. A forgiveness that allows us to learn from the not-ideal times or attempts at something and lets us learn from the experience and try again. And again!

So to make a long answer short, I often reflect that my advice didn’t really change after I became a parent, but my understanding of the monumental and yet enjoyable task that these ideas present, became much, much deeper.

The rode code and the paradox of freedom

By Thomas McGrath – Deputy Principal High School

Perhaps one of the most sought after badges of independence for any adolescent is that of the New Zealand Driver’s Licence. Why is this?

On the surface, there is the prestige and personal fulfilment in being able to own (or borrow) a car. A car is a status symbol for many, and the status that any vehicle represents to the adolescent is that of the independent person. When one can make one’s own way around, it means that a vital stage of independence and trust has been reached (not to mention an opportunity for parents to finally relinquish their part-time ‘taxi-driver’ roles.) Vehicular mobility allows for a new and unprecedented level of ‘going out’. When we examine this further however, it provides us some valuable insights into what adolescents need, because it models many aspects of the well prepared environment.

Firstly, consider the paradox of the road system; an intricate network of tarmac and paint, signs and symbols that allows you to travel wherever and whenever you please (within reason). The rigid form of the road and its rules actually create a structure in which to allow safe freedom of movement. It can be common for some observers in Montessori classes to say, “That is so strictly controlled – where is the freedom”. While others can say, “That is so free – the children can do what they want.” In reality both of these statements are true. Through a process of lessons, children are able to engage in the careful structure of the environment with increasing levels of independence and with natural consequences for error and misdemeanour.

The privilege of road access is withheld until the ripe old age of sixteen to ensure that the task is undertaken by a conscious and mature young adult in a series of stages. The first stage being the learner – the ability to engage in the world with limited capacity with an experienced driver. Secondly, the restricted driver – the ability to engage alone, but with conditions in the environment. And finally the fully licensed driver that may use the prepared environment of the road as required within the agreed road rules and may even begin to teach learner drivers.

Curiously the ‘road code’is a sought after study text for adolescents. These beings whom we often associate with being blasé or dismissive of rules actually take quite a fascination with the road code. But it is for the simple reason that a fine understanding of the road rules gives a fast road to freedom. Many might consider driving to be a dangerous pastime, but this by its very nature is what makes it so effective as a system; there are very real and immediate consequences for mistakes and errors. So, to the adolescent, it is an attractive model of freedom and independence and what they require.

Is your adolescent driving you crazy? Don’t worry, one day they will drive themselves.