Why look at History?

By Joel Batson–Tōtara Teacher

In these tumultuous times I thought it apt for us to take a glimpse at why we look at the area of history.  Funnily enough, it was an area that either wasn’t taught that well when I was a kid, or I just didn’t really pay much attention to it.  Iwonder how it was for you growing up?  Either way, I certainly didn’t learn very many terribly deep lessons from history when I was young.  And that’s really the crux of the reason why.

In the Montessori classroom we look into history — to be specific, human history, in order to learn from what happened in the past and, hopefully, help children to think about how they might apply those lessons to their actions in the future. As the old adage goes: if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.

The way we look at history is inherent in the word itself. We use stories. We essentially look at the story of humanity.  We encourage children to use their imaginations to transport themselves to other times, places and locations in order to imagine walking in the shoes of other humans, just like themselves, as they sought to meet their fundamental needs in a myriad of different ways.

Examples could include telling stories about how the first cities came together in Ancient Sumer; how it seemed that the growing of a surplus of crops in the fertile soil of the Euphrates river valley encouraged greater build-up of people living together; and how this method of living was so very different to most other people living at that time who mostly led hunter-gatherer lifestyles, living hand to mouth most months.

We might also look at the stupendous architecture of the Egyptian civilisation and what it seems was needed for those people to put together their systems of worship, governance and building.  We look at what it may have been like each year as the Nile river flooded its banks and the fields then had to be re-marked out with a clever system of maths that gave the Egyptians extremely accurate corners. So accurate, that the same system seems to have been used to build the pyramids themselves.

From these sorts of stories, the emphasis is really on how it was that these humans met their needs. What we mainly find is that for these humans to have achieved such wonders as building the pyramids, organising themselves into civilisations, figuring out planting fruitful crops or finding food in harsh conditions, the thing they most often had to have figured out to achieve all of those amazing feats is cooperation.  Just how do 2, 3, 4 and more different people get along with each other effectively in order to achieve a common goal that ends up being good for everyone in the picture?

Perfection or Perfectionism

By Tania Gaffney–Deputy Principal Primary

The Montessori concept of Human Tendencies may be something you have read about before.  There are a few different lists of tendencies that Montessorians have come up with over the years, but they are all fairly similar.  I want to talk about one human tendency from that list, which is perfection, or we could call it exactness or precision.  This is the tendency to perfect ourselves by striving for accuracy, precision and the elimination of mistakes.

When you’re striving for accuracy in an activity, there is really only one way to get there and that is by repetition, which is really just another word for practice.  Sometimes we come across a child that is averse to repetition or practice, and in fact is averse to learning new things or going outside of their comfort zone. The reasons behind this can be in case they make a mistake and fail and so seem in their own minds to be no good at it.  Instead of striving for perfection or accuracy these children, who are often called perfectionists, struggle with wanting to be right first time, with no mistakes.

If you think about learning something new, how many of us could say that we could do ‘it’ right the first time, with no mistakes.  We might have been ‘quite good’ at something first off, but it was probably because we had some sort of background in it already, e.g. if you’re a violin player then you can probably have a go at the base guitar and be fairly good, but you still won’t be fantastic until you’ve had some practice.

When ākonga are perfectionists and refuse to participate or have a go at something then they are closing themselves off from the possibilities of the world. As adults I think it’s our job to try and open up the world for those children again.  There are some ways that we can help with this, for example, modelling the way we speak about activities: “Look how far you’ve come! Remember what that was like when you first started doing it?”

Model trying something new and failing and being okay with it; use the words, “I’ll have to practise that to get better”.  Another way of supporting practice is by encouraging independence.  Don’t do everything for the child as they then get the idea that they aren’t capable and need an adult to come alongside them and help every step of the way.

Talk regularly over dinner about mistakes you’ve made — encourage the whole family to join in and share, saying what you learned from it or what your plan is for next time, to show that the journey of learning isn’t over for that thing yet. Eventually your child will join in and share their own examples.

This may be a chance for some parents to reflect on their own Human Tendencies, as I’ve heard parents of ‘perfectionist’ children say it’s something that they have struggled with themselves, and may still do.

Teamwork and sport

By Sarah Jane Lambie and Emma Brazil – Co-Sports Coordinators

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African Proverb

Teamwork, collaboration and the importance of helping each other succeed is a feature of Montessori education — in all aspects of our daily school life. Our classrooms are multi-age, providing the setting for older students to learn how to be role models and to help the younger ones. As older students model kindness and leadership, teach skills and inspire younger students, so the sense of community deepens as students work together to all be the best they can be.

Accordingly, our school spaces could be described as

…incubators for teamwork, filled with students working together to support, encourage and question each other, learning much more than just the academics they are working on. They learn to have ideas accepted, improved upon and maybe even rejected. Each time they work together, they are learning the soft skills needed to succeed in school and in life (https://montessorimessage.net/2018/10/04/teamwork/).

In the school environment at Wā Ora, we work to the notion it is teamwork, not competition, which is what it takes to succeed in life, including on the sports field.

However, when it comes to sport, competition is an inevitable component. Our teachers and coaches support students to keep this in perspective by showing them ways to use the competitive aspect of sports to manage the paradox of wanting to distinguish themselves as individuals while at the same time wanting to be a valued, contributing and liked part of the whole… a good team player.

From this, students learn that participating in team sport binds and connects people —in friendship, skill, enjoyment and the thrill of a united struggle that is (hopefully!) not life threatening.

Dr. Montessori (1949) wrote that sports “…challenge us to acquire a new skill … and this feeling of enhancing our abilities is the real core of our delight in the game.” (p. 180).

Playing in a team also requires the virtues of courage, persistence, perseverance and patience. Being part of a sports team brings frustrations and challenges with all of these. But, by sticking with the team, students have opportunities to develop and practice the valuable life skills associated with these virtues along with the value of applying them to other aspects of their lives… always remembering to be gracious in victory and in defeat.

People do not stand alone; our species is just not made that way. We are all part of teams, small and large. Throughout level 4 lockdown, we worked together as a ‘team of 5 million’ to rid our country of the Covid-19 virus. During this time, we were separated from all but immediate whānau having time to reflect on the things we took for granted before coronavirus.  We learned that humans need to be together. This was particularly evident in the cancellation of sport and sporting events, one of the main spheres where kiwis come together to participate in person, in the same event, at the same time.

Thanks to our efforts, we are one of the few countries able to participate safely in sport and mass gatherings again. Let’s support each other to get involved as players, coaches, managers or spectators, and revel in the joy of coming together in sport.

The journey towards independence

By Dannielle King – Playgroup Facilitator – Preschool

As is usual at the start of a new term we have farewelled some tamariki from playgroup as they turn 3 and transition into preschool; and we have also welcomed new whānau just beginning their time at Wā Ora. Often the parents of our new tamariki comment about the work they see the nearly 3-year-olds doing; they have never imagined a 2-year-old preparing kai for morning tea, setting a place at the table, pouring a glass of water, serving themselves and cleaning up afterwards. I always explain that it is a learning process, that independence is not something that comes about in an instant, but is a journey that begins from the moment of birth. Maria Montessori (1948) wrote that “The essence of independence is to able to do something for one’s self”. We can help our tamariki learn to be independent in many small actions that will lead towards their independence as a grown human being.

We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, … to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All of this is part of education for independence. (Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, 1948, p. 58)
As parents, we need to give some thought and effort to educating for independence. In most cases it is quicker and easier for us to do things for our children than to teach or allow the time for tamariki to do it themselves. I’m sure everyone has heard the Montessori quote “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” — I would perhaps replace “never” with “as often as possible” though!
In the first few years this seems like a constant effort, as physical capabilities grow so quickly, along with will power. I’m sure we can all remember hearing “me do it!” even if it is many years since we had a 2-year-old. Every moment that you spend teaching, helping or waiting, results in increased confidence and independence. This is not just for younger ones though. A 2-year-old cutting a banana, a 7-year-old packing their own lunchbox, a 10-year-old making lunch for the family, or a teenager cooking dinner; all are steps towards the young adult who leaves home with the confidence that they will be able to look after themselves.