The Age of Rudeness – The Primary Years

By Tania Gaffney –  Deputy Principal Primary

Kia Ora Koutou,

Often in Primary School the question is asked by parents – “What has happened to my sweet pre-schooler?” Montessori often referred to the primary years as the age of rudeness.

In Montessori speak, we often talk about the planes of development. Pre-school is the first plane and primary is the second plane. It can take many months for ākonga to transition from one to another. For a very long time they can have a foot in both camps. The physical changes are easier to see e.g. coarser hair, teeth falling out, and the face thinning out, but the social, emotional, and intellectual changes can be harder to spot.

Tamariki are transitioning from the absorbent mind to the reasoning mind; from thinking about self to beginning to think about others; from thinking about the here and now to being able to think about the past, the future, or any situation that is not concrete or sensorial.

When children come into the primary this will be the first time that they are interacting with others with this newly forming reasoning mind (although when they first start, they are still in the first plane). They are developing this ability at varying speeds. Primary ākonga are attracted to the group; they have a need to be with others that are outside of the family now. This is where we need to understand that tamariki are learning the skills to go with this need, just as they are learning the skills to read or write and it can take a long time – in fact, it takes a lifetime and this is just the beginning, therefore mistakes will be made and feelings will be hurt.

In primary we often talk about the social and emotional curriculum and remind ourselves that this is a ‘big work’ for the child. Some of the internal struggles of the child at this age might be – What do I do if someone annoys me? What if I want to annoy someone else, what could happen? I know that if I say this to that child this will happen – should I do that? How do I react if someone touches my stuff? How do I ask to play or work with someone? What do I do or say if they say no or yes? What if someone else asks me to play or work with them and I don’t want to – what do I do? If I am doing a shared project how do we split the work – there are just a million interactions to think about over a day.

For progress in this area to be made we need to provide the environment where children can practice these social skills again and again. Although there is the occasional time for this, if we are always telling them what to do e.g. deciding the work groups, dividing the work, managing their time, then they are never able to practice to improve. It is our job as the adult to help them navigate their way through this time of building their social skills and being able to interact with one another in civil ways.

What Makes an Expert

By David Starshaw–Mathematics Teacher–High School

How does someone become an expert? This is a driving question for teachers as we guide our students from being relative novices to relative experts in a specific area. But it’s also relevant for all of us in any area of our lives where we try to become more proficient. How do I win at this game? How can I run faster? How can I be more confident with public speaking?

Many of us intuitively understand that practice is a key ingredient of expertise. You have to practise to get better. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect” (or alternatively, “practice makes better” or “practice makes permanent”).

In 1973, William Chase and Herbert Simon performed an experiment where a chessboard was set up with around 25 pieces positioned as they might be during a game. They asked a chess master and an amateur to look at the chessboard, cover it up, and recreate the setup of the pieces on another chessboard. They could go back and peak at the original chessboard as many times as they needed to. Unsurprisingly, the master took far fewer looks than the amateur – 4 compared to 8. But then the researchers rearranged the pieces in such a way that would never occur in a real game. This time, the master was no better than the amateur.

The masters weren’t better at chess because they had a better memory in general, higher IQ, or “natural talent.” Instead, they had seen lots and lots and lots of chess games. Experts have experienced a staggeringly wide variety of previous attempts and have learned what to do when similar situations happen in the future. These can be thought of as if-then statements. If I see my rook cornered, then I move my pawns forward. If I see a quadratic equation, then factorising it will likely be helpful. If I fumble a line in my speech, then going back a sentence helps me to recover. These if-then statements become totally automatic for the expert – like a reflex. They don’t need to consciously think about them which frees up their working memory for thinking about the big picture. I really like one of Niels Bohr’s quotes in which he says “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”

So when people tell me they are “good at maths” or “bad at maths”, what I hear is that they either have or haven’t built up a good library of these if-then automatic reflexes. And just like any reflex, it can be improved with focused practice. Once you have a lot of these automated, everything starts to fall into place as you travel further along the road from relative novice to relative expert in a specific area.

Work versus Play

By Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal

If you think of work as being part of a tamaiti’s natural development, then the word “work” takes on a different meaning.  When a tamaiti is offered an environment that is prepared for their developmental needs and they are given the freedom to choose activities that they are interested in then both words, “work” and “play” become redundant. You will often hear the word “work” used in a Montessori classroom to describe the activities that tamariki do.  As adults we tend to think of “work” in a negative way. We spend a lot of time at work and then we come home and there is more work to do!   The word “work” has a connotation of something that requires physical and/or mental effort and can be difficult at times.  Why would we want to subject our tamariki to “work” when they should be playing?  In her book, Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents, page 17, Montessori-Pierson she says.  “Grown-ups think of play as a purposeless occupation that keeps children happy and out of mischief, but actually when children are left to play by themselves very little of their activity is purposeless.”

Their natural inclination to be active and doing something takes over and they aren’t making the distinction between work and play.

“This development takes place because the child has been able to work and to be in direct contact with reality.  It does not come from anything we teach the child; it is a definite, constructive process, a natural phenomenon that results when the child is given the chance to make his own efforts and do his own work without intermediaries.  We think the child is happiest when he is playing; but the truth is that the child is happiest when he is working.” (Education and Peace, page 78 Clio Press.)

We cannot know what inner processes are being formed with activity and what internal needs are being met. We can only see the external manifestation of their activity.

We see tamariki developing skills through using practical life activities as well as all the hands-on materials and activities.  We see concentration developing as they spend greater amounts of time on activities that have many steps.  There is a calmness in the environment when each tamaiti is going about their own work and absorbed in what they are doing.

“What motivates the child is thus not the goal set for him by the adult, but his own drive for self-perfection.  The child perfects himself through contact with reality, through activity that absorbs all his attention.” (Education and Peace pg 79 Clio Press.)

Naturally there is a place for play during a child’s day and the social interaction that is often associated with play has benefits to a tamaiti’s development as well.  The holistic approach we take to a tamaiti’s overall development is always at the forefront of our minds.  Perhaps the words work and play are interchangeable!