How do we ‘follow the child’?

By Amy Johnson — Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

As we are settling into term 4 and I sit in my classroom observing the tamariki, I am often struck by the joy they have, just to be back together again. Back into the swing of routine, back into the community of learners that makes up our akomanga (classroom), exploring each day and what it brings. I can see and feel across our preschool that many tamariki feel this way. They love being together and exploring indoors and out, with their peers and hoa (friends). It is lovely to see them settling into their environment and beginning to encourage each other and take on challenges. Yes, sometimes they will return to that well-loved activity, the one they mastered long ago but that still provides comfort of routine or the feel-good- glow of known mastery. But it is amazing to see how often children choose to take on new tasks and challenge themselves with difficult and complex activities, sometimes ones they have just been shown and are still struggling to figure out. 

It is our goal as Montessori kaiako to introduce activities and challenges to the children at just the right moment – ideally finding that “sweet spot” where the child finds enough success and has built most the appropriate skills to take on a new task, but also tempts them to explore and attempt an activity that brings something new to practice, to fail and to improve. When we get this balance right, we find the most concentration, the most focus, the most interest and the most satisfaction for the tamaiti. And because every child has a different set of skills, interests and personalities, we are able (and in fact, it is necessary) to personalise a set of lessons and introductions to different activities, in different orders and ages for each and every child in our community. This is often a new concept for ‘education’ when you might compare your experiences in school to those of your child. He/she does not get a ‘lesson’ or an introduction to an activity because of their age, but rather interest, ability and willingness to practice the skills that must come before. This is part of what Dr. Montessori means when she talks about ‘following the child’. It also embodies the underlying message that one’s education is ultimately reliant on you and your own efforts, not something someone else can do or build for you. 

How do we know which lessons to give when, you might ask? And the answer is simple and complex all at the same time. We observe. We observe closely and from a distance. We listen, and watch, and get to know each child and their personal strategies and personalities. We notice and take note of strengths and challenges, of interests and avoidances. We watch social interactions and individual trials and triumphs. We get to know each and every personality that makes up our learning community, and we allow space and time for each one to develop in at their own pace and in their own style. I feel lucky to have a job where I get to know and understand your children in this way, as do many of my colleagues. And of course we get to watch them grow and change as they develop more mastery and understanding of themselves and the world around them.  What a special place Wā Ora is!