Every child in the class is busy — fantastic! This is the perfect time for me to continue exploring a fresh concept with my emergent student. As I sit and embrace the special moment we share I continue to keep an observant eye over the class. After a moment, six fellow classmates have grouped and selected over a dozen different materials and stacked them onto one mat.
From a distance, I am ready to intervene to discover what is happening. Before I do this, I take a moment to pause and reflect. Here I am about to interrupt a group of happy children, who have simply selected materials with intention to flex their creativity. Shouldn’t I be celebrating their independence? And yet, here I am... hesitant. “They didn’t mention this in the book” I think. Decision time. I wait and observe. The children remain busy for over an hour, deep concentration transpiring and projecting onto the other children in the class; orderly constructions are being created, beautiful discussions are taking place, social cohesion is at its best. As I continue to observe, a child approaches me and invites me to join their play. They have built a railway station, with connected tracks, balance beams, bridges, parks and schools.
Let's reflect! Look at this beautiful play experience I nearly prevented due to my apprehension of lack of order and control - "they didn't describe it like this in the modules!". It has served as a reminder to this day that play is important to the children’s holistic development. It contributes and facilitates to vital developmental learning; Psychologically, Physically, Cognitively, Socially and Culturally. It is fundamental, especially to children within the first six years of life, and provides necessary opportunity to develop positively. This notion has now been recognised worldwide and it is incorporated in the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. Therefore, it is our jobs, both as parents and early year’s practitioners to ensure that the children receive opportunity to all experiences, which subsequently has been recognised to enable children to investigate, explore, refine and practice important skills needed for optimum development. Many of us, at some point observe the children to meet obstacles within their play. Whether it’s boisterous play, messy play, disputes about sharing or objects representation. The question that often arises however is, ‘do we allow children to play free of limitations, to learn through the consequences of those actions?’ or in turn, ‘do we intervene, and protect children from negative experiences which are exposing them to what we might be recognised as undesirable characteristics or harm’.
Of course, in an ideal world, children would engage in peaceful play, where the notion of sharing, taking turns, care and respect for others and toys, awareness of personal space and careful rough and tumble play would emerge. However, these imperative physical, intellectual, language, social and emotional responses are not concepts which children are first born with and are acquired through experiences, and refined through the way they were handled. So, if the child is limited in experiences, how can we expect the child to begin to understand of the ‘right and wrong’, or to take into the account the consequences of our own actions? The children running around playing 'bad guys' and 'good guys' are discovering what it feels like to be the bad guy or the good guy, thus gaining an understanding that we simply cannot teach -- a result which we take away if we interfere too much during the play.
For play to be most beneficial to the child it should be self-chosen, personal, meaningful, fun or serious, excluding pressure and rules to allow the child to gain and feel control. Allocation in time allows room for repetition in order to maximise full potential through exploration and manipulation. This enables the opportunity to ‘de-centre’ where the child begins to discover life from another point of view. With opportunity to engage, concentrate and wallow in play can subsequently lead to mastery within creative, imaginative and physical skills. This in turn also provides experiences for the child to rehearse and re-create present or future expressions and future lives in a safe environment. The child can express him/herself freely and also gain perspective or understanding of the relationships, events, and people they are surrounded by, thus enabling the child to make sense of the world around him/her.
So, the big question! How do we provide children with the opportunity to learn these vital skills which contribute to socially acceptable characteristics, without interfering in the child’s play which could consequently hinder independence and willingness to explore and engage with others and the environment? Do we leave the child to be free to deal with these events unaccompanied? Do we leave the child to experience these events then discipline bad behaviour? Do we intervene before those behaviours initiate? Or can we find a balance? Maria Montessori proposed that discipline and obedience are attained through a natural process linked to the child’s psychological and physical maturation. In order for this to be attained, children require opportunity and freedom to learn through their environment independently with a set of rules within the environment that can help develop the maturity and self discipline from within.
I myself as a Montessori Practitioner recognise that children are constantly developing their feelings and conscience. I try to support each child’s individual needs within their play by observing them incessantly, something we discuss and study a lot throughout our education process. Through this I endeavour to recognise the obstacles that arise to ensure that the child has opportunities to receive the knowledge and understanding of why certain behaviours are not acceptable, and then I can redirect the child into a productive play.
It is important to remember that children need to feel safe and free to explore their environment, to feel confident and to take risks, to learn through their mistakes and to challenge their own perceptions. We wish for children to have natural responses where they recognise the emotions of others and of their own, and to feel good about the decisions they have made. We want the children to have the opportunity to be independent beings with a high self esteem and confidence where they want to engage in all that the world has to offer.
We do not hope for the children to simply not do things because they know that is not what we would like, or to develop the “sorry” reflex. We hope for the children gain understanding through discussions of the events that arise to ‘feel’ and ‘recognise’ what has happened and why.
Therefore, we can try to support children within their play by firstly observing them and ensuring that they are safe from emotional and physical harm. And secondly, provide them with the freedom to learn through their experiences. Play is fundamental, a natural instinct and a behavioural process which allows children to adapt and learn necessary skills and understanding. A gentle reminder is great for those joining or observing play to remember that through play, children develop understanding, organisation of thought, expression, refinement of movement and language in both fun and serious manners through either structured or free flow experiences. So, how can we help our children during these imperative learning experiences? Support them within their play. Observe, take part and enjoy this interpersonal moment with the child, and yet remember that these experiences are the child’s way of making sense of the world. Be conscious of what is productive and be ready to provide the child with the knowledge to assist with their own understanding and redirect when necessary.
Charlotte is the Lead Teacher of the Emerald classroom at Little Gems Montessori Nursery Nicosia, and the Health and Safety Coordinator throughout the school
If you'd like to read more about what Charlotte has written in her October blog, feel free to add one or more of these titles to your library.
Early Education (2012) Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) London: Early Education
Macleod-Brudenell, I, & Kay J. (2008, Second Ed) Advanced Early Years for Foundation Degrees & Level 4/5 Harlow: Heinmann
Montessori, M. (1966) The Secret of Childhood New York: Ballentine