Reflections from a Montessori classroom – Why we love working with children!
“Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission" - Maria Montessori
They might be little, but there is so much that we can all learn from our little gems. They are positive, enthusiastic and energetic. They make friends easily and are walking, talking sponges, ready to learn and absorb all that the world will throw at them. As we get older, we find it easy to lose contact with our inner child. The everyday grind of life often gets in the way of letting us genuinely enjoying ourselves. We can take ourselves too seriously and focus too heavily on perception over substance. Our little gems have much to remind us what's really important in life. They live life the way we wish we could -- and they keep us accountable for what we say and do.
As teachers we are privileged to be an exclusive witness to their innocent world and unique perspective on life. To mark the end of an unprecedented year for us all we thought we would share a glimpse into some of their more memorable and moving moments with our little gems and the lessons these moments have taught us along the way. Names have been protected to spare the innocent, but I am sure you may well recognise your own little gem.
As part of our Monday morning circle routine, we invite the children to share their weekend experiences. This inevitably involves unedited and sometimes undiplomatic recollections from the weekend. Having returned from a mini break away to Paphos, our little gem excitedly explained in emerging English what happened over the weekend: “My daddy, my daddy push mummy, and friend, in the pool, now mummy is so much happy!” For a quick dose of happiness it seems all that is required is an unplanned plunge in a pool.
We were discussing the value and concept of money and spontaneously decided to make our own Euros for the playhouse “coffee shop”. As we busied away minting money together, our Little Gem pipes up: “I am going to make more big money for mummy for the new house. She needs to have more money”, and then proceeded to add on more zeros at the end of the newly minted note!
Grace and courtesy play an important role in our classrooms and we act as guides and role models for the children. We always join the children at lunchtime to enjoy their company and model appropriate table manners. On one occasion, in our younger classroom, as the children sat around the table with their lunch in front of them waiting patiently, a teacher sits down to join them and starts to open her food container. Reaching over to stop her our little gem pipes up “Not now, we have to wait for everybody, before we eat!”
In our on going message of sustainability, we very much encourage a mend and make-do, reuse and repurpose attitude, with the children. If a book is torn or something gets broken we repair and mend without a second thought. One day as the children played with the much loved train set it was noticed that a more intricate piece of bridge track had broken and required some complex mending. As it is brought to the attention of the teacher our little gem comes over to ask for it to be fixed immediately as it is urgently needed!! When it is explained that it will need special glue and can’t be repaired right now our little gem declares knowledgeably, “I can fix it. You need Lock Tight. Lock Tight will fix it. Just use Lock Tight. Do you have Lock Tight?... I have it at my house. I can do it. But it is not safe for children. Children must not use it but it is okay. I know how to use it!”
We were using our mini iron to melt Hama beads. It stopped working. Exasperated the teacher explained that it was broken and we couldn't finish our project. “Don't be sad” said our little gem “My daddy will buy you a new one!”
One child explained to all in circle time that a favourite sweater was broken – it had a loose thread. Our little gem explained that mummy fixed it. The teacher enquired how it was fixed (as a possible teachable moment for mending and repairing!). The unexpected reply was “She ordered me another one online!”
Our little gems are not adverse to the use of technology. A group of friends were looking at the insect cards and approached their teacher to borrow the I-Pad so “We want to Google the rhinoceros beetle!”
Expressions of love and empathy are greatly encouraged in our classrooms. We usually enjoy some wonderful sentiments and expressions of love from the children for their families. As Mother’s day approached we made cards with the children. After they made their cards we encouraged them to either write themselves or express sentiments that they would like written in their card. One little gem is asked “What would you like to say to mummy in your card, what would she like to hear?” ”Happy Mothers Day. Have a beer!” was the earnest reply.
The children are always keenly observant of their surroundings and of each other. On arriving at school, two firm friends looked each other up and down and commented “Oh look you are wearing Puma. I have Puma too. Look, Puma, Puma and Puma” pointing to each other’s shoes, shorts and hat. A strong sense of fashion and style was appreciated when a little gem arrived at school and sashayed confidently into the classroom in a gorgeous new outfit “Ohhh….you look like a model today!” was the quick and observant comment from another little gem.
Forming bonds with the children plays a crucial role for any teacher. The children accept you as one of them and as a consequence we are often times invited to your house for a play-date. On one such occasion our little gem extended a well-thought-out invitation, almost impossible to refuse. “I am going to have a house with a pool and you will come to my house and we will sit on a sun-bed and me on the other one and then we will eat ice cream!” That really sounds like a great play-date!
Friendships and family are central to all children and are often the source of many of their discussions and stories. One of our little gem’s offered a touching definition of a sister during a discussion about a highly anticipated trip to the waterpark. “Who else is going with you?” asks the teacher. The little gem replied “Well, my sister, who IS my friend, and who lives with me.” Not all siblings are guaranteed such a lovely response. “My sister is so annoying... she is a baaaby! She cries alllll the time” “ My brother threw up last night... Yucks.” “My sister cries allll the night.” “My brother turns the light switch on and off so much.”
Children are presented to new information via a three-period-lesson. On one occasion a group of children are being presented to land and water forms. Following the presentation and discussion about islands, and that land surrounded by water is an island, the children were invited to give an example of an island. One little gem excitedly piped up, “I know an island!” Tell us, answers the teacher, hotly anticipating Cyprus to be the answer. “Coffee Island!” was the proud reply!
Montessori classrooms are filled with activities that teach the children a special skill and are designed to offer children opportunities to develop their own capabilities, whether it is learning how to dress themselves independently, transferring materials with a spoon or small tweezers to improve their pencil grip, communicate their needs effectively, problem solving with others and so much more. As teachers it is always so rewarding to see their emerging independence from the minute they arrive at school; hanging coats and bags on their name pegs, placing their outdoor shoes in the shoe box and putting their indoor shoes on then washing their hands before they enter the classroom.
During each work cycle the children work within one of the Montessori curriculum areas, like pouring, polishing, snipping and transferring. Some children need more assistance than others and we act as a guide to help them individually. Allowing children to make their own choices based on their intrinsic motivation sets a strong foundation for developing capable children. They are given opportunities to practice, review, or move forward based on their own interests and capabilities. It is always a very special moment to see a child become more and more self-confident. One little gem in particular refused to speak to teachers or classmates. Over the weeks observing the progress of our little gem’s development into becoming an independent and self-confident individual, was amazing. Weeks of hard work paid off finally when the little gem approached the teacher, proudly displaying a picture: “Look at my picture! It is an airplane“. It was such an important and special moment to finally see the results of keeping up the encouragement every single day!
"Despite the difficulties and challenges of the past year our little gems have been a valuable source of inspiration and energy to us all and no matter what life throws at us children always bring out the best in you and find a way to our hearts".
What we as teachers have learned is that every child is different and special. They always amaze you, and we never have the same day twice. We have learned that the best way to teach children is to first understand them. Children need to know that you respect and value them, which is the message they get when you take the time to talk with them, observe them, and learn about them as individuals and find out what makes each child tick. Despite the difficulties and challenges of the past year our little gems have been a valuable source of inspiration and energy to us all and no matter what life throws at us children always bring out the best in you and find a way to our hearts.
Jane Mylonas is Little Gems Operations Coordinator as well as a floater in our Nicosia setting. Jane has been with us from the very beginning of Little Gems in 2007, first as a mother and then as a practitioner. Laura Niehsen is one of our wonderful assistant teachers in Larnaca. She has just started her journey within the Montessori community and fits right in. Both Jane and Laura can see beyond the humour of children and understand its value as they are true listeners of children and have no problem of getting involved.