The Joy of learning!
In the earliest years of the twentieth century, the Italian physicist Maria Montessori started to develop an educational philosophy, core to which was to give children the freedom and the support to learn in accordance with their own time and personalities, rather than being restrained within a rigid educational structure. She worked to create educational settings designed to maximise learning stimulation and to enable strong three-way communication between child, practitioner and their school environment. The success of this approach is clear, as today there are over twenty thousand Montessori settings worldwide.
As an assistant teacher, I understand that the role of every early year’s practitioner is to see that each child is unique, to give a child the self-confidence to learn, to show that learning is an exciting adventure and that it opens the door to many opportunities in life. I still (just) remember my days as a 4yr old child in a Montessori school. I remember the joy I had going to school, the excitement that each day would be a day of discovery and of learning new things. I still have some pictures of those days and I certainly seemed to be a happy child there. I believe that the joy of learning and the skills I was encouraged to learn at that time have stayed with me helping me progress through the English and Cypriot education systems and onto University graduation.
And so, I have come full circle. I am now an assistant teacher in the Sapphires classroom at the Little Gems Montessori nursery here in Nicosia. I am trying to instil the same joy of learning into today’s children that has been so important to me. The Montessori method of learning encourages children to think and express themselves in a confident way. It does not admonish, make children scared to express opinions, risk damaging the confidence of the child. Classroom language and behaviours are very important. Montessori language is always positive and encouraging, respecting the personality of each child. Words are chosen carefully to embolden children to be independent and intrinsically motivated critical thinkers.
When speaking to a child in class, I endeavour to get on the same level as them so helping the child feel connected, safe and important. I’ve seen evidence that when adults get on the same level as the child, the child can place more importance on what is said to them. The words or phrases I personally use in the classroom are used in a way that focuses on process over product, which is a key tenet of the Montessori pedagogy. “I saw you working hard,” “in our class, we..,” “do not disturb them, they are concentrating” and “I noticed you being kind to..” are all phrases used in our classroom environment. Take the phrase “I saw you working so hard” for example. We avoid telling the children “good work” and instead we comment on how they concentrated for a long time, or how they wrote so carefully. Praising the child’s hard work, rather than his results, helps instil a growth mindset where they believe they can improve through their own efforts. Correct phrasing also helps guide children on classroom rules and desired behaviours. There is no need for the negativity of barking commands. We say “in our class, we..” so children are aware that they are part of a greater group rather than just an individual. It seems to work. Most of the time. Classroom language has to be moderated slightly when teaching toddlers. Shorter phrases are more suitable. The teaching principles are the same though.
There is no doubt that working alongside children can be challenging at times. Things don’t always go to plan. Children like adults have good days and bad days, being influenced by events around them. Staying calm and acting as an anchor for the child, rather than getting swept away into their emotions is important for resolving any situation that arises. As an example, one child struggled to understand the concept of personal space of other children. This child would constantly try and interrupt other children as they were concentrating on their learning materials, take other children’s toys and claim it as their own, leaving these other children very unhappy and the child in question confused by the unhappiness in class. Peer conflict is a common occurrence that includes the normal developmental processes of learning to disagree, to give and take, to learn how to be a friend and to cooperate with others. It just has to be understood and managed. We have peacekeeping procedures which recognise that just as children have maths problems to solve, they will also have social problems to solve, which are an equally important parts of learning. Through the use of positive language and gentle message repetition, the child started to understand that even though socialising with other children was not discouraged, every child had their own work space which should be respected by other children. We used tools such as: mood pictures, which represented different emotions, to show that children can feel a certain emotion when being disrupted; phrases such as “this child is concentrating, let’s not distract them,”; softly guiding the child to choose another activity close to but not disruptive to the other children. It worked as it usually does and we had a happy class again.
So, do I see a 4-year-old me in Little Gems? I see happy children who are confident, want to learn and communicate well with their peers. Maybe I do then in some. The Montessori system has demonstrated for over a century that it equips children with the tools to serve them for the rest of their lives. I see results of this every day. It feels good to be a part of it.
Lavinia is a qualified Early Years practitioner who joined our team this school year. It has been wonderful to see how she has fully embraced the Montessori system and approach to early years education.
Self-reflections are something all of us at Little Gems do regularly and by doing so we maintain high standards and quality of provision in our settings. Being a reflective practitioner is key to quality improvement as it helps identify strengths and weaknesses of different aspects of the setting. It involves thinking about how you currently work and evaluating what you do in order to improve one’s practice. Get in touch if you would like to learn more about being a reflective practitioner and critical friend: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy New Year to all of you from all of us!