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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Let your child take his turn

I want to welcome my guest Colin Wee today! Since I do not have a background in Montessori, I invited Colin to share his experiences with us. Colin is going to provide those of you, like me, who are curious about the Montessori approach a brief snapshot of the Montessori learning process.

Let your child take his turn
Snapshot of the Montessori Learning Process for Parents and Young Children
By Colin Wee

I found a wonderful parent-run Montessori playgroup when my son was 18 mo. As a first time parent and house husband, I didn’t feel I would fit in with just any tea-and-biscuits mother’s group. This Montessori playgroup had structure, challenged me, helped me learn about parenting and made me feel like I belonged.

When it was my daughter’s turn a few years later, and with my wife back working full time, I assumed the role of Coordinator for the very same playgroup. The playgroup then was set in a beautiful heritage building in one of Perth’s leafy suburbs in Western Australia. My role was to manage the welfare of 60 family members and ensure the effective usage of thousands of dollars worth of educational equipment. Despite the four session leaders and a fantastic team of volunteers, it quickly proved to be a full-time job.

The core premise of the Montessori Method and its systematic use of learning tools or what we call ‘jobs,’ is to build independence and a love of learning within a child. New parents providing direction in the use of a Montessori jobs are told to...
      a) sit down with their child
      b) ask the child to wait by ‘putting their hands on their laps’
      c) demonstrate the job
      d) allow their child to explore the job until they are totally satisfied
      e) return the job to the shelf

Often, this part of the orientation session is met with extreme scepticism. Parents with young children quickly betray the assumption their children are incapable of understanding and following such ‘mature’ instructions. I remember how dubious I myself felt, sitting at that orientation session, being first told of what was expected of me.

Yet every term, as Coordinator, I not only have to face down new parents and their doubts, but I have maybe a minute or so to sell our basic formula. With few tricks up my sleeve, I have to bring each consecutive parent and child member under the Montessori spell.

There is of course no real secret to what I do. Parent and child come to us with their own unwritten and constantly developing ‘rules of play’. These rules guide how they relate to familiar environment stimuli. When they come to the playgroup however, they find themselves in a foreign situation. The parent is probably expecting to slowly understand how we do things and perhaps may consider adopting our system in time. Children however are surprisingly more ready to absorb new rules and our processes as we share them.

I believe this natural receptiveness in the child is augmented by Montessori’s child-centric approach. The Montessori Method treats children as individuals bestowed the greatest respect. This respect puts the child in control of his environment, and allows the child to make decisions in response to what is observed.

In our playgroup:

  • Parent and child are equal members; I address each politely and differentially. I try to have the same ‘eye-contact’ time for both. I also attempt to bring myself down to the child’s eye level.
  • I speak clearly, softly, and confidently. I use minimal hand gestures to help emphasize my instructions. I state simply what needs to be done.
  • I let the child know when I am demonstrating a job, it is ‘my turn.’ After my turn, theirs will follow.
  • When it is the child member’s ‘turn’ to explore the facets of the job, I do not provide distraction by verbal or ‘side-line’ commentary.
  • The child’s satisfaction exploring the job will not be overshadowed by praise. Praise is kept to a minimum, preferable not provided at all, or else is focused on the job processes rather than as a running commentary of ‘how good’ the child is.
  • Ensuring all parties stick to the respective this ‘your turn’ and ‘my turn’ arrangement creates a level of trust. This formula can then hold true when attempting to replicate such a learning environment elsewhere.
As a parent, it is natural to feel the need to do ‘something’ for one’s child. To guide, to provide feedback, to chastise, to control the child’s every transaction with his environment. When I was sitting there silently, merely watching my son without providing the parental verbage, it felt quite unnatural. Yet, I soon realised this wasn’t about me. It was an opportunity for him to explore, to fit in. I have taken my turn, and now it is his.

This is the shelf containing 'Mathematics' jobs for our 18mo to 3yo members. Some of the jobs (for e.g. those dealing with fractions) are similar to Montessori equipment used by older kids in middle and upper primary classes.

Parents volunteer to help rotate jobs on the shelves before term starts. Jobs on the bottom shelf are the easiest and are appropriate for our youngest members. As the child member progresses, they would in turn reach for jobs on higher shelves.

There are a wide range of jobs that cater for various subjects. This is an example of a Practical Life job that helps a child develop hand eye coordination by scooping balls from a tray to another dish

Colin's son William aged 3 posing with teacher on the first day at school. Notice the same three level shelf system we also use at the playgroup. Despite being quite a shy young toddler, Will had no problem fitting in and was comfortable from the get go.

Colin and son William aged 2yo taken in 2003 on William's first trip to Margaret River. Notice the nappy bag and the house husband attire.

Related Links from SuperParents:
No Smacking Discipline by Colin Wee

About Colin Wee
Colin has spent the last six years at the board or committee-level of child-care and educational institutions in Perth Western Australia. Constantly motivated to care for his young family of two children, he has looked into alternative educational choices and constantly tries to expose his children to varied interesting and worldly experiences.

SuperParents is a natural progression of the various roles he has taken on in the past, and Colin finds himself excited with building a community supporting parents and caregivers in Western Australia.
Colin with wife Emmeline and his two children
Colin with wife Emmeline and his two children
Please feel free to leave Colin your comments or questions!


Teacher Tom said...

Thanks for this post! I've picked up bits and pieces of the Montessori method over the years, but this helped pull some of those idea together for me.

SharaPCS said...

There are so many aspects of Montessori teaching/learning that I LOVE. Thanks for the post!

Teacher Tom said...

I'm glad I came back to look at the photos!

SharaPCS said...

The photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing them with us!

Ayn Colsh said...

Great post! Helps me understand a little more about the Montessori philosophy. I'm glad I came back again to view the pictures!

Colin Wee said...

Thank you all for your kind words. First of, please let me thank Deborah for allowing me to share my passion for the Montessori Method.

The profound deference each child receives in a Montessori environment would in fact be what I would have liked for myself, that is if I had my life to live over. Given that I can't turn back time, having my children in Montessori is the next best thing.

From my meager exposure to Montessori, I see a wonderful platform that allows educators to transmit knowledge and promote a value system to students. It gives you a really warm feeling when you know your child is in such a nurturing environment.

I'm glad you all have enjoyed the photos I had to dig out of cold storage.

Once again, thank you for reading.



Anonymous said...

What a super post! I'm very interested in this method after observing it in Sweden. Thank you for this insight!

Regency Kindergarten said...

In my country, sense of sharing about montessori is still low. Until I found your post I've never been so happy, there's no secret about montessori anymore. Looking forward for another montessori post :)

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

I will be sure to invite Colin back to share more with us!

Elise said...

I am very interested in philosophies that respect difference and individuality. I am also an advocate for classrooms and/or learning environments where students have choice and the teachers are flexible in their approach. As a former teacher, I was very fortunate to teach in a school where multi age classrooms were the norm and we were encouraged to ensure that our classrooms were set up in a way where students were given lots of choices. I loved the fact that not all students were doing the same thing at the same time.

There are several aspects of the Montessori approach that are very appealing to me.

Colin's playgroup sounds like a fabulous experience for all involved.

Noah said...

HA! This is so funny - I just finished writing a paper on Montessori! So many connections...
There are a lot of really interesting things about Montessori's method that give wonderful food for thought. As a non-Montessorian, I feel like a really interesting contribution she offered was her re-conceptualization of work. Her ideas were heavily criticized, as she emphasized children being engaged in meaningful, hands-on experiences that involved the senses (this she termed work) instead of spending their energy on unguided activity that dispersed energy (this she termed play). She had a very practical philosophy that many thought was too scientific an approach for young children. I mean, I'm no expert at all, but it's interesting to think about what play is, and what we mean when we talk about it.
Thanks Colin and Deborah for sharing!

Colin Wee said...

I'm reflecting on the responses by Elise and Noah, and remembering when my wife and I went from asking about 'school' and 'play' to asking about 'work.'

Mummy and Daddy go to work, therefore you go to work too. ;-)

This then led us to ask about "what work did you do today, and what jobs did you learn."

There is some powerful associative context which justifies the many hours the children spend in school. The 'stuff' they do is important to them, so we need to use the same respect that we ourselves expect when someone asks us about what work we do ... or are doing.

Juxtapose that with my own 15 year career in information technology, and how my own mother to this day would comment on how I "play computer." Given that I never play games, do you know how much that annoys me?


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