This article is about a study involving children between the ages of 8 – 16, but imagine if this kind of environment is provided to children as infants all the way through their teen years? The description of the environment offered to the children in this study very closely resembles a Montessori prepared environment. Of course guidance is given and teaching is offered, but it’s based on the interests of the child, not the lesson plans of the teacher.
Teacher Tom gets it right when he says that children’s play is also rigorous learning, but with joy! I don’t see my job as having to teach toddlers and preschoolers letters, numbers, math, reading, etc. I provide materials for them to learn these things through activities of their choosing. I have never sat my 3 year old down to purposely teach him his letters and numbers but I am observing that he has learned them through play. We count jumps on the trampoline, or vehicles that he has lined up near a railroad crossing on his wooden train tracks. He makes letters of the alphabet with his magnet toys and blocks, and tells me the letters he knows when we are out in the car seeing buildings or trucks with big signs. He learns about measurement and physics through play in the sandbox, and he learns about balance when he creates obstacle courses either for himself to climb on, or for him to drive his toy cars and trucks around on them. Learning is fun for children and always a joy, for them and for me, when they learn through play!
As an early childhood care provider I do feel pressure to be sure that children are learning every day. At the same time, I know that learning happens every day, no matter if it can be measured in any significant way or not, and no matter whether there are high quality interactions and materials provided or not. But obviously, with quality interactions, conversations, and developmentally appropriate books and materials provided, quality learning does happen every day, again, even though it cannot be quantitatively measured. This is what I strive to provide, and to achieve, as a “measure” of my own success, so to speak.
At such a young age (under 6 years), and arguably at any age, learning should really not be so measured. So I agree, we should stop trying to “make” everything educational, and just let “education” happen naturally through freedom of exploration and play. Children naturally want to learn about their world. Let’s be sure to let that happen naturally and not squander their natural love of learning by trying to “force” learning.
I am a teacher by profession, and I agree with Teacher Tom here, who shares his wisdom (and wisdom from Mister Rogers) about the volunteer parents caring for the children in his cooperative preschool. Give children freedom to learn through playing and trust the love and care that thoughtful parents bestow on all of the children in their own child’s community. This is a strong foundation for a lifetime love of learning.
“It’s love and play that form the foundation of a good education. Without that, the rest is worse than useless, it’s meaningless.”
Parents who understand this concept don’t expect their infants and toddlers to bring home great artistic products, displays, reports, etc. on a daily basis. It’s difficult, because parents want to know what their child is doing every day in their absence, and what he is accomplishing in the long term, even and especially, at this young age. But, at this young age, children need space and opportunity to explore and create, with guidance on the “how”, and not on any kind of finished product to show off daily accomplishments. Those kinds of “accomplishments” may not be serving them much purpose in the long run, despite their popularity in childcare centers throughout the U. S.
In the right environment, your child is making huge accomplishments every day, especially if there is not a finished product to show off at the end of every day, week, or even month. Often the “finished product” is a result of how well your child follows teacher-centered instructions, not an indication of his knowledge or his physical and creative developmental acquisitions. Without the finished product being forced to completion and display, the child is learning about the process of artistic materials such as why markers, crayons, paint, and pencils, work the way they do. And how the paper fits in to the process of using those materials. He is learning about physics when he is continuously rolling cars and trucks around the environment.
It takes a lot of faith and trust in your childcare provider, and some reasonable amount of daily, weekly, and monthly communication on their observations of your child’s development, even if it’s to say, “This week he was just continuing on with driving the cars and trucks around the floor, table, couch and windowsill!” Your child is gathering useful life skills from these activities, be it processing something relatable such as what he sees in traffic, or something much more abstract such as developing reasoning skills, or concentration.
Maria Montessori calls this the “Secret of Childhood” – we may not understand what is the driving force behind the child’s seemingly obsessive needs to repeat seemingly trivial actions, but when there is concentration present, it should not be disturbed, regardless of the adult’s understanding of it. The child is learning – regardless of our ability to put a label or a finished product on the end of the task in order to have a product to show to prove that learning has possibly or apparently occurred.
The way this mother discusses the topic of toddlers “sharing” toys, is very much in line with the Montessori philosophy of “sharing” and the same that I strive to practice in my in-home daycare. Toddlers don’t really have a concept of “other” as far as feelings or emotions. They just aren’t capable of that right now. So, a toddler who doesn’t share is a “normal” toddler! It’s really fruitless to try to get toddlers to understand the concept of sharing this early in their development. And let’s face it – the idea of “sharing” in and of itself is not so simple. I talk to the children about their frustrations when another child takes something or has something that is desired, and help them to begin to understand, but demanding that your toddler (or someone else’s) “share” could be really damaging to them emotionally, rather than helpful or polite.
Yes, this sounds like a really harsh thing to say, but when you think about it, you will realize that your child needs every opportunity to practice and ultimately “learn” how to concentrate, if concentration is an important skill that you want your child to develop. And I’m sure that this is an important skill that you wish for your child to develop. It is for me.
(I’m putting “learn” in quotes only because it’s not generally something children actually learn how to do…it is natural for them to do, and generally “taught” out of them because of adult interference. Albeit in the name of love, wanting your child to develop important skills, and thinking you are helping…
With this concept in mind, understand what Teacher Tom (and myself) are trying to say… give your child some space to learn on his own, to just “be” and explore his world. Yes, if your child approaches you with an object, a book, a picture, or pointing to something in the environment that is interesting to him – talk to him about it! And by all means, be the instigator of interesting experiences. Count the numbers, name the colors, etc. But when your child is “in his own world” exploring his surroundings, don’t interrupt with stupid questions.
“Be Careful: and “Pay Attention” are statements that become redundant statements akin to “good job” or “well done” as far as children are concerned. They need specifics, and more importantly, they need to learn how to make progress without outside judgement.
Try expressing yourself in these ways towards toward your children instead, and see how their confidence and independence grows as a result.
Children are naturally curious. Our job as teachers is to keep their love for learning alive.
“His task is rather to keep alive the sacred spark of wonder and to fan the flame that already glows. His problem is to protect the spirit of inquiry, to keep it from becoming blasé from overexcitement, wooden from routine, fossilized through dogmatic instruction, or dissipated by random exercise upon trivial things.”
This is an important read, and essential philosophy for the way I run my in-home school. It breaks my heart to see any of the children in my care cry out in frustration or pain, or for any reason at all! But ultimately, my goal is for them to learn how to resolve conflicts on their own. Partly, it is how I will teach them and give them the language they can use to do this. But, in equal part is how they will decide and learn how to handle conflicts on their own. Given the opportunity, (really, multiple opportunities) children will surprise you on their ability to handle situations on their own, and be better for it, rather than looking for you to solve all of their conflicts. It’s not heartless to give them a chance to do this on their own!