He’s going to get sooooo wet and muddy! I thought. My son – like many preschoolers – loves to play with water. If the garden hose was out, he was guaranteed to see it and want to spray water all over the place.
So – I stopped and thought about it. What could we do together with water that would be more productive than spraying water everywhere? I showed him how to water the flowers carefully, with the water turned on low. I gave him some dishes to wash and showed him how to use the soap to suds them up and make bubbles, and then rinse them off. We practice washing socks and muddy pants by hand. He continues to practice these activities regularly. Now, it must be noted, we do occasionally have a water fight! But the main point here is that our children show us what they need to learn with their interests.
Maria Montessori, creator of the Montessori educational philosophy, started out as a doctor. When she was put in charge of a low-income area children’s program in Italy in the early 1900s – one of the things she started doing was observe the children. Rather than thinking that she was going to fill them with knowledge, she watched what they did and what they enjoyed, and created activities for them based on this. She believed every child had the power to discover knowledge and understand how things work. The job of the teacher, she believed, was to guide the children and help them in this discovery.
Children naturally want to learn. Sometimes what is learning for them can seem like a nuisance for us – like learning about gravity and the properties of water by getting wet and making a mess. We can help direct their learning by noticing these interests and providing opportunities for them to practice.
Consider the amazing things children learn largely on their own. Babies begin to learn to speak just by hearing their parents. A similar process can happen when learning to read and write. This is why Montessori’s reading and writing materials focus on activities young children can often do on their own and involve movement (young children are almost always moving!). She believed young children were naturally interested in language, and would enjoy activities that would help them learn to read and write.
Her carefully created materials are the base of Nell. Nell focuses on activities and games for children to explore in their development of language skills such as reading and writing. As children work through Nell, they are guided to try more and more difficult activities while still incorporating freedom. This freedom is expressed in the choices children have within Nell. Having choices keeps children’s interest-levels high and ensures that they are the directors of their learning.
Remember, next time your child does something strange, annoying or funny…she might just be showing you how she’s learning today. Try to discover what the interest is and help her in her learning process.