Integrity of Curriculum

Many schools consciously strive to build processes and structures that honour children and their learning. More often than not, however, curriculum is seen as separate. Loftier ideals are the backdrop against which we continue to teach ‘subjects’ or ‘content’.

Montessori education digresses from this oversight. What we present, is as important as how we present.

The curriculum itself embodies the nature of the child. Moreover, it is intuitive and flexible . It can align itself to broader developmental stages of children, as well as, to the infinite variety that comes with each individual. All children forge their own unique path through the curriculum.

The curriculum seeks to answer our children’s deepest questions. It ‘holds’ them as they construct an understanding of themselves, each other and their world.

For the young child the prepared environment, both psychological and physical, is pinnacle. This is the very basis from which children safely explore their physical and social environments. Walking this path with them, is a responsive and steadfast adult.

The curriculum for the young 3 to 6 child, supports their desire for physical independence, an understanding of their immediate experiences and nurtures their stirrings of social life.

It helps the young child gain in skill, which they go on to use as keys to navigate their world and build their very core. Often these keys may seem mundane and all too commonplace to adult eyes but in truth they are indeed golden keys.

Think of the typical scene in Montessori environments, of a young child grating a carrot. This act of grating a carrot is in fact an act of independence. The child can independently get themselves a snack whenever they sense their hunger. As their abilities expand they use these skills to build community. Think of the child grating a carrot and then sharing it with a peckish friend. The act of grating a carrot carries process, involvement, self direction, self reliance and opportunities for building community.

As children continue through their elementary years they become well-equipped with the epic tales we love to tell. Tales that satisfy their need to understand the very cosmos around them and find their spot within it. They realise that their story is connected to the very beginnings of time.

They learn that the carbon in their bones, is the carbon of stars and is the same carbon of beetle’s wings. The stories tell them how the gift of their backbone came from will-o-wisps of jelly floating in Cambrian seas. They find fellowship with Lucy and trace their home back to the savannahs of Africa. Each time a child writes a letter or numeral she understands that the marks made, carry a story of merchants, priests and kings.

Within these deep time stories children connect details of themselves and their explorations. They build an ever-widening picture of the universe and over time they see that everything is inter-connected.

The story they ultimately weave is indeed precious and will shape their view of themselves and the world.

The curriculum for the adolescent supports their quest for their place in wider society.

The adolescent works on the land, engages in economic activity and pursues creative activities that express his uniqueness. Importantly, the curriculum takes the adolescent out into society as an authentic contributor.

The curriculum balances their need to assert their individuality with a desire to belong to a community.

Our children’s work is indeed stupendous, inspired work … work that will eventually draw out the very best of being human.

The curriculum that scaffolds our work should be life affirming by aligning itself to the deepest nature of our children.

Anything less is unjustifiable.

Strange Times

In a flash we go from the familiar to knee deep in uncharted waters. No time to orient ourselves. Overnight our schools close; in a handful of days from there we are asked to gather our young and infirm, lock ourselves up and that now, to leave our homes for anything other than essentials, is a punishable offence. We are told we are fighting a war from our living rooms. Tragedy unfolds in this complex and troubled country. Thousands of people stranded between homelessness and starvation. Trips to the grocery store are laced with guilt.

And in a bizarre twist, 10 days of lockdown brings hornbills to Bombay and peacocks to the terraces of Bangalore. The night sky I look up at, is the night sky of my childhood.

As I try to navigate this strange new world, there is enough time to ponder about what led us here. COVID 19 has highlighted what scientists and sentinels have been hollering about. Our lifestyles have become unsustainable and out of touch. We need to make big changes at policy and systemic levels.

As an educator I look on as the teachers in many parts of the world, scramble to put learning online – an oxymoron for Montessorians, especially when it comes to younger children. Learning is child directed, hands-on and visceral.

In India we were 3 weeks away from our summer break. No need to take learning online. No need to do anything but put one foot in front of the other, no need to ….. and then the messages start coming. We need to ‘homeschool’, we need to get our children onto online classes, we need to keep them engaged, we need to …. We need to make big changes at systemic levels and education is one of them.

Let us look at learning. It is natural. It is something we humans cannot help but do. It is like breathing. But when we lose trust things start to close in. It is not news that we lost trust in our children to be natural, active learners a long time ago.

Children are learning ALL THE TIME. It might not be what we want them to learn, nor when and often, they do not even look like they are learning  and yet they are – ALL THE TIME.

These are strange days that are screaming that our way forward is through more heart, more independence, more quiet, more understanding of ourselves first, and then others too and mostly, truly knowing in our depths that EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.

What we do not need is more text books, more work sheets, more bells and timetables and grades and assessments and walking the straight and narrow and adjusting to a cookie cutter world of success and failure and aspiration for the material.

We need to make different choices.

Peace Education

Soon The Earth School founded by myself and my dear friend and partner Esme Davis, will be 10 years old!

It is time to take stock.

If we were to sum up the essence of The Earth School in 2 words it would be ‘peace education’. Children who are fully accepted for themselves and supported in their explorations find peace within them and go on to make up a peaceful society.

The proof is in the pudding though and given that the pudding is still baking, we turn our sights to small occurrences that reveal that peace education is at work. The ‘easy to miss’ occurrences that are sometimes sweet (And Oh! There is such sweetness with children) and often times occurrences that appear to be a 1000 miles away from peace, for our children oftentimes, practice making peace by engaging in conflict!

The first time a young child is able to articulate  how she is feeling to a guide, (I am feeling sad now, please sit with me) or an older child takes ownership for his actions while being insightful and gentle with his folly (“I destroyed that because I was feeling jealous. I really should apologize”)

When an entire school community rises up to welcome the youngest entrants to school. By encouraging them with smiles and greetings, keeping an eye out for them and helping them with their belongings.

It is when an older child feels comfortable and safe in our community to celebrate herself on her birthday and writes about her own advances from her first year of life to.her ninth! A birthday celebration becomes a performance piece … a deeply authentic one.

Where an adults love for poetry is supported to become a whole school ‘poem in your pocket day’. Children and parents linger to share poetry with each other.

When a parent body trusts the school enough to support them in their policy of having 2 hours of free play everyday for all children from ages 3 to 12! After a year no child is recommended for Occupational Therapy!

When a child is struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic but is still frequently sought after by peers to help with all manner of drawing, building and problem solving in the environment.

When a child feels the joy of giving a presentation to a peer and with her thumbs up, gestures to an absorbed friend, and whispers to the guide “She is working so nicely!”

This, my friends, is peace education at work!

Cloud Watching

the conductor - front cover - laetita devernay

Things have been winding down.

Sitting under the shade of the coconut trees in our back garden at school, we bite into thick juicy slices of watermelon while we listen to the frantic call of the Koel.

It’s the begnning of summer and the end of yet another academic year.

One afternoon past time that we do during this time of year is cloud watching. And if the skies are clear, then observing the beautiful lace-like patterns that branches and leaves make against a clear sky.

This has become an Earth School tradition.

Those who want to partake of this activity quietly lie down next to each other on the mat and look up, while the others continue with their free play. Right above us is every object and beast that we can imagine. The clouds are a fish that turn into a teapot that becomes an old mans face!

It’s funny how traditions start. We are only 3 years old and already we have a few traditions that everyone at school looks forward to…

A trek to the same forest reserve on children’s day, which is celebrated on 14 November in all schools in India.

Giving to others during christmas time and decorating our christmas tree together – one ornament at a time.

This year, we started celebrating world poetry day and the quiet enthusiasm it has generated makes me believe it is something that the children are going to ask for again and again.

And of course, watermelon eating and cloud watching towards the end of the academic year.

Each school year there are always some children who will not return when all of us get back after the summer break. Afternoons like these give all of us the time to just stay in the present, enjoy each others company and welcome the changing seasons.

I feel that the recurring nature of these ‘traditions’ provide the children with markers to grapple with the abstract concept of time through the year plus a sense of community and security.

Personally, I don’t think you can spend an afternoon better than cloud watching!

We Are Family

via http://www.thedailyawe.co

There is a lot said about the community of children that live and work together in Montessori environments. They forge strong bonds across conventional barriers of age and such like. They become family.

But today my thoughts are with the adults that work together in a Montessori environment.

What about them? Does the montessori environment have a similar effect on them?

In my experience I have to say a big, resounding – YES!!!

Each teacher that I have shared an environment with and indeed even those that have worked in other environments, have eventually become so much more than just my colleagues. They have, overtime, become my friends and yes, my family!

Our constant efforts to negate our egos in class, pays off in our relationships with each other.

Working together, for something much bigger than ourselves creates strong and deep bonds.

Soon we will be saying goodbye to a very dear friend, school parent and supportive colleague who is bound for unknown adventures in a land far away from us.

She will be missed but family is always in your heart and so will never be too far away!