We pretty much all agree in today’s world that the early years from 0 to 6 are the most important foundation years for a human being. What you do or do not do charts the life that the child will become and be in the future. In other words, as some of us would say ‘The foundation is key’!
Now we do know that food and oxygen are essential for the child’s body to grow and function right, so is shelter, and we also provide clothing etc, etc. It is important to note that as much as these physical needs are important there is much more that the child needs to grow and become their very best.
Nurture has a psychological aspect to it as well and that is what I want to focus on today, not nurture in totality but how we do this to produce the joyful learner that Maria Montessori spent her life work developing in the Montessori method.
One of the first things that helps this process is to realise that the child is constructing the new man, evolving into what he will become in the future. This process is not to be done unto the child, it is what the child will do for himself. This is why Montessori expects us to respect the child.
A child cannot construct himself right without this attitude of truly respecting the child being in place.
We do not respect the child when we insist that we know how, when and what he needs to learn. We do not respect the child when we chart his everyday of learning with lessons and rotas with continued rote learning facts that lead to fact learning with no understanding.
We do not respect the child when we continue to bombard them with tests and examinations that show off what they have memorized. As an observant Early Years educator, surely we should know how each child in our care has progressed from the beginning of the term till the end. As an engaged parent surely you can see the changes and development your child has attained, from the new words he uses and the way he is able to explain how the sun dries up the water which forms clouds in the sky and then drops down as rain etc, etc… Do you need a report card culled from an examination or test to tell you that your 3 year old is making progress? Carry out an assessment if need be to fulfill state expectations if need be but we really should not be putting the burden of our adult driven expectations on the child!
So if the child is self-constructing, how can we help?
- Provide learning that is practical. Concrete experiences. Why? Well that is because the child learns with his senses. No need to just talk, show the child, let him explore and learn through sight, touch, hearing, tasting, smelling, leave none of the senses out. The child is interested in his environment at this stage so introduce all elements of the environment to him through the senses. Colour, shapes, textures, tastes, sounds, music, dance, movement. Life is beautiful and colourful, filled with numerous textures, let him experience this. Remember this Montessori quote… ‘Never give more to the mind of the child than you give to the hands.’
- Please let them learn how to do things themselves, they want to and find our interference in helping them get dressed, go to the toilet, brush their teeth, etc, etc dehumanizing! This may seem extreme to some of us, but really if you stop to think about it, it may make sense to you if you look at it from the child’s point of view. Let’s consider getting dressed: you pick out the clothes, the child has no choice, you then proceed to take whatever clothing is on to replace it, the child wants to help by trying to undo the buttons or zip, but you remove his hand and do it, lifting up his hands and feet, even that bit you want to do for him. He is not a doll, a lifeless being, he is alive can move wants to move and use his limbs and fingers just has you do. If you deny the child the satisfaction of doing things and succeeding you are silently killing a bit of his soul, in Maria Montessori’s words he is losing a bit of himself.
- Provide opportunities for the child to move. Movement is key, without movement the brain does not function correctly. I know a child who was stuck in a high chair for over 12 hours of her day. Just sitting and eating and watching the television from this chair all day. She was 18 months at this time. At four the damage was already visible, she could not follow simply instructions. If you asked her to go and get the pencil from the table. The child would move from one point to the other going in circles several times before arriving at the table to pick up the pencil. Then the journey back to you would be more or less the same thing. At 19 years the young adult is still in trouble, quite intelligent in herself but she cannot navigate her way successfully at work, or take on basic official duties for that matter, because of this basic problem, the brain has failed to figure out movement logically! Yet we think it is alright to insist that our playgroup and nursery school children stay in the classroom all day with no recess time outside to just be. I love real Montessori classrooms, because the child can move around a lot if the child so wishes. The child needs movement, it helps build intelligence.
- Let the child think, make choices, we are not talking about big gigantic choices here, but even simple things like an orange or mango, the white or blue shirt for church on Sunday. Freedom of choice in the Montessori classroom for example is key. It is freedom within limits. There must be limits, there are boundaries, we are not permissive we are simply nurturing the child to construct himself. Providing the needed tools every step of the way to reach the goal the child has been born to achieve.
- Use positive language. If you are a Yoruba teacher, mom or dad reading this please excuse me right now, but I am Yoruba too, so I can say this without being accused of tribalism! Someone sent me a message a couple of weeks ago. ‘Yoruba people can’t correct someone without adding insults as a suffix! 1. Do it like this, ode (stupid fool), 2. Can’t you greet a person? alaileko (no home training). 3. Give it to your brother, agbaya (big for nothing)! This basically eats into the soul and joy of the child, chipping away the will to be and belong and become the best they can be! Let’s watch how we say what we say to our children. Let us build them up and not tear them down
To nurture the child takes a lot of thought, we need to continue to learn and relearn as the old ways really do not work to bring out the best in our children. The best is what we want isn’t it? As we mold the next generations of Nigerians and children of our world let’s nurture joyful learners for our world.