Why Montessori is for all children… 0

My son is currently 4, and is lucky enough to be attending a Montessori School here in Australia. It is a bit of a drive from our house, and with another baby on the way, it was a drive my husband and I were worried wouldn’t be viable next year.

I have been looking at different Education systems for the past three years for my work, however only this year have I had to look at it from personal circumstances with my own child. 

In Australia we have the Public School System, Catholic Education and Independent Schools, with Montessori schools falling under the latter.

I have visited schools in all of these categories, looked at our local options and been blown away at how little has changed in the 25 years since I started at school. Behaviour systems that endorse public shaming, very little concrete learning, and everything becoming digitalised. Interactive white boards, and ipads being spruiked like it’s the best thing in the world. In both situations I’ve left with my heart and head hurting at the thought of all these children missing out on the Montessori method of education. 

When researching Montessori at the start of your journey, you may read things like ‘Montessori is not for boys, ASD children can’t do Montessori, Montessori is too structured, Montessori is too free, and so on and so forth’. 

After three years of running classes, observing schools, managing centres and talking to parents, I strongly believe Montessori is for EVERY child. 

The prepared environment, the individual lessons and materials with isolated concepts, the way the Educators speaks to students, the structure of the work cycle; everything that happens in a Montessori school, happens because it’s proven to work. Science shows this is how children learn, this is what makes them happy.

And because this is how CHILDREN learn, whether they are auditory, visual or tactile learners, the equipment speaks to all of them and draws them into want to learn, inviting them to play.

As Maria Montessori stated ‘Play is the work of the Child’. Children play in a montessori environment, it is just not what society typically pictures play to look like. When we hear ‘play’ as adults, we envision children running around loudly, toys everywhere, dirt and no structure. This is a version of play, however so is the calmness and focus in a Montessori classroom. It is a version of play that children crave. Their developmental need for a sense of order, for repetition and freedom in choices. Their need for boundaries and for uninterrupted time.  All of this is in a Montessori setting, and for over a century, all over the world, it’s WORKED.

Boisterous boys who could never sit still, or created chaos wherever they went can sit for almost an hour straight building a tower out of ten pink cubes. Children who couldn’t focus on anything for more than a minute, sit there for hours, day after day, pouring water from cup to cup, spooning beans from bowl to bowl with a calmness and beaming face like you’ve never seen before.

I see children bouncing out of the car, running to class, bursting with excitement to start their day. I see children not wanting to leave the classroom at the end of the day because they want to keep playing. I hear children helping younger children, whilst two others are sitting at the Peace table sorting out their conflict better than many adults I know can.

Until you have really observed, really seen Montessori in action, I promise you, you won’t believe me. I also promise you, that the moment you see your child’s face light up and look towards you with pride and such happiness after completing work from one of the shelves, you won’t be able to look at Education the same way again.

I know globally, it is extremely hard for services to keep up with the demand for Montessori, which makes access to a school difficult, starting a centre difficult with a lack of trained teachers available. I know that in some countries it is extremely expensive to attend a Montessori School and then there are some centres that are just not Montessori.

As a parent, I feel the pain and I know how hard it is to make decisions about a future we cannot predict, amidst the busyness of our own lives that are over-scheduled, hectic and overwhelming. 

But as the world changes, and technology shifts the way we function, the way we work and live; as environmental impacts come to light, and the world seeks new solutions, there has never been a more important time for creative, innovative, motivated citizens than right now.

Dr Maria Montessori designed her method of education to ensure students would become contributing members of society. The only education method that provides this holistic opportunity is Montessori, and the world needs it more than ever.

Nothing is more important than education. With education, we can change the world. But the world has moved on, and the system remains the same. 

Its time for change; it’s time for an education revolution.

Phonics versus “Look Say” or “Whole Word” method in teaching reading and writing.  2

The English language is based upon 26 individual letter sounds or “phonemes”. Their are combinations of the letters that when combined create new sounds of course. Reading and writing English was traditionally taught using a phonetic approach. This means, children would be taught the sound to say each time they looked at a symbol (eg h or t). The beauty of this phonetic system of learning to read and write is that power is given to the child to then use this knowledge of individual phonics to decode any word they encounter. Essentially, the words and vocabulary you can acquire when you have a strong knowledge of phonics is potentially endless. Children are able to decode unfamiliar words by remembering the phoneme that matches each letter in the word. The Montessori method teaches reading and writing using this phonetic system. 

The other method of teaching children to read and write that has become popular in the USA is the “Look Say” method. This was introduced and championed by John Dewey, (the same man who brought us the Dewey Decimal System that we use to catalogue books in our libraries).

The “Look Say” method is an approach that teaches children to read and recognise whole words. For example, a child may be shown the word “cat” on a flash card and is told,  “This says cat”. The child, over time, then learns that when they see the symbol (cat), they are to say the word “cat”. Essentially, the Look Say method treats the English language as if it were Chinese. The Chinese written language is a Logographic language, meaning there are thousands of detailed symbols that represent individual words. The failure is however, that the English language is supposed to be a phonetic script. When we fail to teach children phonics properly, and if we teach them using the whole word approach, they are required to memorise thousands and thousands of words by rote and are incapable of decoding new words they come across independently. Instead of their brain having to remember only approximately 26 letters and their matching phonemes, children who are taught the Look Say method have to use their memory space to remember each and every word as a symbol. 

This can also have the effect of drastically reducing a child’s vocabulary because they have no way of decoding new words they have not been explicitly taught to recognise. 

Many educators in America blame the widespread use of the Look Say method in American schools as the reason behind the increasingly declining literacy and numeracy rates in the USA. 

Written language has always been a tool for human kind to express their thoughts and record their beliefs and history. The phonetic approach to reading and writing enables children to have the power to use language to express their own ideas, expand their vocabulary and read new words independently. 

Why We Do Monthly Themes 0

In many Montessori classrooms around Australia and internationally a part of the day will be dedicated to ‘circle time’ or group time. Every environment’s group time or circle time will be conducted a different time of the day. Some schools don't do circle time at all.

During circle time different topics will be discussed and presented to the children. Topics will vary from seasons to our families to the farm to North America to dinosaurs and many more. There is an endless list of possible themes that can be done but the choosing of topics will depend on the class age, maturity and ability to retain information.

The length of the themes that the topics are discussed depends upon the themes itself, for example the North American theme contains lots more than the families theme. It also depends on the children in your environment and their particular interests at the time. 

At I AM Montessori we create monthly themes for our educators to use in circle time or group time. We have learnt about food, Dinosaurs, Seasons, Occupations and even 'The Gift of Giving'.

In our monthly themes we discuss facts about the theme during circle time! We always include printouts, activities for the Montessori shelves, group activities, songs and stories relating to theme chosen!

Monthly themes in our classrooms help to develop the interest and knowledge of the child. By having monthly themes in our classrooms we demonstrate to children all about the world around us and the world we live in! Most children don’t realise that there is a bid world around us, they are egocentric, meaning that they only see the her and now and they only ‘their world’!      

By implementing monthly themes in our classrooms we try to broaden their horizons with different topics!

Monthly themes can be chosen according to a number of different aspects. For example, the child’s interests at the time, what’s happening around the world at a particular time (e.g. earthquake, dinosaur exhibition, season of summer), or what’s happening in a child’s life (e.g. starting primary school or a new baby in the house).

Themes can be as big as North America or a smaller topic like clouds!

By doing monthly themes we are hoping to instil a love for that subject and for the child to extract and retain as much information as they can about all the themes!

If the theme is delivered correctly any child should take away some learning from it! 

By doing important global topics such as the continents we hope to spark awareness of the world we live in! By delivering a theme of the solar system we hope to develop an understanding of planets, stars, our planets and the larger aspect of the world we live in. By doing a theme about trees we hope to enhance a child’s love of nature and to develop and enhance a respect and love for nature!

Monthly topics help to keep both the educators and the children stay focused during circle time and maintain educators and children excitement about our world!

Mathematics in Montessori 0

What is Mathematics?

“The laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics.. the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word”. Galileo Galilei

Maria Montessori understood that mathematics is a language we use for interpreting and understanding the the world around us. She realised that mathematical concepts need to be first absorbed through the senses before children can abstract mathematical information.

For this reason the  Montessori mathematics curriculum moves from concrete experiences to increasingly abstract representations. Before children are asked to learn symbolic representations of numbers and memorise number facts and rules, they should first be immersed in a myriad of sensorial experiences with numbers. In the Montessori classroom, the sensorial curriculum prepares children for later abstract work with numbers.

When using the sensorial materials children experience various dimensions and shapes and relationships between these. The materials isolate one concept and are self correcting and encourage independence and problem solving. Each sensorial piece of equipment is designed using the base ten system. Children need to know numbers to ten to work with the decimal system. 

As children work with the materials they unconsciously absorb the relationships between numbers one to ten. When a child works with the red rods for example, the tenth rod is ten times longer than the first. When they work with the pink tower, the smallest cube is 1cm3 while the largest is 10cm3.

The exactness of the materials allows children to make their own mathematical discoveries. When using both the green and yellow sets of knobless cylinders children can create the rainbow number facts to ten.

As children progress through the mathematics curriculum they are gradually introduced to the symbolic representations of number. Children work with operations with numbers and also use the materials to help memorise mathematical facts.

How to know when to add new activities to the shelf! 1

Do you know how to rotate toys (activities/exercises) in your environment?

Do you know when to change the materials on your shelves?

If not, read on and see our advice helps!

It is always a struggle when you are trying to rotate materials, equipment and toys on your shelves at home or in your classroom. It is hard to know when to change the toys but there are a few tell tale signs that it is time to do so now. 

If your child/children are not interested in the activities out on the shelves you will notice they might be using them incorrectly or may be they haven’t even touched them in a while then you may need to change or rotate the materials.

By minimising activities on your shelves it will be easy to notice if one toy is being played with incorrectly or if one activity is not played with at all and therefore you will recognise when it might be necessary to change the shelves around.

People usually have lots of toys and activities nowadays so it is easy to have toys on display and toys hidden for rotation.

Activities on the shelves should be prepared for your child according to their developmental needs at that time but as they grow and develop their needs change and this requires a amendment to your environment too!

This may be the perfect time to transform your shelves!

The adjustment to your shelves will sometimes be minor but may also require major changes too!

Minor changes can be changing a part of an activity. For example if you have a pouring or spooning activity on your shelf and you noticed that the child can pour it from one jug to another without spilling any or you noticed that they don’t use the pouring exercise anymore then altering the substance that you pour with might excite them back to using it again! If the child had mastered the skill of pour then try to use a smaller material to pour e.g. change the pouring pasta exercise to a pouring red lentils exercise!

Another minor adjustment could be changing the colour of the material that is used! Dying dry materials such as rice for spooning with food dye can add excitement to a forgotten spooning exercise.

Sometimes, however changes may need to be more major. Sometimes it involves removing the puzzle that they throw around the room and replacing it with another puzzle. Sometimes it requires us to look at what is actually going on; are they misusing the activity because it’s too hard or too easy? If it’s too hard then replace it with a slightly easier puzzle. If it is too easy then move on to the next puzzle.

Changes in your environment can make the world of difference as to how play is constructed and carried out in your environment. The keys to creative and constructive play is to have a small amount of activities readily available for you child on child-sized shelves and try to observe how and how long for the activities are being used.

Keep the other toys and materials you have hidden away and rotate the shelves as you see fit!

Try to remember if you add an activity you should take off another one! Having too many crammed onto a shelf can chaos in your environment!

The Power of “Down Time” 0

The idea of a child “day dreaming” has become a negative concept that is frowned upon in the mainstream education system. My Dad and I had a chat recently about how schooling has changed since he was a child. Dad pointed out that when he was young his schooling was very traditional. He remembered that the children were forced to sit up and pay attention all day. However, Dad also said; “but, at the end of the day we would go home, have afternoon tea and then play in the yard until dinner”. This seems to be the difference. When Dad was a child, children were given plenty of time to learn how to “use their own brain”. Playing in the yard, is not only playing, it is an opportunity for the child to experience complete freedom. When children are given down time without adults we give them the opportunity to think for themselves, be creative, imagine, examine, explore, take risks and problem solve. If we do not allow children to learn how to think for themselves and be comfortable with their own thoughts, how can we expect them to grow up to be adults who are critical and creative thinkers?

In my experience, many children who find Mainstream education so difficult and present as “children with behaviour problems” may feel stressed to the max because they have been in environments where everything is programmed for them. For example, a little boy I worked with attended before school care each morning from 6am-9am, then school from 9-3, followed by after school care from 3-6pm. This was his schedule five days a week. The school schedule that demanded his constant high energy and attention was all too much and he often ran away from class (quite tellingly he went to sit on the oval by himself most times. He was just seeking some down time). 

Of course our society has changed so that more parents are required to return to work so that they can provide for their families. This is not something to be frowned on, each family has different needs, however perhaps it is time we looked at how we are teaching the young people in our schools? Have we adapted our teaching techniques to provide these children with a little more space and independence considering the fast paced environment they are living in? 

Montessori classrooms provide something that many children do not get to experience any more in todays fast paced world; the opportunity to experience peace and quiet. In Montessori classrooms children are given the time to pause and reflect and to self-monitor their emotions. They are given the space to think, to reinvigorate and refocus so that they remain happy and energised throughout the whole day. Often you will see children in Montessori classes completing seemingly “menial tasks” like sweeping, polishing or arranging flowers. However, when we observe these children over a period of time we see that these simple tasks are the child’s way of reenergising themselves to tackle the next challenging work. Space and time for contemplation and reflection is a unique feature of Montessori education.  

Already in our modern society, adults are finding it harder and harder to be self-reflective and happy following their own thoughts and interests. Sadly, our first instinct when we find ourselves with nothing to do is to grab our i-phone, i-pod or macbook or turn on the television or radio. Let us remember that the greatest thinkers in our history were philosophers. These people spent a lot of time contemplating, thinking and refining their ideas in peace and quiet. They took the time (and were given the time) to make use of their brain! 

Lets foster this ability in our children and provide them Montessori classrooms that foster deep concentration and most importantly provide them with opportunities to relax and reflect in between all that hard work. 

Answers to a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) 0

Where did the Montessori curriculum come from?

Dr Maria Montessori started the Montessori curriculum in her native, Italy. She was born in a small town called Chiaravalle in 1870 but later, in 1882, moved to Rome with her parents! After her schooling she went to medical school and was the first women ever granted a degree in Medicine in Italy. When she started working as a physician first she worked with the mentally deficient and this is where many of her findings and theories come from.

Montessori opened her first “Children’s House” in a poor area of Rome in 1907. Most of the children that attended the first Casa de Bambini were poor and some were also mentally deficient. Montessori used her finding from her work as a physician and created the materials based on scientific facts and through her observations of the children working with materials her curriculum was developed! Most of the equipment used in a Montessori classroom today has been tested and worked on by Dr Maria herself.

Montessori spread around Europe first and in 1915 she was brought her curriculum to America. She established the Montessori movement in India during the war and left India in 1946. She continued to work on her philosophy and studying theorists and philosophers until her death in 1952 in Holland at the age of 82.

Why are Montessori teachers called guides?

In a Montessori classroom the adults in the class are not teachers! They do not teach anything! They are guides or directresses. They do not teach the children anything because the children are capable of self-learning. The adults guide the children through the curriculum at the child’s pace and show the child how to use the material correctly.

Does Montessori curriculum benefit all children, including children with special need and extremely gifted children?

Yes! Children in the Montessori curriculum work at their own pace and to their own strengths and advantages! Montessori guides or directresses guide the children through the materials according to their own abilities. A child learns self-praise through the independence and self-confidence or completing tasks at their own pace and therefore neither feel like nor compare their achievements to the other children in their class.

What age do children have to be to attend a Montessori classroom? 

The Montessori Curriculum starts at birth and goes right up until 18 years old.

The class structure is a multi age grouping system. From 0-3 Years, 3-6 Years, 6-9 Years, 9-12 Years, 12-15 Years and 15-18 Years! At I AM Montessori our Family Day Care Educators run Montessori Family Day Care from 0-3 Years and our classes at Yeronga are from 0-3 Years, 0-6 Years and Drop Off Classes from 3-6 Years.

Why are classes multi aged?

Montessori’s observations in the early 20th century in Casa de Bambini recognised that children work better in a multi aged classrooms. She found that the older children take pride in setting good examples for the younger children, they like to show younger children how to use materials correctly and they act as guide themselves. The younger children then in turn learn from the older children and strive to be independent like older children.

Is Montessori too structured or strict for my child?

This is a common misconception about Montessori. The Montessori environment is actually a lot freer than other classrooms. The children experience ‘freedom within limits’ in our environment. The children are free to choose any activity that they have been guided through by the directress. They are free to choose activities that they have mastered as well as well as activities that they are still in the process of mastering!

How can I, as a parent, ensure that my child is learning the necessary skills to be ready for school or ready to move onto the next level of their education?

Although the children choose their own activities in the environment every Montessori Directress observes the children and their progress at their own rate. We work with the children at their own pace and we are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, using their strengths to build up and improve their weaknesses. Through the curriculum in 0-6 years the children learn through the practical life area, sensorial area (working through the senses), mathematics, language and culture. Everything they learn is in a concrete way and therefore the children learn it easier than trying to learn the abstract thought for each activity and lesson.

Mainstream Schooling and how it can benefit from montessori 0

Mainstream schooling has changed considerably over the past decade. Teachers are working harder than ever to try to help their students understand more and more content. The national curriculum that has been rolled out around Australia is packed with content and moves very quickly. Primary school teachers are left to highlight key concepts and skills and then find time to teach these thoroughly to their students. To briefly describe the situation, early childhood teachers are now given less time to focus on the basics and, at the same time, are expected to help their children achieve increasingly higher literacy and numeracy results. To make it more stressful for teachers, poor student results are often shown in the media to be a result of “poor teaching and poor teachers” (instead of questioning the curriculum and re-examining the process of delivering this curriculum).  

I believe children in mainstream schools would benefit incredibly  by having access to the full Montessori philosophy. Where this is not possible, I believe children would still benefit from being able to use the carefully designed Montessori materials. 

Teachers are required to follow the National Curriculum. In Queensland, many schools use the “Curriculum to Classroom” material. These documents are lesson and unit plans based on the National Curriculum that outline what teachers should be teaching each day. The documents are complete to the point of detailing which questions teachers should ask their class and videos they should show the children. Often teachers feel they have to use more worksheets in the classroom so that they have written “evidence” to support the “data” that many teachers are asked to produce at the end of each unit plan. Perhaps early childhood teachers need to become more creative in how they record evidence. Videos of children using concrete materials perhaps is a place to start? 

Many early childhood teachers still try to implement as many concrete learning experiences as they can for their students. Concrete materials are those that children can hold, manipulate and touch; real objects to help develop real concepts. Many teachers re-make these at home, in their own time each year or each term dependent on the needs of the children in their classes. I would have loved to have known about the Montessori maths and language materials earlier in my teaching career, as these would have benefited my students so much!  The control of error in each material promotes self-correcting and problem solving. The carefully built and designed materials are mathematically accurate and reinforce the base ten system. Children enjoy the sensorial, tactile experience of touching sandpaper, sand, chalk, wood and other interesting materials. 

Note from Rebecca: There is no reason why Montessori streams cannot be implemented into State Schools if the Principal and School Community want it. This direction has been given by the Head of Government in Queensland. If you would love to see your local school implement Montessori, contact your Principal or even us at I AM Montessori if you would like some help!

Why Montessori Maths just makes sense! 0

I would like to share with you a story that I remember from when I was teaching a year one class in a Brisbane primary school. I walked in to relieve a teacher who had some planning time.  

The lesson I was to complete teaching was a lesson on weight. Students were apparently learning the concepts of “heavy” and “light”. 

I walked over to a little boy who had been unengaged and asked him if I could help him. He looked at me with a very serious expression and said, “No you can’t. He asked me to circle the heaviest one but they are both the same”. As he said this he pointed to two drawings on a page. One was a drawing of an elephant and the other a drawing of a mouse. The boy continued, “They are the same on the page, it’s the same page and its the same pencil. That is not heavier”. 

As soon as this six year old had spoken I realised a few things; firstly, how clever he was, secondly, how correct he was and thirdly, what a stupid and abstract activity this was to give children who were meant to be learning a sensorial concept like weight!

Mathematics should begin as a concrete and physical experience. It is only when we have experienced with out senses concepts like heavy, light, full, empty, long, large, small, big etc, that we are able to remember the essence of these experiences and then solve abstract problems. 

Asking a six year old to decide if an elephant is heavier than a mouse based upon a drawing on a piece of paper is assuming a lot of information about this child. To get this seemingly simple question right, the child would have to; have already hefted heavy and light objects and remember the “feeling” and meaning of each of those words, know what an elephant is, know the true size of an elephant, know what a mouse is and how large it would be in real life and know how to “circle” a picture. Without knowing it, the teacher had bombarded the children with a poor abstract example, that actually presented many other challenges that the adult had not even thought of. 

The Montessori Mathematics curriculum is unique because it still acknowledges the fact that true understanding comes from initial concrete experiences. Children get to feel the number nine when they hold nine spindles in their hands. They get to feel how much longer and bigger the number ten feels as they carry the longest red rod across the room. Children get to experience tall when they build the pink tower. They get to feel and see the number 1000 when they carry a cube with one thousand beads or lay 1000 beads out in a long snake on the floor. The Montessori Maths curriculum is carefully designed to help children develop a true understanding of number and quantity, not just the ability to count by rote or recognise number symbols. 

Maria Montessori recognised that children learn through their senses. It is only when we give children the ability to have these sensorial number experiences that they will really internalise the mathematics they are learning. The greater their foundational understanding of mathematics is, the greater they will be able to abstract from this later and understand harder mathematical concepts. 

{INTERVIEW} A moment with Maggie Dent 0

Maggie Dent

Australia's "queen of common sense", Maggie Dent is an author, parenting and resilience specialist & mother of four sons. www.maggiedent.com

Our Managing Director was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Maggie a few questions... See Maggie's answers below:

Q: Maggie, there is so much talk about ‘play-based’ care and how it’s being replaced by more structured academic learning – can you explain what ‘play based learning’ is and why it is so important for children?

Well firstly I'd like to say that play-based learning is not setting homework for four-year-olds, expecting children to sit still at desks while they complete endless worksheets, expecting Year 1s to write full sentences, nor subjecting Year 3 students to standardised tests. That's what I call the 'push down' of formalised learning into the early years, where it does not belong.

Play-based learning is not always about directing children's play but rather you create playtime in which kids follow their own leads and interests so that they can have an experience of discovery, risk-taking, creativity, skill-building and of course learning. Also, when a child is so immersed in play that they don't notice time passing, they reach a place of transcendence and that is very healthy for later life … it might even be planting a seed for their future life's purpose.

It might include exploratory play, competitive and non-competitive play, imaginary play, modelling play, cognitive play, solo play, child and adult-directed play, and using play to help develop a love of reading, language, dance, movement and music. There are so many ways kids can learn through play.

Play-based learning is so important because without it we are hindering children's cognitive and  psychological growth and development, as well as their ability to function as social beings. Play is how we learn everything about living in this world and it enhances the development of the whole child - not just a brain on a seat!.

Q. As parents we keep reading about how important it is for kids to be ‘school ready’ and how far Australia is behind with our Education system – what does it mean to be ‘school ready’ and why is our Education system seen as being behind soo many of the OECD countries?

Finland is held up as the exemplar of education systems internationally. It has a fantastic record of success when it comes to educational outcomes and they don't start compulsory schooling there until children are 7. Their teachers have greater autonomy to make professional judgements about individual student learning and I've read that teaching is the most highly revered profession there and only the best and brightest make it into the profession. Further, Finland doesn't have standardised testing and rankings; schools are publicly funded and they have a strong emphasis on play and socialising.

Our education system is seen as being behind I feel because we are following the UK and American models of one-size-fits-all, standardised testing and pushing formalised education into early years. That means we have very high expectations of what our kids should be able to do when they turn up to school. Kids are individuals so of course many kids turn up for school and they are not ready. Many are simply 'slow to bloom'. My own sons were such students.

Early years educators can also help with decision-making about whether children are ready for school. They assess a child's physical health and wellbeing (whether they can toilet and feed themselves, blow their nose, dress themselves etc.); social competence such as getting along with children and being able to cope on their own or in a group; emotional maturity, demonstrating a reasonable degree of self-regulation, language and cognitive skills (basic counting, following instructions, basic thinking skills); communicating skills, being able to communicate their needs and use manners; and independence.

Maybe the question should be “Is the school ready for your child?” rather than is your child ready for school? 

Q. Parenting seems to have become harder in some peoples eyes and easier in others – what are the biggest challenges facing Parents of children in today’s world?

Undoubtedly I think it is the rapid pace of modern life, the pressures of consumerism and the tsunami of   technology that has hit families, which makes it a really challenging time for parents and children.  Also somewhere over the last 10 years, parenting has become a type of competition — thanks largely to parenting being more highly scrutinised and idealised in media. This places hidden stress on parents and growing children, especially where expectations don't match the reality of every child being different and developing at their own pace. We live in an instant world too, where we expect everything NOW. Communication, food, pain relief, results, well-behaved children — you name it, we expect things instantly. This expectation works silently and unconsciously creates stress when things do not happen straight away. Also childhood is not valued as important as adolescence or adulthood and there is a sense of hurrying up our children –sexualisation of children's toys, books and clothes is an example of this. If only the powers that be could see that by honouring a slow childhood our children would end up happier, healthier both physically and mentally, smarter, kinder and more resilient.

Q. There are many families seeking alternative means of Education for their children and in Australia we have a very strong movement towards Montessori at the moment – what are your thoughts on Maria Montessori and her method of education?

I think we are blessed to have so many alternative means of education in Australia and I encourage families to be open to checking them all out. I admire that the Montessori method encourages children to learn through play, and that it focuses on following a child's development rather than forcing a child to hurry up their development to fit into a certain environment. However, I am never one to blanket recommend a particular school or method of education to families because ultimately I believe that one school won't be right for every child. School cultures are so vastly different so it is really important for parents to make decisions based on an individual school and how it matches their individual child. 

Q. What are your thoughts on the following “The average Australian child spends less time outdoors then a maximum security prisoner”? How do you think this effects the child’s development?

The benefits of nature play and time in nature are extraordinary. The research says children who play regularly outside in natural settings: are sick less often; are less likely to be overweight; are more physically active; more resistant to stress; less likely to have behavioural disorders, anxiety and depression; have higher self-worth; are more imaginative and creative; have better language and collaboration skills … the list goes on. Kids need to spend as much time as possible outside however the reverse is happening at an alarming pace. I am a firm believer in the need to nurture the human spirit and one of the best ways to do that with children is spending time in awe and wonder. Thankfully a seed that germinates, a chicken hatching from an egg and a starry night are all stunningly fabulous to children!

Q. Technology and kids – what are your thoughts on how early kids are using technology and what do you think are the benefits/ consequences?

Never before have parents and teachers been confronted with such a sweeping, massive change in human behaviour such. When you think about it iPads have only existed for about 5 years so we don't have good research yet into what the impacts of iPad use might be for very young children.  We don't have strong evidence about the pros and cons of the use of these devices — and there are big pluses and big minuses.

The pluses are technology can help young people learn, express themselves, problem-solve, and engage with the world and people in it. In the teen years, we're finding that technology can be a great support in mental health for example, especially when adolescents might be more comfortable to share experiences with someone online that in person (or if they don't have access to help on the ground). In the early years though I think we have to tread very carefully with technology. What we know with the brain mapping technology that exists today is that movement and repetition - clapping, rocking, hopping, playing lullabies and singing songs that include touch - are critical for developing neural pathways for young children. No screen can build these pathways. It's important parents and educators still interact with children massively so kids can reach their highest potential. The main concerns at the moment are sensory delays, speech and hearing delays, posture problems in children as young as 4, short-sightedness, screen addictions, weakening creativity, and poor social and emotional competence. There is only one way to learn to be a human and that is with humans. The educational benefits from technology are massive, especially to children with ASD however the over-use of technology for children's entertainment causes me much concern.

Also we know from the work of the likes of Dr Stuart Shanker that too much time on screens can impact a child's ability to self-regulate. There are also studies that show that pre-school kids learn relational aggression from tv shows that aren't violent but are otherwise problematic.

The guidelines endorsed by the Australian Government recommend NO television (or screens from other devices) for children under two; no more than one hour a day for children between two and five; and no more than two hours a day for children over five. However I believe short sessions on devices while interacting with an adult will not cause long-term harm provided the child is spending healthy amounts of time using all senses, playing with other children and being outside and moving.

Q. Best advice you have ever given parents?

I would say there are 3 best pieces of advice:

1. Don't try to be perfect! I follow an 80/20 rule in everything I do, so I aim to get things right 80% of the time but I cut myself a bit of slack and don't stress if I'm not getting it right 20% of the time. 

2. Remember you can't ever 'get ahead' as a parent so slow down and enjoy life instead of 'doing' all the time. Washing is a great example I often use. You think you're on top of it but they've probably already put a skiddy on their underpants before I finish this sentence. 

3. Don't judge other parents. Support each other. Don't stand around 'tsk, tsk, tsking' in the carpark at school drop off time gossiping about who's child is doing what. Women in particular can be very harsh critics of each other (and themselves). A supportive circle, a sisterhood if you will, is essential for raising healthy, happy children and that grows happy communities.