Montessori, Waldorf, and Rock n' Roll - Creating Spaces for Children
While I value the philosophy and practice of Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, and Reggio Emilia, I don't subscribe entirely to one school or the other. I pick and choose the aspects of each method and apply it how I think it will best suit our unique kids.
Step into our Montessori- and Waldorf-inspired play spaces for awhile, and I'll share with you the materials and setup I've chosen - at least for now; it changes all the time - when it comes to preparing spaces intentionally for children.
I'll catch you up to speed if you're not already up to your boots in navigating the waters of early childhood education philosophies and methods. You can skip what's between the dotted lines if this isn't relevant for you.
---------------------------------------------------------- Montessori: Developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, the approach is roughly one hundred years old. The idea is to encourage children to concentrate and be independent, as well as control oneself. If you've ever had a three-year-old, you know that they get frustrated without enough independence, and sometimes they lose it. The Montessori approach resolves that frustration and channels that energy into concentration by providing them authentic and satisfying tasks with appropriate materials. It gives them free reign over "work" they choose to do within a carefully prepared environment. There's also opportunity for early formal learning of things like reading and writing and mathematics ideas. Respect for yourself, each other, and the environment is a running theme. You know you're in a Montessori preschool room when instead of an adult-led circle time, adult-led snack time, and adult-led activities, you'll instead find a room full of kids freely moving about to choose, do, and put away their activity, fixing and cleaning up their own snack, complete with table and floor cleanup and dish washing. C does a *lot* around the house, including hanging up and folding and putting away most of his own laundry, carrying firewood, getting himself dressed and undressed, cleaning his room, among other things. He's barely 4. G already helps unload the dishwasher, puts wet clothes in the dryer, and now stacks her own clean diapers (hehe! it's so cute). But I'm not a driving taskmaster. I help them if they ask for it politely. And while I encourage them to help, I don't always insist on it, and I definitely won't interrupt play for them to do chores.
Waldorf: Developed by Rudolf Steiner, whose work became popular around the turn of the 20th century, this approach is based on the idea that all a child needs to know until around age 7ish is found within himself. So children are exposed to a lot of sensory experiences, and the object is to imbue them with the idea that the world is good. They're encouraged to wonder, explore with natural materials, imitate, and create as they see fit. Media is limited. There is a reservation toward early formal learning. It's all based on anthroposophism which frankly gets a little weird in spots, but the idea is that a child develops by an awakening of the spirit, and the whole child encouraged to develop, not just one discrete area at a time. You know you're in a Waldorf classroom if the colors and materials are exclusively natural, and you may see baking, knitting, wool felting, and watercolors going on. Singing and dancing (eurhythmy) is part of the rhythm (routine), some time is protected for imaginative play. Nurturing of the self, each other, and of dolls is encouraged and is a running theme. We do a lot of natural exploration outdoors and and a lot of free-expression artwork (as opposed to mostly coloring pages or closed-ended activities), but I'm not married to the idea of only beeswax crayons or only watercolors. We totally whip out the Dora and Clifford coloring books if Mama has to fix a meal and they won't leave me alone. ----------------------------------------------------------
I think before I place things in their environment that stimulate - Is it interesting or variable? Does it encourage imagination? Does it allow creativity by not being too specific? Is the material natural and interesting to see, feel, smell, touch? Is the task authentic, or does it develop a skill, such as fine or gross motor? Does it encourage cooperation? Can we use it in various ways as they get older? Can we use these materials for sorting, language learning, or pattern & shape concepts? Am I totally over-thinking this, it's just a fun toy, make an exception? These are the things I look for. Maybe you will see it too, in this page. I hope you find some useful ideas.
So I take bits and pieces of what works for us and other things and things I remembered from when I was a kid and we kind of make it up as we go along (including some Rock n' Roll! G loves Alice Cooper). We use heirloom toys from our own childhoods, vintage toys I find poking around antiques barns in Maine, natural toys I buy online, toys we make, and toys people give us. I can count on one hand the time I've purchased new toys from a store for them. Here are the spaces I've created for them, based on the types of activities I want to encourage:
This giraffe is from an African booth at the Southern Christmas show I went to with my mom in 2012 - with both babies! That was the time C got his head stuck in a chair...maybe that's why I was drawn to the giraffe.
My hope is that by elimiating too much stimulation for the sake of entertainment, and replacing that with natural materials and more limited and focused sensory input, they will be better able to create imaginatively as well as concentrate.