The title of our essay, for me, is a statement of independence. It feels that independence is such a natural drive of humanity, it seems so obvious, but it is all too often easily overlooked in early year’s education. Using the case study, I will explore why independence is such an intrinsic need of young children, the favourable environment, and the role of the teacher. When I try to understand why independence is such an intrinsic need of young children, as much as it seems obvious to me to be something instinctual, the result of the drive towards independence is summed up neatly in a passage from our class notes.
“Independence is closely linked with the hormic impulse. It satisfies the children’s need to do things for themselves and to perfect their skills. The gained competence boosts their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It nurtures initiative, resilience and the ability to face challenges. ” (MCI, 2009, AEL, Chp 1, p6). Montessori herself also said in her lectures “Independence is a phenomenon of growth”, and “Growing is a succession of acquisitions of independence”. (Montessori, 2012, p108) This resulting boost of self-esteem and drive to take on challenges for independence is wonderfully observed in the case study.
Freddy takes on a huge challenge for him and with guidance from the teacher, and persistence, manages to close one button on the large button frame independently, and says to him-self “I done it”. Montessori called the years of a Childs’ development from birth to six ‘The Absorbent Mind’; she further differentiated two sub-stages of ‘The Absorbent Mind’ as the ‘horme’ (birth to three years) and the ‘will’ (three to six years). “She defines the horme as ‘… this universal force, is not physical, but is the force of life itself in the process of evolution’ (Montessori, 2007, p230).
Montessori (2007) also refers to ‘hormic impulse’ evident in the first year of the child’s life, and present in all his/her actions, such as the infant’s determination to suck, explore, communicate and be independent. Initially unintentional, gradually, as the child experiences his/her environment and matures, the child’s behaviours become intentional and reflect the child’s will. ” (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 2, p4). Montessori continues to elaborate on the evolution of the ‘will’ as a conscious learning, where we understand that “(The Child)…
is still absorbing from the environment but can now learn new skills through deliberate effort and this is why this sub phase is referred to as the conscious absorbent mind”. (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 2, p2). We can see that Freddy is in this, the second sub-stage (The Will); because he was very interested in the presentation of the large button frame, the teacher was demonstrating to Jonnie. When Jonnie had finished with the dressing frame, Freddy then made a conscious decision to return the puzzle to the shelf and to fetch the dressing frame, to take on the challenge of opening and closing the buttons.
Freddy was enabled to challenge himself and achieve a boost in his self-esteem, in his drive towards independence, because of the environment created in his Montessori nursery, and the guidance of his teacher. Montessori referred to this environment as ‘The Favourable Environment’ and she defines this environment as, “… special circumstances surrounding the children were a suitable environment, a humble teacher, and material objects adapted to their needs.
(Montessori, 1966, p137)” (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 3, p1) Montessori lists the features on an ideal favourable environment; “The first stipulation was that the building should be, or at least seem like, a real house. It should be a set of rooms with a garden, preferably with shelters. The children should have continuous access to the garden — even to the extent of sleeping in it. The main room, or working room, contained what we now know as the ‘Montessori Materials’ displayed in low cupboards. A large chest of drawers contained a labelled drawer for each child’s work.
The walls were lined with low windows, blackboards and a few carefully selected pictures, such as Raphael’s ‘Madonna della Seggiola’. … The tables and chairs must be small, light-coloured, and easy to move. On each table was a vase of flowers. If the child did not wish to sit on a chair, floor mats were available for work. The sitting room contained armchairs and sofas, games and books of pictures; music was freely available and each child was encouraged to grow a plant. The dining room was equipped for independent use from serving to washing-up.
Napkins, china, glass and knives were used. There was also a dressing room with washstands and a cupboard or shelf for each child. ” (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 3, p2) Although this list is of an ideal environment, it lists many aspects, which are essential in enabling the children to help themselves. The favourable environment has three main elements “the environment, teacher, and materials” (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 3, p1). “A favourable environment provides young children with activities and occupations and presents opportunities for exploration,
investigation, and problem solving, whilst at the same time offering children freedom, with responsibility, to nurture their autonomous learning. The environment includes the adults and peers as vital components in the learning process. ” (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 3, p1). We can see from the case study how all three of these elements merge seamlessly in Freddy’s nursery. Freddy had the freedom to choose to return the puzzle to the shelf (the environment), and choose to challenge himself with the dressing frame (the materials).
We can also see how the interaction between Freddy and the teacher was wonderfully demonstrated as one where the teacher is there to guide the Child, demonstrating the correct way to accomplish the activity and then allowing Freddy to attempt the activity for himself. The teacher helped Freddy to help himself. The teachers’ role as a facilitator to the environment; once Freddy had finished with the activity and returned it to the shelf; the teacher then went to the shelf to do up the rest of the buttons, leaving the frame ready for the next child.
Montessori said of the environment and the teacher, “This environment must provide a great deal of mental food and warm, loving-treatment. We cannot have teachers who are like marionettes. The teachers must be warm, caring, and understanding. ” (Montessori, 2012, p114) The environment is for the children and Montessori says, “The teacher must understand that the environment belongs to the children. It is not hers because she is the teacher. The environment helps the little children master it.
” “The teacher must help her children to be independent, to keep the environment in order by themselves. ” Montessori then states that “(The teacher)… is an enormously successful teacher when she can say, ‘The children can do everything by themselves; they don’t need me. ’ These children are different because I have treated them in the right way. I have given freedom to these life energies – now they can go on and expand while I can retire more and more to the background. ’ A teacher who can say this is a great teacher; she is a teacher of life.
” (Montessori, 2012, p114) Therefore, we can see from Montessori’s description, the environment and materials need to be engaging and challenging, and the role of the teacher is evolving, from a very active role, to attain a level where the role of a teacher is purely to observe and facilitate the environment. Freedom, with limits is key to this favourable environment, “The environment should be the Childs spiritual home where s/he is free (within limits) to engage in activities beneficial to his/her development. The child creates him/herself through activity in the environment.
” (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 3, p2). The materials should be constructed specifically for the child, they should be child sized, and everything should be at the Childs level. “The important thing about the furniture was that it should be an aid to the child, not a hindrance. ” (MCI, 2013, Philosophy, Chp 3, p2) An article titled ‘Help me to help myself’ by Sandra Morris-Coole said of freedom within limits, “These limitations are the ground rules of the nursery, the parameters of acceptable behaviour encompassed in respect for self, for others and for the environment.
” (Sandra Morris-Coole 10/10/13) We can see aspects of this respect for others in Freddy, he shows concern for Miss S, when he notices that she is missing, and learns that she is not feeling well. When going to the garden, Freddy also waited for two other children to join them before heading outside. In the same article Morris-Coole continues; “Such parameters not only support the social development of the child, but also give the child a framework of consistency and predictability. This links to the Childs sensitivity to order. The child knows what is expected of him/her and is able to build trust in the environment and the adults within it.
” (Sandra Morris-Coole 10/10/13) We see all these elements of the favourable environment in the case study; the low shelves of the nursery that allowed Freddy to easily choose and access the materials. The materials themselves, the button frame was specifically designed for use by children. Freddy’s nursery had access to a garden, and when Freddy, and the teacher were going to the garden, Freddy went to the coat pegs, which were at his level, to collect his own coat and wellies. The physical environment was child sized with cabinets low enough for Freddy to lean on, and a handrail for him to hold on to as he went down the steps to the garden.
This free flow environment fosters independence; “Such independence will enable children to have a sense of well-being as they will feel trusted to be able to do things for themselves. ” (Sandra Morris-Coole 10/10/13) In essence, all aspects of the favourable environment support the Childs need for developing independence. One of the three elements does not work without the support of the other. An environment that allows children the freedom to interact with it, having everything at the Childs level, and designed to be child sized. A teacher, who does not interfere with a Childs development but who rather, helps them to help themselves.
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