I wanted to write this article for two reasons. First because the next term after the summer holidays is, in a lot of countries, when children either start school, or move up to the next academic year. Also, reflecting on my own childhood, despite having educationally conscientious parents, I definitely wasn’t ready when I started school and I want to share some of the insights I learnt from this reflection that are supported by my training and own observations. The very interesting factor here is that the best preparation a parent can give a child for starting school is not, as one may think, about getting children as academically ahead as possible; rather the key to preparing a child for school lies in how stable, grounded and happy they are within themselves. This is because children who are happy and “at ease” with themselves are ready and willing to learn. Obviously it’s definitely a plus point if they have some pre-existing idea of what to expect and a familiarity with counting and letters etc. – it’s definitely Not a necessity. My own experience as a child and my observations as an experienced, Montessori trained adult definitely clearly support this.
The crucially important thing that makes stability such a vital necessity to a child being “school ready” is that it means the child isn’t going to be distracted by “other worries” that are often social, as the case was for me. They could also be distracted by “family worries”. If your “Family-Team” is going through a tough time it’s worth considering this and doing your utmost to ensure that whatever you may be worrying about is not passed on to your child. This allows children a chance to grow into stronger adults who will cope much better with “stress” because you have role-modelling how to deal with it and cope as opposed to unwittingly “putting it on their shoulders”. As an adult you know better how/ where to seek the right type of help.
Seeing as it links to “My Story”, I think it would be helpful for me to expand on how a child can be distracted by the social aspects of starting school.
From as far back as I can remember, and I’m pretty certain I have some memories from “toddlerhood” – I definitely have memories form three years old and upward; my Mum has been the biggest “Worrier” on the Planet!! – And not the type of “Warrior fighting for Freedom”!!!! – She makes “Mr Worry” from the Mr Men books look laid back, as she worried about anything and everything. If she doesn’t have anything to worry about; she worries about that!!!! As the oldest child (I have one sister) this was very suffocating especially as I have and always will be a very “individual” and fitting in wasn’t something I did well, or had much desire to do. I think because my Mum just didn’t know how to cope with my “non-textbook” individuality, she worried about that!! Being very intuitive to Body Language/ voice tone and emotions, I picked up on even the slightest things and I had a tendency, being slightly more on the “introverted” side (I ultimately reenergise from within), to go within myself to reflect – yes, I reflected even at 4-5 years of age – that made me come across as a bit of a “dreamer” that made my poor Mum worry even more!! So as you can imagine it was a bit of a “vicious circle” that didn’t help me, or my Mum.
Unfortunately, I think partly because it was “the thinking” when I was young, my Mum tended to pull me up on what I shouldn’t be doing rather than tell me what I should. This didn’t help me know how she wanted me to behave. Plus, “whether I was good, or not” was down to how she interpreted my behaviour, I could never think; “If I do this it will “guarantee” that I’m good”, because I never knew how she’d interpret my behaviour. As I’m sure is obvious to you; this first of all unwittingly gave me an extremely poor self-image; and self-image leads to self-esteem. Second, it definitely didn’t make me feel stable within myself at all, because I was always wary of how my behaviour was being perceived.
The important things to note here is that what you say to a child becomes their “self-talk”, (their inner voice) when their older. Do you think that I initially “championed myself”, or put myself down? Second, because I was so wary of how I was being perceived; I wasn’t uninhibited, like very young children should be, therefore I missed out a vital stage of experimentation and development. As my wonderful Mentor, the Fantastic Dr Jane Cox points out; if you miss out a stage of development, you will keep having the same “issues” until you either go through that phase, or deal with the “issues” not going through it has cause. Just as an interesting side-note; to anyone worrying about rebellious teenagers, rebellion to an extend is a phase that can ultimate serve an individual because it teaches them about life and where they fit in – I never when through this phase either, hence I took longer to learn exactly where my “path laid”.
It’s felt rather intense to share this with you and mainly from the point of view that I have loving parents and can you imagine how my dear Mum would feel reading this?? The reason I am going ahead writing it is because I think being a totally “unwitting situation” makes it all the more important, because it was unintentional. Loving parents can make huge mistakes that can really hold children back. This is how I am an Expert without yet having had children of my own.
The good news!! Being the demined, reflective, truth-seeking individual I am, I managed to move past everything myself – it took years if I’m honest and I don’t want this for anyone else – and set myself on a “wisdom sharing” path.
I am actually really grateful – Now – to my Mum for all her worrying, because it enabled me to gain a “Vast” quantity of “Wisdom” and when I read most of the “personal development quotes” on Instagram, I realise that I naturally possess most of the traits put forward as being vital for success in life, (except the IT ones!!).
As this part of “My Story” clearly highlights; I was definitely very ill-prepared for school – especially being the older child – as I was completely distracted by how I was being perceived by others – especially by my peers! One of my recommendations to parents that I will definitely be expanding on in my second book is, “Be Horizontal”!! – What I basically mean is have a “solution-based” approach to everything – there’s always an “antidote”!! Plus, take active steps to promote a calm and positive environment, as this will serve you as much as it will serve your child/ children. Finally, encourage your children to experiment and engage in a variety of different activities and embrace any “mistakes” as a valuable lesson learnt.
I can already hear you saying; “but wait, don’t leave it there? How do I avoid this and ensure I’m doing the right thing by my child??” Let me show you how:
As I’ve put forward being stable, grounded and happy are the key components to ensuring that your child is school ready. In my mind you most definitely start nurturing this in “babyhood”. Now please avoid worrying if you don’t think you’ve done quite enough and you only have the Summer Holidays to prepare them – there is still time. The best thing you can do right now if you feel you’re in that situation is to remain calm and take action towards ensuring they feel stable, grounded and happy within themselves. You do this by providing clear, sensible boundaries (that revolve around safety and respect for others), giving them as much opportunity as possible to engage in a variety of activities, including helping you around the home, and actively doing things that increase your bond and show them you love them – that could be as simple as reading a story you both enjoy, going on nature walks – nature is very calming and healing – even picking flowers together in a meadow.
I would now like to go into further detail about the full potential of things you can do to really ensure your child will excel at school and you will soon see that it doesn’t necessarily, or at all have to involve doing any academic work with them – yet you can still give them that advantage!! – This is what gets me so “excited” about the potential of “child education” – it really is limitless what you can help children learn for themselves when you know how!
The most important thing in preparing your child for future learning, which isn’t just at school, is to keep in mind that being, stability happy and grounded are the most important “inner tools” you can help them acquire for a life of learning. So please don’t become distracted by the want to dive in to academia with them at three years old! Just to reiterate, the reason this is so important is because stable, happy grounded children naturally develop a love of learning as they have no distractions and being grounded, they have not been encouraged to become idol. It is a love of learning that will fuel motivation to learn in any given circumstance; even one that may be more adverse to your child’s success. J
As Maria Montessori often mentioned; “children come from nothing.” What she means here is that they are not born with any pre-exiting knowledge, or experience of them World – everything is new. Human children are not even born with any instincts, like most animals are in order to survive, they are just born with a few reflexes; other than that everything else has to be learnt. So here is a huge opportunity to facilitate as many different learning experiences for your child/ children as possible. Think of the different areas of learning; physical, intellectual, linguistic, social, emotional and spiritual. Also, think of the different areas of a Montessori classroom; Practical Life, Sensorial, language, maths, culture and creativity. All these present you with a very rich choice of possibilities to immerse your child in interesting and exciting learning experiences that will ignite his/her own passion for learning.
I can already hear you say; “Yes, but you told us not to do anything academic with them??” Let me give you a few pointers on how you can introduce more academic learning in a fun and interesting way that isn’t at all like conventional learning!
As people who are familiar with Montessori will know, it is a scientific method of teaching that Maria Montessori discovered through her observations. Montessori noticed that children learnt best when they were interested in what they were learning. Hence her expression to “follow the child” and go with their interests! This approach to learning was strongly echoed in my Photo-Reading Course. My Instructor Marilyn Devonish, who was very enthusiastic and animated, put forward that whist conventional learning teaches you to sit still and focus for unnaturally long periods of time that can be quite stress-inducing; what was discovered with Photo-Reading is that the best and most effective way to learning is actually the complete opposite. Through relaxing, experimenting and being actively engaged with what you’re doing!
I tell you something that will help illustrate this for you. I know most, if not all of the words to the songs in “The Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady”. This isn’t because my parents “strapped me to a chair” and said; “you’ll be tested next Friday”!! – Ha ha – No! It’s because when I was a child they were favourite family films that we watched and bonded together in the process. I was relaxed and happy at these moments; hence I learnt most/all of the words without any effort. Please note here that effort is definitely a quality you want to encourage in your children! – I’m just making the point that the more enjoyable and effortless something seems the more likely people are to be motivated to do it, because things that are “light” and straight-forward do not weigh people down! This is why people who have put their efforts towards doing their dream job say that it doesn’t feel like work. It’s probably also has something to do with how surgeons are able to focus for unnaturally long periods of time during surgery.
With this in mind you can use your own creative imagination to see exactly what you can help your child/ children learn in an active, fun way! There is plenty of inspiration in my previous articles and if you need any more then watch out for my second book that will go into greater detail.
The key to knowing how to proceed with each individual child is first obviously observation of their interests and needs. Second, is sheer honest as sometimes what they want is not always what’s best for them. It can also be difficult to admit if your child has development an “unhealthy” habit. It’s well know that to deal with an issue properly you have to admit there is one; so be honest for their sake and yours. Real honesty about a situation can only be found through taking time to observe honestly; if you do this the solution will be clearly highlighted. Go with your gut as it’s usually right.
Before bringing the article to a close I would just like to touch on a few other helpful pointers. First, I believe that both SQ and EQ, social and emotional intelligence are definitely equally as important as IQ for effective learning. This is because a socially advanced child who has a degree of awareness in reading the emotions of others will be more aware of how to behave around other children to their best advantage and thus be less distracted by the actions and opinions of others. At times when they are, they will have already begun to develop the tools to deal with it.
I also believe that spiritual development is very important as it enables a child to begin to learn the purpose of how they “fit in” to the wider World around them. Plus, it helps them view others from a caring and collaborative perspective as opposed to feeling any insecurity from the talents of other children. I will be writing an article on spiritual development.
I would like to end by saying that anyone feeling concerned that they have not taught their child enough; please pay attention to this point! In my mind the nearest “rival” to the Montessori educational system is that of Rudolf Steiner. Both methods are scientific, both have a pedagogical basis and both believe in using natural learning materials, learning through play and going with the child’s interests. Obviously there are important differences; as someone very passionate about the holistic education of all children I prefer to look at the similarities. Rudolf Steiner also noted that children learnt best when they were stable, happy and grounded within themselves and he put forward that no academic work should be learnt before a child is seven years old. – Yes seven years old! Until the age of seven children were to learn through play with an emphasis on spiritual development. Interestingly he had a very intriguing reason for this; please get in touch if you want to know more! So please do remain calm and just focus on the fact that if your children are happy, stable and grounded within themselves that anything you feel they may be behind on; they are sure to quickly catch up and even overtake because they have all the tools for effective learning!
Another interesting factor is that my wonderful mentor Jane actually sent her children to a Steiner school. Obviously I couldn’t help but ask her why she chose Steiner over Montessori?! She put forward that she felt Montessori was great for children aged 0-3; there was something about Steiner children’s way of analysing “problems” that put them ahead of other children. As someone who cares more about doing what’s educationally best for a child rather than being right, this had me seriously thinking that when I have children I would consider sending them to a Steiner school so they get the benefits of all my Montessori training and experience at home and that of Steiner at school.
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