|The following article about
‘Pauline’s Montessori school’ appeared in the December 2001 issue of our
national Montessori association newsletter, the MANZ 'NewZ'.
It was written by a parent who has two primary children in our primary
Proximity to Nature
By S. H.
Many people with experience of a Montessori class expect that a primary class will be much same but with older children. However, this could not be further from the truth.
Just as children aged 6-9 and 9-12 have very different developmental stages to the 3-6 year old, the Montessori environment is very different as well. Primary school children begin to develop strong “herding” tendencies and increasingly prefer to work in small groups. Of course the beauty of Montessori is the ability to work solo if they choose. The strong grounding in reality they have received in the Children’s House gives them the confidence - the feet planted firmly on the ground - which allows them to take off in the primary classroom as they are faced with the incredible, wondrous universe of which we are a part.
Practical Life and Sensorial Materials helped develop their sense of concrete things - the primary curriculum encourages them to start moving into abstract concepts and to use their imagination. Nature and the outdoors beckon as the perfect learning space for their active minds and bodies bursting with energy.
The quiet hum of the 3-6 class is replaced with a more intense buzz of discovery and wonder as the child’s focus shifts from the internal to the amazing external - the greater environment. Growing up and living in the capital city my whole life I didn’t expect to move into a small Wairarapa town and be able to continue with Montessori, despite our family commitment to it. I feared I would be home schooling whether I wanted to or not!
Imagine then, my delight, when I heard that Montessori teacher Pauline Harter was going ahead with her long-held dream of establishing a primary school in Masterton. Of course Pauline is well-known and respected in the Montessori community, both nationally and internationally, and her involvement alone might have influenced me to make the twice-daily 70 kilometre round-trip from Featherston to Masterton.
However, we all know that although the directress is a key influence in the classroom environment, there are other variables that come into play. How many children’? What is the gender balance’? Are there enough peers? Equipment? A supportive environment for the teachers? So many of our schools struggle to maintain their special character in the face of a lack of true understanding of Montessori philosophy and the children suffer as a result.
Instead, what I found was a truly wonderful community of parents, children and staff. From a small group of seven 5-year-olds late last year, the class had grown to open with 18 children (now 26) ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old. How different they all were, but how welcoming as they greeted us with enthusiasm and warmth. We found that a tiny group of parents had driven a huge fundraising effort to establish their classroom (a satellite of the Wa Ora Montessori School in Wellington) often reflecting the rural setting of the school - sheep poo in sacks for the garden, chopped firewood to sell for the freezing Wairarapa winters and a multitude of other ideas incorporating the creative talents and abilities of the parent group.
And what have their huge efforts wrought?
A classroom headed by one of the most gifted teachers I have ever met, well-equipped and beautifully laid out. Montessori philosophy is meshed seamlessly with the state curriculum requirements. The atmosphere is electric with the children’s enthusiasm for learning. Directress Pauline Harter believes that what makes this classroom so different from the many other Montessori primary classrooms she has taught in over the years is the proximity to natural resources.
“We can literally step out the classroom door”, she says “and walk down to a marsh environment, visit a river without the need to transport children in a vehicle, walk through a park of deer and over a 100-year-old swing bridge to attend swimming lessons. There are no roads to cross. The children, many of whom live in rural or semi-rural parts of the region, have more opportunity to explore their natural environment on a daily basis. Yesterday we had a child bring in a dead kereru [native woodpigeon] he had found in his garden, and today another child shared a bird embryo still in its shell. Other children live on or near farmland and we are able to experience, either directly or vicariously, the wonders of the life cycle in many different ways. Every day brings something new.”
Much of the work children complete in the primary classroom involves projects - developing their research and reading skills, putting together a presentation of their ideas and findings, and, most importantly, presenting their work to their peers. This final part is the equivalent of the final part of the three-part lesson in the 3-6 class - the demonstration that knowledge has been acquired. Here again, the close proximity to natural resources is a big bonus: a study of invertebrates was aided by a class visit to some glow worm caves in Martinborough where three of the life-cycle stages were witnessed at close quarters by the children.
The seasons seem more real and distinct here and the year has definite parts. It seems that the children are more part of the rhythms of the planet as they walk their way through a beautiful and settled autumn with dazzling colours, a cold winter where each day started with sub-zero temperatures and we often crunched our way across the grass to school, a spring where we drove past the daffodils lining the roadside and watched as more and more lambs and calves appeared. And every day the magnificent beauty of the Tararua Range overshadows our daily drive to school promising more opportunities for exploration in the summer to come.
Please see the photos on "Our Unique Location" page.