Blog

30 Mar
Alternative learning; Montessori and Steiner
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By Jeni Wilson

This article explores 2 types of alternative learning; Montessori and Steiner (or Waldorf), and how they can benefit the student. Both have maintained popularity over time and are similar in their child or student-centred curriculum that values both curiosity and play

Choice

Choosing the right type of education for your child is not an easy task. Some people choose a school because it’s local to their home, others choose a school based on where they went. Some decide on an alternate school. 

Alternative schooling resists conservative models of education and traditional practices. In alternative settings students are more likely to be exercising creativity, play, and freedom of thinking. They will do this through student voice and agency rather than operating in strictly controlled settings where teachers make most, if not all, of the decisions.

Montessori & Steiner

In our increasingly rushed and tightly scheduled lifestyles, Montessori and Steiner, (or Waldorf), offer a learning alternative. Action-oriented learning and kinaesthetic learning are key features of these types of teaching and learning.

They are both more hands on, student directed, and an individually paced way of learning that focuses on the whole child. In other words, social, emotional, intellectual and physical aspects of the child are all considered important. 

“He did not want the sand in the pail, but he wanted the exercise of putting it there. He wanted to feel the joy of doing something by himself.” – Maria Montessori

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” – Maria Montessori

Creativity, often neglected in traditional schooling, is given a high level of importance in both these methods. Characteristically the importance of play, student goal setting and problem solving, are also high on each method’s teaching agendas.

Montessori

Focuses on self-directed activity, collaborative play and hands-on learning. Students make creative choices about their learning and are offered age-appropriate activities.

Steiner

Focuses on the development of well-rounded students through a broad and integrated curriculum, including an emphasis on the arts, physical education, academics, emotional and social education. 

Waldorf

Waldorf education is also known as Steiner education. It is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. It has a predictable integrated and holistic pedagogy based around developing intellectual, artistic, and practical skills. There are over 1300 Steiner/Waldorf Schools and 2000 early childhood centres around the world.


Common Characteristics and Key Beliefs

Despite looking different in practise, Montessori and Steiner have many common characteristics and core beliefs as alternative learning options:

Montessori & Steiner
Learning is a natural process driven by students goals
Take into account developmental stages – sensitive periods to learn
Trust children will learn
Learning is an active process
Goal setting, motivation and self-esteem are fundamental
Montessori Steiner
Creativity and curiosity are importantCultivation of students’ imagination and creativity and the arts are central
Self-direction and independence are key features. Students are able to learn at their own paceDevelop independent thinkers capable of higher order questions
Students learn through active explorationStudents can make choices for themselves
Hands on materials and resources developed to match agesIndividuals are able to create meaning in their own lives
The prepared environment – should reflect the lifelong environmentThe environment provides a context for learning
Students are eager and ready to learnEncourage oral mastery of language, not reading until year2
Respect and moral values are paramount No text books until Year 6

‘The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’

Maria Montessori

Children playing and engaged with a Nüdel Kart with the adult "observing" not directing the play
Children are observed playing with a Nüdel Kart – Self directed learning

The importance of play

This teaching/learning scenario, where students are given multiple opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning, is often captured while children are engaged in self-initiated play. Play is recognized by both methods as crucial for children. It enables many of the central beliefs of both Montessori and Steiner to be realized.  

“Play is the work of the child.” Maria Montessori

In contrast to traditional forms of education, Montessori and Steiner allow children to take their time doing what comes naturally – to play and to develop holistically. It is of no coincidence that many students from these systems become creative all-rounders who are curious about their world and creative problem solvers.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that we need our children to grow up to tackle increasingly complex challenges in innovative ways. It makes sense for them to use these skills during play.

“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
― Rudolf Steiner

Self directed learning using the Nüdel Kart
References

https://www.montessorieducation.com/what-is-montessori https://www.montessorieducation.com/blog/more-than-play https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/maria_montessori_125856https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/maria_montessori_125856 https://www.playaustralia.org.au/sites/default/files/LibraryDownloads/loose-parts-toolkit.pdf

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nudel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Wilson, J. and Wing Jan, L. Focus on Inquiry (second edition). Education Services Australia, Carlton South.

26 Mar
The role of the teacher/adult in play
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By Jeni Wilson

Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth (Ginsburg, 2007). But the role of the teacher/adult in play, though important, is often misunderstood.

The temptation for teacher/adults is often to do things for kids or to tell them what to do to ‘save’ or control them. This can defeat fundamental purposes of play and reduce the benefits (hyperlink to benefits of play).

The purpose of play

Some of the purposes of play include: to build resilience, develop lifelong skills (including creativity), relieve stress, form bonds, use imaginations, self exploration and to have fun (Brown, 2014).  Even when teacher/adults cannot identify the purpose, play is not purposeless. For example, a child fascinated with learning to juggle might want to master that skill, have fun, impress mates, fill in time, or be better at basketball. 

We have to learn to live with the fact that our goals don’t always match children’s goals, and for them, their goals are going to be much more enticing.

“Teacher/adult interactions with children have an impact on the play space and children’s play” (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, 2005).

Teacher/adult Interaction or Interference?

The role of the teacher/adult will have an impact on student’s play. The way they set up the space, the things they say before, during and after play, the time given, the resources offered and not offered (such as loose parts).

The question teacher/adults always need to ask before deciding on their actions while children playing is ….

What is the purpose?
  • If we want children to develop resilience …why would we always protect them from the (safe) responses of others?
  • If we want then to be risk takers …why would we tell them what to do and how to do it?
  • If we want them to be persistent… why do we make them stop when they are focussed?
  • If we want them to be problem solvers…why would we give them all the materials they need?

What would you do if… 

Play scenarioOption AOption B
A child is struggling with trying a rope to their group constructed machineTie the knot for themSay ‘I’m impressed that you keep trying for yourself’
A child is playing by themselfAsk another child to work with themStart playing yourself nearby
A child is trying to join a group and change the original constructionTell them to find another groupRemind them that the group have already started and to remember to be respectful of everyone’s ideas
A child is sitting by themselves watching othersTell them to find a group to join inAsk them what they are thinking and planning to do

The role of the teacher/adult and their interactions with play can build or reduce a child’s confidence, reflection skills and independence. While the option A responses above may be quicker and feel more comfortable, option B responses are more likely to support children to make decisions for themselves, develop skills and improve their self esteem.

Playing with children not controlling the play

Ideally, some play involves teacher/adults, but when play is controlled by adults, the benefits of play can, at the very least, be watered down. 

Taking cues from children

Taking cues from children shows them that you believe in their ability as capable learners, thinkers and risk takers who can make their own decisions. This is motivating and leads to a stronger sense of wellbeing and confidence (Sewell, Wilson, Laing, and Veerman. (2020)). 

Scaffolding learning through play

Teacher/adults make a huge difference when scaffolding learning through play and extending children’s knowledge and skills. Children often like adults to join in to their play! It’s hard, but important not to take over. 

Knowing when to observe, pose questions, stand back, direct, interact, explain, give feedback and instruct is an art!

Roles of a Teacher/adultExamples
NoticingBeing keen observers of children skills and using this data for planning further learning/play. 
EncouragingProviding challenges, minimal constructive feedback and a safe environment.
NamingBeing explicit about skills and naming materials/resources.
WaitingBeing patient. Giving time and space for children to solve their own problems, make their own choices and mistakes. Not interfering, waiting for them to invite you to play.
Taking their leadShowing authentic interest in children’s play/ideas/interests. Not instigating play.
QuestioningAsking genuine questions about their thinking and decision making.

Adapted from Nudel Kart Teacher Manual (2020).

Teacher/adults can learn a lot from watching students at play, waiting for their invitations and their student leads. Prompting questions can be used to help guide students to challenge and modify their own play (if necessary). Observations and answers to questions can be used for teacher planning.

The Nüdel Kart, created by Playground Ideas, offers a great solution for teachers and adults to observe play. The kart comes with a teacher training manual with example teacher questions to stimulate student thinking and the example lesson plan.

Teacher observing chikdren play with the Nüdel Kart

The question we should always ask before intervening in play is – What is the purpose? 

References

Centre for Evidence and Implementation (2019). Nudel KART: encouraging play with children. (Developed for Playground Ideas). Melbourne, Australia.

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, ; and the Committee on Communications and ; and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health Paediatrics January 2007,  119 (1) 182-191; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-2697

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nudel Kart Teacher Manual.

Brown, K. (2014) What is the Purpose of Play? https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/purpose-play-wcz/

25 Mar
Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination
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By Jeni Wilson

Luckily, Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination are innate. However, these skills and dispositions, so highly regarded in preschools, are often neglected as children grow older.

Teachers often complain about a crowded curriculum and therefore, in practice, the basics get priority. Play and other contexts for developing these skills and dispositions are the poor cousins in curriculum implementation. 

The connection of play, Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination to learning cannot be underestimated (Walker, 2005) but sadly it is.

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Ken Robinson

Here’s a list of fundamental beliefs that underpin the development of Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination:

What teachers and caregivers can BELIEVE:

  • That children can take responsibility for their own learning and be self-directed
  • That children are problem solvers and problem posers
  • Independence is important for lifelong learning
  • All children can learn
  • Success and confidence are linked  
  • With minimal adult direction, students can learn and become resilient
  • Children can set their own learning goals
  • Children’s questions should be valued
  • Persistence in play/learning is important
  • Student voice is advantageous to learning
  • Sustained time on task is important
  • Having fun and optimism contributes to Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination

 “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”  Edward de Bono

There are a number of simple things that teachers/caregivers can do to enact what they believe and to enhance Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination. 

What teachers and caregivers can DO:

  • Emphasise inquiry focussed learning
  • Incorporate more play
  • Use cooperative groups
  • Set challenging learning tasks where risk taking is needed
  • Use higher order questions especially those that require ‘out of the box’ responses
  • Get children to visualise and imagine
  • Demonstrate that Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination are valued
  • Provide open ended tasks 
  • Incorporate more STEM tasks 
  • Integrate the Arts into regular classroom tasks
  • Teach children to be self-aware
  • Focus on the whole child
  • Be flexible
  • Choose tasks that are engaging
  • Create an environment that encourages Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Thomas A. Edison

The role of loose parts play

As I was typing this article I was more and more aware that play with loose parts would achieve the characteristics in the lists above.  I have seen first hand how curious children are when playing with the Nüdel Kart because of its open ended nature and the unlimited types of play and outcomes that are possible.

Using the Nüdel Kart to inspire creativity, curiosity and imagination

It is fitting then to finish this article with some reflections by children about their experiences with the Nüdel Kart. They have recognized for themselves the impact on Creativity, Curiosity and Imagination.

“I loved Nüdel Kart because I was really creative and you could experiment in lots of ways and you could develop your critical thing (sic) skills. I enjoyed all of it!!!!!”

“…it was really fun and I realised I was good at coming up with ideas for what my group could do to make our creations even better.”

“…after Nüdel Kart I found out I’m good at improvising. When I wanted to make a roller coaster but we only had two wheels I suggested to turn it into a lawn mower. It was lightweight and had a things bag for what we mowed. And we made a trampoline.”

“I enjoyed having the challenge of creating something. It was really cool, being able to work as a team and improvising when there’s limited time.”

References

Hopkins, D. and Craig, W. (n.d.) Curiosity and Powerful learning. McRel International, Australia. 

Munro, J. (n.d) Curiouser and Curiouser. McRel International, Australia. 

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nudel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Walker, Kathy. (2005) What’s the hurry? Australian Scholarships Group (np)

Thomas A. Edison https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/thomas_a_edison_125362

Ken Robinson https://www.diygenius.com/unconventional-quotes-about-curiosity-learning-and-education/

Edward de Bono https://www.diygenius.com/unconventional-quotes-about-curiosity-learning-and-education/

25 Mar
Loose Parts Play Kits
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By Jeni Wilson

A net is a veil, a stick is a crutch for an injured soldier… today that is. Tomorrow… who knows? The loose parts available during play provide students with limitless possibilities for invigorating play, stimulating imaginations and enhancing curiosity. In short, loose parts play kits can be used during play to learn about how the world works.

The benefits

One of the key benefits of loose parts play is the open-endedness and ability to be student-directed. They provide so many opportunities for construction and reconstruction, invention and reinvention. They encourage a range of play types and can match the child’s level of development. 

“Nüdel Kart provides the ultimate in loose parts play”.

Thinking skills and dispositions are triggered, as well as a number of other learning skills such as cooperative learning, problem solving, negotiation, conflict resolution and resilience. 

“Introducing simple, everyday objects during recess and lunchtime can cut sedentary behaviour by half, improve creativity and boost social and problems-solving skills” (Science Daily, 2016)

While fixed playgrounds and most toys may be intended for skill development during play, they are just that ‘fixed’. They will be the same next week as they are today and can have limited attraction.

Loose parts Kit

Teachers can develop their own loose parts kits. Many of the examples below can be collected from home.

Example materials for your Loose parts kit:

Natural resources and Found objectsmud, seed pods, bark
Building materialswood offcuts of all sized, simple tools, ropes, sandpaper, tubing
Scrap materialsold tyres, plastic pots
Soft materialsribbons, scarves, wool, fabrics
Household materialsfoam, bubble wrap, coathangers, cooking utensils, pegs, baskets, sieve, buckets

The Ultimate loose parts play kit

For the ultimate ready made and research based loose parts kit, that’s both compact, portable and doesn’t require power, the Nüdel Kart must be considered as an essential part of your loose parts suite.

Nüdel Kart is a mobile playground, a kart that comes apart into many different pieces, and is filled with loose parts that children can manipulate, build and play with. Nüdel Kart can be used in many settings, indoors and outdoors. It works across age groups from 3 yrs to 12 yrs and beyond, is not gender or culture specific and is highly supportive to people of all abilities.

Designed to meet world wide and whole child learning priorities, Nüdel Kart supports educational approaches that aim to develop skills increasingly in demand in our rapidly changing world in disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEaM).

Nüdel Kart provide more than 200 loose parts play pieces
The Nüdel Kart packed up

Loose parts play kits can help all children

For an average child in an average suburb in a developed country such as Australia, loose parts play super-charges the brain in all the skills essential for our complex lives. And for children living with toxic stress and daily anxiety about their future, Nüdel Kart, via loose parts play, creates an oasis of low stress, stimulating play as soon as possible after trauma. That space will help the child get back on the path of normal healthy development.

References

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nüdel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Wilson, J. and Wing Jan, L. Focus on Inquiry (second edition). Education Services Australia, Carlton South.