“So what water form would you call this, mummy? A bay?” my eldest son asked me yesterday.
We were swimming in the crocodile- and stinging jellyfish-free swimming lagoon at Darwin’s waterfront and his question caught me by surprise. When he came swimming over to ask me something I was sure he was going to ask for an ice cream.
“That’s a good question,” I said. “What do you think?”
“Yes, it’s a bay. It’s definitely not a strait because it would need land on both sides and it’s not a gulf because it’s the wrong shape,” my youngest chimed in.
After some discussion of various water forms my boys agreed we were, in fact, swimming in a bay.
Given we had spent some time on the Land and Water Forms activity in our home learning classroom this week, my son’s observation shouldn’t have been particularly surprising.
But it really was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment for me. Not only had he learnt something this week (our very first week of home learning) – and remembered it – but he was considering that new information through the lens of our day-to-day life.
Thankfully, of course, I’d spent some time learning the water forms myself before presenting the lesson to my sons, so I had some idea of what they were talking about. Not that they needed any input from me in assigning a water form label to our swimming space. My eldest son had really taken to the activity and thankfully I’d had some extension work ready for him which had kept him focused for half a morning a few days previously, so he was pretty well versed on this topic.
As a brand new Montessori homeschooler, I’m reading a few homeschooling books at the moment and one of the biggest takeaways so far is that, really, the world is our children’s classroom and that everything can be a learning opportunity.
I know it seems obvious when you say it out loud, and as parents of course we’ve always been aware of that, whether we are home schooling or not and whether we are Montessori or not – but it is something I need to remind myself of, I’ve realised.
Just today we drove a couple hours out of Darwin to a fantastic swimming hole and along the way we talked about everything from the tropical Pandanus tree, to why the shrubs are so green when the tree trunks are so black (controlled burn offs) to where the word ‘rubbish’ comes from (old French from the word ‘robe’ which means ‘spoils’).
Those types of conversations aren’t new, and we don’t have a TV so it’s not unusual for a dinner time conversation to end up with one family member or another jumping online or pulling out a dictionary (that’s how we worked out the ‘rubbish’ answer when we got back today) to find out the answer to a pressing question!
With both of my boys in the second plane of development, their learning has definitely transitioned to that analytical, reasoning stage – hence so many questions, often about seemingly random and unrelated topics!
I love the saying “Not every teacher is a parent, but every parent is a teacher”. It’s so true. The transition from Montessori parent to Montessori home schooling parent has been really smooth so far. I was a little scared, I have to say. (Okay, a lot scared. A LOT. Am I really qualified to do this?). But I’ve realised that expanding my sons’ world bit by bit, showing them the way and then standing back to let them walk their own path is what I’ve already been doing all along. True, I haven’t had quite this much focus on spelling, grammar, three-digit long division, the map of Brazil or the name of our forearm bone (it’s the radius) until now, but it’s fair to say I’m learning a thing or two myself! In fact, I think I’m learning more than them, and that’s saying something!
I have to say, realising that everything is a learning opportunity does take the pressure off somewhat. Everything from reading to shopping, cooking, sport, gardening – even family trips to the museum, the library or a tropical swimming hole – all present opportunities for learning.
I am, of course, following the Montessori 6-9 curriculum and we have our shelves of Montessori materials which my boys recognise and love.
You know, I wouldn’t have believed that I could become more passionate about the Montessori philosophy than I already was. But this week, as I watched my 8 year old son present lessons to my 6 year old (who was just wrapping up his time in his 3-6 environment when we started this travelling adventure) I have to confess I had a tear in my eye. Step by step, with amazing patience and concentration, my eldest showed his brother everything from how to write in your journal each morning (interesting, given his guide tells me this was something he used to resist doing himself in his Montessori class!), to how to do subtraction with the Stamp Game to the steps required to plan a Going Out. I have seen what Dr Montessori referred to as the ‘normalisation’ of the child with my own eyes.
You see, my boys fight. A LOT. As in, just about every minute of every day. I know that’s really common with siblings and I’m sure it is something they will grow out of and learn to manage as they mature. But when we were making our decision about whether we should take this opportunity to travel to the Top End of Australia and home school Montessori for a while, I just KNEW that – once they were in the right environment, with materials in front of them that they could engage with and that are just right for their stage of development – that they would get their ‘Montessori’ hats on, and participate.
And they have.
We parents know our children pretty well. Even though we don’t usually see them all day when they are at school, we do get peeks into their classrooms (especially if you help out with reading, cleaning and Going Outs – I strongly recommend you do these things if you can!) – so we get to see them in that Montessori environment.
We know what they are capable of.
I know some people were a bit sceptical when I said I was going to home school my sons while my husband sees out his work contract in tropical Darwin, thousands of kilometres from my sons’ Montessori school.
But deep down I knew I could do it. And I knew my boys would rise to the occasion.
And as a Montessori geek myself, I just find it endlessly fascinating to be actually living and breathing and seeing for myself exactly what Dr Montessori wrote about all those years ago.
A few nights ago, my youngest son was telling my husband what he had learned that day.
“I learned about volcanoes,” he said.
I listened with interest, as he’d completed a 3-part card activity on volcanoes that day.
“Yes, I learned about different types of volcanoes,” he said. “Some volcanoes are active, some are extinct and some are even under water!”
Just then my other son chimed in.
“And you learned about shield volcanoes – remember, where the lava travels for miles and miles.”
I stared at my eldest son in surprise. He had been deeply engrossed in another activity altogether when my youngest and I had been doing the volcano work. As far as I could tell, he hadn’t even glanced our way during the whole lesson.
But apparently he had been taking it in.
I’ve written about this before and I know it happens in Montessori classrooms, but actually seeing the learning happening in my children each day is just amazing!
I’ve always wondered how teachers do it. One of the hardest jobs out there, in my view. A classroom full of children, so much to teach, jam packed curriculum, paperwork and bosses and political masters (not to mention parents) to keep happy. How do they do it?
I think I’m starting to find out. That moment when a child’s eyes open slightly wider, when they have their own ‘aha’ moment and when they experience the satisfaction of learning something new. There’s nothing like it. And there’s nothing like being a part of it.
I’m so grateful to have this (albeit fleeting) opportunity to be part of my sons’ formal Montessori learning.
And I’m going to remember that everything can be a learning opportunity! Everything! And if you’re on social media or commenting on my blog – feel free to remind me too!
See you next week.