Curriculum Steiner Montessori
As with most things in education, there is no agreed definition of ‘curriculum’. The way we understand and theorise it has altered over the years. A useful starting point for us here might be the definition offered by John Kerr and taken up by Vic Kelly in his standard work on the subject. Kerr (Kelly 1999, p.10) defines curriculum as ‘All the learning which is planned and guided by school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside school.’
There are many theorists who have studied child development and have designed curriculum’s from their own theories which they think will offer the best learning environment. This report will only examine three of various current curricula but offers an insight of how there is no real right or wrong way of how a child learns.
The report will take a look at the ‘Steiner Method’, the ‘Montessori Method’, and finally it will discuss the ‘High Scope Method’, a more recently developed method. It will also provide examples on how some of the ideas of these methods are being incorporated into other childcare settings and curriculums.
The Steiner Method
There is over eight hundred Steiner schools world wide. The Steiner method is based on the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner and the education emphasises personal responsibility and social awareness. The central aim of the education is to equip young people emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, not only to meet the future but to play an important part in shaping it.
According to Steiner’s philosophy, man is a threefold being of spirit, soul, and body whose capacities unfold in three developmental stages on the path to adulthood: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. Steiner education differs from the mainstream in a number of ways.
In a Steiner school there is no Hierarchy, teachers and parents work along together. Children do not start formal education until they are six or seven years old and they then stay with the same teacher for seven years. The teacher works with the student’s parents, often visiting the family home to allow parental involvement. Classrooms are filled with natural and organic materials.
In a Steiner nursery, children typically play with simple unfinished, wooden toys rather than bright plastic ones, to allow their imaginations to develop. A Steiner classroom would have few books and few computers. The Steiner philosophy dictates that screen images hinder the development of thought and imagination. Colour is important to Steiner's educational philosophy for helping children's imagination to thrive so pupils are instructed carefully as to how to proceed through the colour spectrum (Lewis 2001).
The huge difference between the Steiner method and other methods is that learning is directed by the teacher rather than the child. There is a huge emphasis on creativity and teachers will show children how and what materials they use. Teachers stress physical development through a ritualised dance form called eurhythmy.
Another primary principle of the Steiner method is children do not start reading until their adult teeth have erupted, usually around age seven, which, according to Steiner, shows the child’s readiness to start formal education. Delayed reading is one of the most controversial issues surrounding Steiner education, and there is concern from some educators that children may miss out on their literacy and reading “windows” (Mogensen 2004).
The Steiner method is one that is hugely different to other methods used in Nurseries and schools; therefore it is sometimes difficult to see similarities in other educational institutions. However you can see similar theories in the Montessori Method. The use of natural materials and the calm setting is one of the main principles that link the two methods. I have seen this in place at a Montessori primary school. The school was very quiet, and lots of toys and learning materials were made of wood and other natural materials.
The school also adopted some of the creative ideas that Steiner follow. They let the children make their own story books instead of reading published books with ‘ready-made’ images, which encourages the child to use their imagination more widely. I think this is a great idea, as children are not tainted by a particular image of a person, animal, object or environment. Kettle Nursery, who follow a 3-5 curriculum, hold regular meetings with parents to inform them of their child’s development, and they also give parents opportunities to observe their child in the nursery. This promotes parental involvement, which is another of Steiner’s main principles.
The Montessori Method
The Montessori Method is an educational method for children, based on theories of child development originated by an Italian educator, Maria Montessori. The method accommodates all ages of children but it is applied primarily in preschool and elementary schools. It is an alternative type of method that harnesses the child’s natural ability to learn and is built upon the idea that children develop and think differently than adults.
The Montessori Method supports all aspects of the Childs personal and social development. “From the moment the child enters the classroom, each step in his education is seen as a progressive building block, ultimately forming the whole person, in the emergence from childhood to adulthood. All focus is on the needs of the child” (Hainstock 1997, p.xiii).
One distinguishing feature of the Montessori at the preschool age is that children direct their own learning, choosing among the sections of a well structured and stocked classroom including practical life, sensorial, Language, Math, Geography, Science and Art. The “Practical Life” area is especially for the very young child and teaches them how to care for themselves and their environment.
Here, a child will learn to dress themselves, to pour, to wash a table, and to properly wash their hands, among other things. The “Sensorial” area allows them to use their senses to learn about the world. Here, a child will learn to judge different heights, lengths, weights, colors, sounds, smells, shapes, and textures. The language, math, geography and science areas provide a child with aids for their intellectual development. Exercises in body movement assist their physical development and their awareness of their body and what it can do. Many Montessori schools add such areas as music, art, dancing, sewing, wood-working and foreign languages to further enrich a child’s total development (Montessori 1912).
In a Montessori school, a child teaches himself through their use of the specially designed Montessori materials. These are attractive, generally simple, child-sized materials that are self-correcting, that is, if a child makes an error, they can see it by looking at the material itself in this way; no adult is needed to point out their mistake and perhaps injure their self-esteem. The child learns to work alone and with others in a Montessori school.
A child learns to follow the class “ground rules” and may often remind other children to follow them as well. Because they can choose their own work and do it at their own pace, a child has many opportunities for success; the Montessori classroom is non-competitive. They will also have access to plants and animals and will help care for them. The Montessori classroom is an attractive place in which a child can be free from adult domination and can discover their world and build their mind and body.
The Montessori Method is unique. It is based on a sensible balance between freedom and structure specifically designed for the young child. It provides a pleasant environment with carefully devised materials that meet the child’s natural needs. It provides the overall guidance of a thoroughly trained teacher. The role of the teacher is to introduce children to materials and remain a “silent presence” (Montessori 1912, p.371) in the classroom. Montessori gives a child a strong basis, in their most formative years, for developing into a well-rounded, responsible, happy and fulfilled adult.
From my experience in Kettle nursery, I can see how the curriculum incorporates some of the ideas that the Montessori Method follows. For instance, the children are fully encouraged to do things for themselves, and lead their own play and learning. The adult is to only serve as an assistant by supporting and extending their learning through play.
They are also encouraged to clean up after themselves; washing up their snack dishes, cleaning the tables and tidying away materials once they have finished using them this is a very similar idea to the Montessori’s practical life idea. Another activity that allows children to experience practical life is when as soon as they enter the nursery they are expected to remove their outside clothing and shoes themselves, and at the end of the day they are expected to put it back on themselves.
The High Scope Method
The High Scope curriculum was developed in the United States of America in the 1960’s. It is one of the most common methods used there and in some other countries. The idea behind High Scope is that children should be involved actively in their own learning. The adults working with the children should see themselves more as facilitators than supervisors.
The High Scope method is an “active learning” approach. This means students have direct hands on experience with people, objects, events and ideas. Children’s interests and choices are at the heart of High Scope based programs. They construct their own knowledge through interactions with the world and the people around them.
Children take the first step in the learning process by making choices and following through on their plans and decisions. Teachers and parents offer physical, emotional and intellectual support. In active learning settings adults expand children’s thinking with diverse materials and nurturing interactions.
High Scope has unique features that differentiate it from other early childhood programs. One is the daily plan-do-review sequence. Research shows that planning and reviewing are the two components of the program day most positively and significantly associated with children’s scores on measurements of developmental progress.
This three-part sequence is unique to the High/Scope approach. It includes a short small group discussion during which children plan what they want to do during work time (the area to visit, materials to use and friends to play with). They are then given to time to carry out their plans and then they meet up again for another group discussion for reviewing what they have done and what they have learned. In between “do” and “review” children clean up by putting away their materials or storing unfinished projects. Children are very active and purposeful during “do” time because they are pursuing activities that interest them. They may follow their initial plans but often as they become engaged their plans shift or may even change completely (High Scope Educational Research Foundation 2007).
The High Scope method also operates group time. ‘Small’ group time is a chance for the children to meet with an adult to experiment with materials and solve problems. Although adults choose the activity to emphasise a key experience, children are free to use the material in any way they want during this time. ‘Large’ group time is the time where children and adults come together for movement and music activities storytelling and other activities. Children have many choices and play the role of leader.
In High Scope programs adults are as active in the learning process as children. A mutual give and take relationship exists in which both groups participate as leaders and followers, speakers and listeners. Adults interact with children by sharing control with them; focusing on their strengths, forming genuine relationships with them, supporting their play ideas, and helping them resolve conflicts. Adults participate as partners in children’s activities rather than supervisors. They respect children and their choices and encourage initiative, independence, and creativity. Because adults are well trained in child development, they provide materials and plan experiences that children need to grow and learn.
Children and adults spend at least half an hour outside every day enjoying vigorous and often noisy play. They are free to make large movements running, jumping, climbing swinging rolling jumping yelling-all with energy. They collect and they garden. In extreme weather they do large motor activity indoors. Transition times are the minutes between other blocks of the day including arrival and departure times.
The goal is to make transitions pass smoothly since they set the stage for the next segment in the days’ schedule. They also provide meaningful opportunities themselves. Children may decide how to move across the floor on the way to small group time. With a consistent daily routine, children know what is going to take place next. It is not unusual for them to announce the next activity and initiate the transition. Snack time allows children to enjoy eating healthy food in a supportive social setting (High Scope Educational Research Foundation 2007).
Some of these daily routines that happen in a high scope nursery are quite similar to other curriculums. The idea of the child leading their own learning is incorporated into the Montessori Method and the 3-5 year Curriculum. I have seen this work well at Kettle Nursery. Another important element that I have seen in working action was the importance of health. Snack time at Kettle allows children to experience a healthy eating experience; including sugar free snacks, fruits and vegetables.
It seems to be that in the High Scope Method, the child’s health is a very important aspect of the curriculum, which is very similar to the 3-5 years curriculum. Kettle Nursery provides the opportunity for the children to experience play outside each day. They encourage an active lifestyle which again is very similar to High Scope. At the end of they day at Kettle Nursery, the Nursery Nurse also spends a few minutes to discuss with the children what they did that day, this is a little similar to the High Scopes idea of ‘reviewing’.
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