Penina Efune, Manager & Head Teacher, began our hands-on evening by sharing her thoughts about the Montessori approach and how she feels it is in great harmony with the Jewish ethos. Environments and atmospheres are very influential, especially for a young child. A cornerstone of the Montessori approach is a carefully prepared, aesthetically pleasing room with lots of real materials such as wood and porcelain but little plastic.
It was further explained to us that independence is very strongly encouraged, with the underlying belief that children naturally want to learn. Children are thus urged to self-select from any one of the hundred or more activities available in the room, which provides a chance for them to discover and learn for themselves, thereby developing a real love for learning.
Roberta, the nursery’s Montessori teacher, showed us how the learning method includes sensing and experiencing, whereby the hand teaches the brain. We were all invited to try out a number of activities ourselves. In this way we discovered how a simple task such as transferring beads from a pot onto a soap pad using a pair of tweezers required concentration and stillness. Developing high levels of concentration is the essential base for a child’s mental growth.
We were shown and practised activities for life skills, mathematics and language as well as cultural and sensorial tasks, each of them allowing us to step into our children’s tiny shoes and experience a little of what they have the joy of doing in their day-to-day life at the nursery.
I tried the thermic tablets, which involved feeling different kinds of materials and matching them by touch. This was quite a tricky exercise and it showed me that we as adults still have things to learn.
We were also given ideas for what we can do at home with our children — simple yet engaging tasks ranging from laying the table, polishing, and emptying the dishwasher; or with younger ones, sorting socks and counting stairs.
One of the main impressions I think many of us got from the evening was how our children are being taught a love of nature, an appreciation of beauty and a sense of worth as individuals.
To end the evening we got to appreciate something else wonderful: Mrs Stark’s chocolate brownies!