Why is the Eszterlánc kindergarten special?
When parents are looking for a kindergarten, it is easy to lose one’s way among all the options. There are many important aspects to be considered – there should be enough sports activities, big space for the children, language teaching and proper preparation for school. The Eszterlánc Hungarian-English Montessori kindergarten provides parents and children with all these possibilities, and moreover, it uses a special method which ensures that by the time children go to school, they are confident, independent and have a high level of emotional intelligence.
Who was Maria Montessori?
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Italy and died in 1952 in the Netherlands. She was the first woman in Italy to become a doctor. After graduating, she worked at a clinic in Rome where she became interested in developing children’s abilities and skills. She devised special techniques and materials. This was the first step in developing her method, which became known as the Montessori method worldwide.
In order to understand children’s way of thinking even more thoroughly, she continued her studies in the fields of philosophy and psychology. After finishing her studies, she was asked to gather and educate the children wandering the slums of San Lorenzo (Rome). Thus in 1907 she founded the predecessor of today’s Montessori kindergarten, the “Casa dei Bambini,” which means: children’s house.
Montessori developed the framework of her method and her materials based on her observations of children and pointed out – what seems so obvious to us today – that early development is decisive in later life. There are successfully operating Montessori institutions all over the world, which proves that even though the basics of the method were laid more than a hundred years ago, it can adapt to a variety of cultures and customs that are distant from each other in time and space.
What is the Montessori method?
One of the most important goals of the Montessori method is to help children become self-sufficient and independent. Children learn to get dressed, set the table, make the bed and brush their teeth. If water or soup is accidentally spilled, they enthusiastically bring the child-sized mop to help clean it up. In the afternoon, they proudly tell their mum and dad what job they had after lunch – for example they gave toothpaste to the other children. Children who can take care of themselves and their environment on their own, independently of adults, are happy, satisfied and confident.
Other educational principles rooted in the Montessori pedagogy serve the same goal: the lack of punishment and competition as well as positive communication. We discuss conflicts and encourage children to express their feelings and their needs in a given situation, which in itself resolves most of the conflicts (e.g. “I would like to play alone now”). We project various situations with role play, which the children can remember and utilize in case something similar happens to them (e.g. what should we say or do if our best friend wants to play with someone else?). Children become assertive and confident, thus calm and balanced. They are aware of their abilities and so if they have to face a competitive situation outside of the kindergarten, they can handle it well. The teacher always communicates with the children in a positive way – she says what she expects from them, not what they are not supposed to do (e.g. instead of “do not put your feet on the chair” she says “keep your feet on the floor”).
At the same time, the Montessori kindergarten uses special materials, so-called Montessori materials. These are toys for the children that improve their skills and abilities in an undetectable way. Maria Montessori herself started developing them, and all materials are a result of long research and scientifically precise work. Naturally, more materials are being developed nowadays, which are also a result of years of pedagogical and psychological research.
The Montessori toys develop children in five areas:
- everyday life: children learn to take care of themselves and their environment, for example – with the help of the dressing frames – they learn to button, zip and tie a shoelace; they observe the growth of plants, water and take care of them.
- sensorial development: various toys improve children’s sense of smell, hearing, touch, sight, the perception of depth and three-dimensional structures (e.g. they build a tower from cubes of various sizes; they grade different shades of the same colour from darkest to lightest)
- language (English and Hungarian): children get acquainted with sounds, letters, they expand their vocabulary, improve their perception of speech, they start reading and writing
- mathematics: children familiarize themselves with numbers and quantities with the help of hands-on materials
- culture: it includes zoology, botany, geography, physics and history – for example various experiments (sorting magnetic and non-magnetic objects) or the puzzle of European countries
The toys are arranged according to the five areas on low-shelves that are easily reached by the children. The children decide for themselves what material they want to use and how long they want to play with it. They can play in pairs or small groups as well. The teacher observes the children and if she thinks that the material they are playing with is too easy for them, she shows them how to use it in a different way or she recommends new toys to them. The teachers often change the toys on the shelves and regularly prepare new materials.
With such independent children, what is the role of the teacher?
The role of the teacher is different from what we are used to: she helps, supports, and gives options, she does not stand above, but by the children. She is the mediator between the knowledge and the children, because it is the children who acquire the knowledge, the emphasis is on their developmental processes, not on the teacher constantly directing them and giving them information. Thus one of the most important tasks of the teacher is to observe, to get to know the children as deeply as possible, to follow their interests and to present materials and give information accordingly. The teacher plays with each child individually, taking into consideration their interests and individuality, and she helps them develop in their own pace.
Our teachers document the development of each child in detail and inform the parents. The parents have the chance to come to individual meetings with the teachers and talk about their child’s progress, but they are told about important matters on a daily basis. Successful education is partly based on the cooperation of parents and teachers.
Are there any lessons?
In Montessori pedagogy a great emphasis is put on the freedom of choice and giving options. The arts and crafts activities are always on, the materials are prepared for the children in the morning and in the afternoon as well, and the teacher can present the new technique at any time. The children can decide for themselves if they want to make a snowman, flower, etc. and when. We offer the children the same type of activity more than once and even if they do not want to join immediately, at some point they will choose to take part, and because the activities vary greatly, the children will always be interested.
The puppet show, the circle time (a discussion about a relevant topic – e.g. about migrating birds in autumn), role play, music and singing take place at certain times, but children can decide to what degree they want to take part. It is very important that the children join because they want to and are internally motivated, in order to ensure that they have a good time and learn from the activity. We invite everyone to take part but the children have the chance to observe first and perhaps join later.
When do children play?
The activity done by the children with the materials is called work, because they work really hard to complete a task. At the same time children at this age (from 0 to 6) look for and carry out activities which contribute to their development.
Maria Montessori used the term sensitive period to describe the specific times when children are open towards a certain area and find opportunities to develop their abilities. She found for example that children undergo the sensitive periods for letters between the ages of 3 and 5, and for numbers between 4 and 6. It depends on the child when exactly these periods begin, but it is important to notice and take advantage of these, because these are the times when the child can effortlessly acquire knowledge and certain skills. If we do not notice these and the child does not get the knowledge she or he needs, we miss the opportunity, and instead of learning effortlessly, the child will learn reading and counting with more difficulty and less enthusiasm. This is why teachers have a great role in a Montessori classroom, since they observe the children and suggest toys and materials to them that satisfy the curiosity triggered by their active sensitive periods.
What are the benefits of a mixed age group?
Mixed age groups make it possible for children to inhabit many roles during their years at the kindergarten – the younger children learn to ask for and accept help, the older children learn to give help and at the same time (together with the teachers) they serve as a role model for using the materials and acquiring the system of rules and practices. The older children always want to learn more, because they are motivated by the chance to teach the younger ones. Furthermore, this arrangement mirrors real life where we work and keep in touch with people of different ages.
How does bilingual education work?
In our kindergarten there are English-speaking and Hungarian-speaking teachers in each group. We use the principle of “one person-one language” and so one teacher speaks to the children in the same language in every situation. The second language (let it be English or Hungarian) is not learnt in isolation, in the framework of a lesson, but the children hear it all day. This way, the children spend all day in a bilingual environment, which makes second language acquisition natural and easier. Experts have found that children can acquire foreign languages effortlessly before the age of 6. This learning ability is lost later as the nervous system develops, and language learning becomes hard and tedious. Acquiring a foreign language at an early age does not – as opposed to common belief – influence the children’s ability to speak their mother tongue, but it makes it easier to learn a third or fourth language later on, and makes the children more open towards other cultures, which has a positive effect on their whole life. In today’s world, speaking languages and knowing other cultures is a great advantage, as we establish more and more international (personal and business) relations.