'Piklersori' - Or Why We Put The Relationship Above Any Philosophy Label

Recently we received a question from one of our readers. It’s a question Tessa and I get often asked. So we asked permission from Jaskaran who posed the question to share the question and our answer here for all of the Heart School community to read. 

- Question from Jaskaran -

Hi Anja. I am a great fan of your heart school and love reading what you write. Personally I follow Pikler approach for my own kids and the kids that I care for!!! Yes I am an ECE teacher. Recently I came to know that you are a Montessori trained teacher and believe me I could not believe it. I always thought you must be inspired by Emmi Pikler or someone else. Cause I also thought that Montessori philosophy is very structured and focus a lot on literacy and getting children ready for school. But at the same time I also believe that all philosophies have child at the heart and the core values are the same. 

Anyways long story short out of curiosity to know more about Montessori teaching I went to look at few Montessori preschools around where I live and had few questions to ask:

  1. I saw a lot of respect for the Montessori equipment at the centres and forgive me but "a lot of it"... to the extend that children were not allowed to use them in any other way only for measuring lengths width etc.. they couldn't use them to build things or construct etc!!

  2. Love for nature plants etc and taking responsibility and respecting them is part of Montessori teaching or is it something close to your heart? Or is nature a big part of Montessori teachings.

Because how I see Montessori teaching is respect for everything: which should include the respect for children's imagination their spontaneous ideas their urges to do something there and then with the material resources provided! I might be wrong again I don't know much about it.

I am asking these questions just cause the centres that I went to there were no plants nature in the room yet they talked about teaching children botany zoology geography. 

Children were asked to not put out blocks in "this" corner and when I asked how do they let children fulfill their urges I was told they can go and play outside and anyway if they want to play they play at home here they come to learn and learning with purpose. There is purpose to everything and that children don't know how to use these equipments if we don't tell them how to.

I want to know if this is Montessori teaching I am just curious to know and if you could guide me to somewhere where I can read more in depth about Montessori teaching or at least get a clear picture towards what it is all about.

- Our answer - 

Hi Jaskaran, thank you for your kind words about the Heart School.  I am replying to this with Tessa as she has a similar 15+yrs  Montessori background.  

You are right, that we are also Pikler inspired, and our Montessori practice evolved over the years as we put more and more focus on relationships.  We've had our own questions along the way.  

What we have gained from the Montessori philosophy is a deep regard for childhood as it's own unique stage, a calm, gentle manner with children, an understanding of the immense capabilities of even our youngest children when we remove obstacles to their natural development (including ourselves), skills in observing, and an appreciation for real, authentic experiences and objects.  

Jaskaran, you are right, respect for equipment is very strong in the Montessori approach.  How this plays out in individual settings varies, but what you noticed does occur far too often, with the interpretation losing the creativity that Maria Montessori herself also spoke of.  

Montessori trainings vary in their strongest emphasis, but our training supported the idea of 'purposeful exploration', so as long as materials aren't being damaged, children could use the materials how they chose.  

This judgement of the purpose is of course then subjective and teachers/guides differ on what they see as appropriate.  Juggling this with our  developing understanding of true play was always in motion for us.  We both love still being surprised by what children can discover with the materials we've known well for so long, and freedom, rather than the 'structure' of Montessori holds the most value for us.  

We  love to return to Dr Montessori's own words, especially as our practice perhaps veered a little away from our own trainings and initial mentors.  She said, "Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them". 

For your second question Jaskaran, the answer is both.  Yes, nature and keeping children connected to the Earth is close to our own hearts, but it should also be an integral part of any Montessori programme.  Dr Montessori spoke a lot of children experiencing nature first hand, rather than 'representations pulled out of cupboards', and this is one area that has perhaps been really lacking in so many Montessori programmes here in Aotearoa and overseas, as the push for more 'academics' has come in. 

Tawa Montessori and Little Earth Montessori (Anja's preschools she started and ran for many years until recently) were groundbreaking in their approach to education for sustainability in general, and in having a fluid approach to the Montessori philosophy both indoors and out.

You are right that nature should be indoors and out, and that these 'curriculum areas' should not replace real life experiences but be supplementary to what a child can discover when truly immersed in the natural world.  Sadly, the real world can often be seen as the supplement, and this is a real shame.  

There are many negative perceptions out there of Montessori education.  There are also many examples of practice that make these sorts of perceptions accurate and understandable.  We both have, however, spent years in wonderful, nurturing programmes, and have been fortunate to be in leadership positions that have allowed our programmes to infuse our heart centred beliefs as a part of our Montessori teaching, not as an aside. 

We have always found it interesting that for an approach that has respect at the core, there is a distinct lack of respect often for varying views, trainings and ways of interpreting Montessori.

There can be so much emphasis on whether something is "real Montessori" or not.  Dr Montessori's vision when you got down to it was for us to follow the child, and put ourselves in service to them in the hopes that allowing their free development would ensure a more peaceful society.  Rigidity in the progression and use of materials doesn't quite weigh up then, does it?  

A beautiful book that goes beyond the just 'how to' of Montessori is Catherine McTamaney's, the Tao of Montessori.  We would start there.  We hope this answers your questions Jaskaran.

Like any philosophy in ECE, there is the philosophy itself and there is the specific centre culture.  There are many beautiful examples to go with the not so beautiful.  Finding your tribe is invaluable when you want to operate slightly out of the standard practice and Tessa and I are lucky to have found each other.  

When we chose to put relationships as more central to our Montessori teaching than what we had both learned prior, we had each other for support.  We also could go back to the source, Maria Montessori herself, and felt in our hearts that with her deep love of children she would approve of the kindness revolution we embarked on. 

- A special note from us -

Kimberley is Pikler inspired whilst Anja and Tessa are Montessori inspired. What brings us together at the Heart School is the heart centred approach. We both search far and wide, as well as deep inside ourselves, and then make use of all we know, be that Montessori or Pikler or any other ‘philosophy’. We look beyond any ‘guide book’ and beyond one defining ‘label’ such as Montessori or Pikler. 

We are who we are, and we are all of the above and more. There is more to learn when we take the limits off. We can learn from the ‘giants’ we admire in each field, and have the confidence to question what it is our children are experiencing and exposed to. Our strength lies in our ability to not be just one thing, but to have a strong living identity that is anchored in our hearts. 


If you have a question you would like us to answer send it to us and we will do our best to answer it. 

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