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'Let the children lead': Teacher on the magic of Montessori learning

"When children like what they are doing, they are able to focus more. Deeper learning occurs."

Sydney-based educator Anniebelle Vergel De Dios is a firm believer that we should trust our children enough to know how they want to learn.

"When children like what they are doing, they are able to focus more. Deeper learning occurs."

Having years of experience in working with children, former Montessori guidance counselor and speech teacher Anniebelle Vergel De Dios knows the effectiveness of allowing children to choose how they learn.

The Montessori philosophy

Allowing children to choose how they learn is the core principle of the Montessori way of teaching and learning.

"Montessori is about independence. This philosophy is applicable from birth until 18 years of age," Anniebelle shares, adding, "We don't rely on materials. It's not just classroom-based. Children want to do things for themselves. For me, the Montessori philosophy is a way of life."

Anniebelle
"Children want to do things for themselves. For me, the Montessori philosophy is a way of life."
Anniebelle Vergel De Dios

This way of life sees children being active participants in their learning and educators taking a bit of a backseat to allow them to figure out what interests them.

"As teachers, we used to call ourselves 'directors'. Now, we're referred to as 'guides', Anniebelle says, adding, "It's very different to how I grew up. In the Philippines, we had to learn in a very standardised way; but when children are forced, learning doesn't really take place. Child-led education makes more sense. It leads to deep learning and deep concentration."

Anniebelle
"I've worked with toddlers and little ones for more than a decade. Plus I have two kids, I've made mistakes too; so now I know what not to do," she laughs.
Anniebelle Vergel De Dios

Anniebelle admits that it took years of experience for her to fully realise this method of learning as well.

"I've worked with toddlers and little ones for more than a decade. Plus I have two kids, I've made mistakes too; so now I know what not to do," she laughs. 

Freedom within limits

In as much as her experience as both an educator and parent led her to figure out what not to do, it also reaffirmed in her the belief that children learn best when given freedom within a limited environment.

"In Little Hands Montessori, [the centre I own and run], before class starts, everything is already prepared. For example, for morning tea - we already have apples they can slice or oranges they can juice. In the art area, water colour is available for them, or they can cut paper. They have a lot of choices and it is up to them to choose what they want to do."

Anniebelle
"We call the classroom a 'prepared environment'."
Anniebelle Vergel De Dios

Anniebelle, who runs classes for both babies and toddlers, shares that she first starts with a short lesson and then the children are free to engage in any activity they want.

"They can do the activity over and over again or even the whole morning if they want.  They can choose whatever they're interested in."

And while the children engage in whatever they're interested in, parents and carers gauge whether or not they partake in their activities.

"Mums or carers judge whether to collaborate with the kids in the activities or stand back and observe," she shares, adding, "For example, some toddlers know how to wash their dishes; while others may need their mums' help."

Anniebelle
"For me, observe your child and follow his or her lead - it's as simple as that."
Anniebelle Vergel De Dios

Toddlers aren't the only ones who need guidance as Anniebelle shares that she also helps mums figure out how to guide rather than lead.

"For me, observe your child and follow his or her lead - it's as simple as that. It also will help avoid conflict. Us as parents, we tend to force our children to do things a certain way; but what would the point of that be? To please us? It's more beneficial if children are enjoying what they are doing."

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