Te Whāriki is a curriculum guideline originally published in 1996 and revised in 2017 by the New Zealand Ministry of Education and all childcare services in New Zealand are expected to follow it, much like we have the Development Matters document (and all that goes with it) in the UK. The overriding principles are those of empowerment, holistic development, community and family and relationships. It is split into strands of well-being, contribution, belonging, communication and exploration.
In order to understand this curriculum further and to see how it is similar in areas to philosophy for children it is necessary to look at the strands in more detail.
Strand 1 is Well-being and the goal is that children experience an environment that promotes health, nurtures their emotional well-being and in which they are safe. In a philosophy for children sense it would include philosophical explorations of emotions, how we treat others, our own powers of consent and what health means.
Strand 2 is Belonging and is very much focussed on children feeling a part of their family and of the wider community. In a philosophy for children sense it would include exploring what belonging means, our similarities and differences and areas of moral philosophy such as behaviour and justice.
Strand 3 is Contribution and, much like our British Values document for the Early Years, explores children all being equitable, tolerance and individuality. This is an area full of philosophical exploration relating to identity, stereotypes and fair and equitable treatment of others both in the classroom and in society.
Strand 4 is Communication and, much like the Reggio Emilia “Hundred Languages”, this strand values communication in all of its different modes, verbal, non-verbal, creative, expressive or symbolic. This is an area in philosophy which steps into the realms of aesthetic philosophy and also in encouraging effective communicators in whatever communication style is instinctive and comfortable.
Strand 5 is Exploration in which the child learns through active exploration of the environment. This includes exploring the world, their own bodies and capabilities, risk taking and confidence. In a philosophy for children sense it is being confident in their abilities and having the curiosity and resilience to enjoy exploring the world.
Many UK schools now run their own Forrest School (or Beach School) programmes with most doing it all the way from pre-school to Year 6. It is also common place in many nurseries. Settings may be lucky enough to have the grounds to be able to run Forrest Schools on site or might be even luckier and have a wood or beach nearby.
Forrest school is an initiative which supports and enables children to learn in nature, and in particular woodland environments.
“At Forest School all participants are viewed as:
· equal, unique and valuable
· competent to explore & discover
· entitled to experience appropriate risk and challenge
· entitled to choose, and to initiate and drive their own learning and development
· entitled to experience regular success
· entitled to develop positive relationships with themselves and other people
· entitled to develop a strong, positive relationship with their natural world”
With the right risk assessments in place Forrest School is available for all children regardless of ability or additional need.
Much like the Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches there is a heavy emphasis on the beauty and wonder of nature, on tapping into children’s natural curiosity of the world and increased capacity to learn in outdoors environments and on risk taking. As with these styles and as with philosophy for children the teacher is seen as a facilitator in this learning and not as a lecturer.
Like philosophy for children it is an approach that seeks to empower children to identify and enhance their own learning experiences through exploration of the world around them with the inspiration of all the natural world has to offer. Much like philosophy for children, Forrest School takes a holistic and heuristic approach to creating resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
“The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy based on the image of the child, and of human beings, as possessing strong potentials for development and as a subject of rights who learns and grows in the relationships with others.
This global educational project, which is carried forth in the Municipal Infant-toddler Centers and Preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and has inspired other schools all over the world, is based on a number of distinctive characteristics: the participation of families, the collegial work of all the personnel, the importance of the educational environment, the presence of the atelier and the figure of the atelierista, the in-school kitchen, and the pedagogical coordinating team.
Focusing on the centrality of the hundred languages belonging to every human being, in the atelier spaces young children are offered daily opportunities to encounter many types of materials, many expressive languages, many points of view, working actively with hands, minds, and emotions, in a context that values the expressiveness and creativity of each child in the group.”
Reggio Emilia is a region in Italy and this name of teaching refers purely to these schools, however many practitioners are now turning to Reggio approaches in their own classrooms. This approach is very much child led and individual to both the wider community and also the smaller community – that being the children in your cohort. For this reason there is no, one typical ‘Reggio Emilia’ style.
The fundamentals are that children are supported to become independent, be good communicators and that children have some control over their own learning and be able to create and develop their own learning. This is similar to an approach that any Philosophy for Children classroom will want to adopt as we create critical and creative thinkers in all areas – allowing them to have control over the activities they do and the resources they use with nothing that is in reach being out of bounds.
In Reggio Emilia there is a heavy emphasis on the many different ways children might communicate their learning, in particular through artistic methods such as role play, art and music. The environment should be simple, beautiful and free from clutter. Much like in philosophy for children, the adult is seen as less of a teacher and more of a facilitator – like the Socrates comparison of a ‘midwife’ (helping children to birth the ideas and learning that are already inside them) and a ‘gadfly’ (pushing children with challenges and problems to solve).
One of the core beliefs of this approach is that children form their own personality and knowledge in their very early years and communicate this through ‘a hundred languages’, by which they mean that they show this in everything they do – from play to art to dance to music to speech. Children should have endless ways in which to express themselves and endless materials available with which to do so.
In your philosophy for children classroom you can offer this with indoor and outdoor opportunities to make music, listen to music, make large and small scale art, observational drawings, junk modelling, ephemeral art and deconstructed role play. You could even set up your own atelier (art studio) which makes the most of natural lighting, beautiful resources and conscious use of space. As a practitioner you can embrace both a Reggio style and a philosophy for children approach by spending high quality time with each child as you get to know all of their personal quirks, interests, loves and idiosyncrasies.
For most practitioners working in Early Years there will have been a time when the word 'Montessori' popped into your consciousness. Maybe in your training or maybe hearing a colleague mention the word. Then follows a quick Google search and mini panic (or was that just me?). Is this something I should be doing? Is it new and revolutionary? Is it 1970s hippy claptrap? Am I already a Montessori teacher without knowing it? What's the big deal all about?
As the name may suggest to you, Maria Montessori was the creator of what we now call the Montessori approach. In answer to some of the above questions she was neither a 1970s free-loving hippy nor a 21st century blogging pioneer. She was in fact a medically trained Italian doctor who died at age 82 in 1952 (so for those of you who can't be bothered with a spot of maths whilst sat in your jammies drinking your morning coffee - she was born way back in the 1800s!) She specialised in scientific pedagogy and in particular studying and supporting "phrenasthenic" children (children who nowadays we would refer to as children with Special Educational Needs). Most of her research was based in the classroom and so her opinions on a holistic approach to learning for all children soon became a teaching method in its own right.
Over the following years Maria travelled the world establishing schools and lecturing in her approach. So how did an approach first named the Montessori Approach in 1912 survive and thrive to still be popular and (on occasion) seen as daring and revolutionary over 100 years later? Well it was given a hand by Maria's many published works and the 4000 schools she established in her lifetime. There are now Montessori schools throughout the world focussing on ages 3-6 years (though some schools have older children too). The main drive for the schools is that an emphasis is placed on process not result, learning is child centred not teacher controlled and children are taught to do things for internal reward not external reward.
The Montessori 'Approach' is actually quite a simple and instinctive approach once you learn a bit more about it.
Maria Montessori believed that all children were inherently good and connected to nature and the world around them, much as we do when we look at a child as being born with a natural curiosity. She proposed that there were times in each child's life when they became more sensitive to certain types of learning (periods of order, refinement of senses, language acquisition, walking and movement, small objects and involvement in social life). Practitioners could tune into which period a child was in by observing their play and so be able to support their learning. As we have already seen, that is something we do when we are building philosophical thinkers form birth. She found that children learnt through their senses and enjoyed working with beautiful materials and resources. She felt that children became dynamic learners by being allowed to follow their natural impulses. Philosophy for children fits well with this idea as we allow children to follow their own ideas and train of thoughts, never telling them that their thoughts are silly or wrong during our philosophical chats.
The role of the teacher (or 'Director') in a Montessori school is to be un-obstrusive during play and to guide, rather than control, learning, directing children's natural curiosities and energies. Again this is similar to a philosophy for children approach to being a practitioner (or facilitator). Children find it easy and natural to learn from older children so in most Montessori schools children are not separated by age. In P4C sessions learning is differentiated by questioning, modelling and scaffolding learning for each individual during play or focussed sessions and not by having separate ability groups.
Montessori believed that young children work for the joy of the process not the end result which was why many children enjoy repeating the same activity over and over again. Again Philosophy for Children is a good fit as philosophy sessions never seek to find the ‘real’ answer but rather to encourage and celebrate the process of thinking and talking through different ideas, opinions and imagined scenarios.
In both Montessori schools and P4C classrooms, children are seen as natural learners who want to explore the world. The results that children enjoy are the ones that make them feel good about themselves or their abilities. We help them to do this by listening, valuing their thoughts and ideas and entering into high quality interactions with them. If they are taught that there is always a right and a wrong result or answer then they will no longer enjoy the process or want to take risks. Although there are various parts of the Montessori approach that do not fit exactly with the Philosophy for Children approach, I have not looked at those here – they are minimal though, you can see that philosophy for children and the Montessori approach are not worlds apart.
Miss Magical Mess is a pre-school teacher and P4C Level 2B facilitator. After a shaky start as a P4C facilitator (P4C with 3 year olds... are you kidding?) Miss Magical Mess created her own approach to P4C and enquiry model and is now a big fan.