Monday, September 13, 2010

Montessori vs. Waldorf vs. IB

Recently I shared some of my thoughts and plans for our family’s homeschooling journey. I was very intrigued by how it would be received. I would like to answer one comment in a post as I imagine others may have wondered the same things. Before I begin I would like to interject here that I am not in any way an expert on the Waldorf, Montessori or IB philosophies. I am simply a mother, doing the best I can to learn with my children in the way most suited to them.

Lucy said:

“I'm interested in how you balance such different philosophies of education - for example, the montessori view that little ones should have factual books and not be "confused" with imaginative elements, with the waldorf emphasis on using imagination to share concepts rather than giving a child cold facts. Or the waldorf idea of not "awakening" a child before the age of 7, with the IB mode of lots of questions and enquiry. I always find it so hard to combine that way, because I think if I think this educational philosophy is right than it must mean that the others are wrong or less right, at least for us. Maybe I am just a very black and white thinker! It will be interesting to see how you juggle these different strands.”

I have thought and thought about this very issue so much. Each of these philosophies ring so true to me, and I find so much wisdom in each of their teachings. Yet they are all so very very different. So how to make them all work together? To start, I would have to say that above all else the learning that occurs in our home is guided by careful observation and attention to the interests, stages, developments, and needs of our children. Perhaps you have gotten a feel for the personality of my (almost 5 year old!) daughter through this blog. If not…she is a fantastically brilliant and vibrant girl, she is inquisitive and alive, curious and attentive, imaginative and creative, and love love loves to learn. As we learn together and follow her cues I find that it would truly be impossible to choose just one of these inspired educational philosophies that would suite her best. Likewise it is impossible for me to say which is truly “right”.

The fact is each child is markedly different. And even within each child there are a myriad of different moods, interests, “sides”, and phases that bring out the need for one philosophy over another at a certain time.

In our home, with our children, we see the need for differing philosophies on a daily basis. There is a great deal of emphasis placed on imaginative play and the beautiful stories of our world. These facets of our days are relished and, quite frankly, pivotal. However, on the flip side of this world of the imagination there is a little mind that craves factual information about practically each and every object, person, creature, and plant that crosses her path. As such reference books fill an equal portion of our reading time and library bag. In my experience children love and need non-fiction literature as much as they need fiction. To say that one should be placed at a higher precedence than another would be to tragic. It would be saying to a little mind that is open, ready, and wanting to learn, “no…not now…wait a bit”…with which you run the serious risk of shutting more than one window of opportunity.

In terms of the IB philosophy of enquiry and the Waldorf philosophy of “awakening” a child at 7, I truly think the issue has already been taken out of my hands. This little girl of mine is awake. She’s been awake for years. Awake and asking questions, wanting to figure things out and learn all about the world around her. Waiting for an “awakening” at age seven would be to put her back to sleep, which would be fought, and something precious would be lost in the meantime. Her mind is ready and craving learning. She wants to read, she wants to work with numbers and “do math”. Her mind works a mile a minute processing, inquiring about, and figuring out all that surrounds her.

As we follow her cues we find that to deem one philosophy over another…at the sake of another…would be to squelch something within her, and deny her something that would infinitely aid her development and learning. So at this time…we balance it…following her lead and paying careful attention each day to the sometimes subtle, but ever present signals that direct our path. As alike as they are, I am certain that as more and more of my little man cubs personality comes out, the path that we take learning together will differ from the one taken by his sister. So I think what it all boils down to, is continually, and carefully observing your child to know just what they need, and which philosophy best suits at that moment…and not feeling the least bit sorry about pulling bits and pieces from several philosophies to create a unique learning environment based on your child’s needs.