Learning to Learn
Thoughts & Reflections
Traditionally, Kindergarten is a time when children “learn to learn.” You have at least 12 years of education ahead of you, and we need to get certain skills in place first. So much of our educational system is still based on the factory model — groups of same-age children sitting in rows, attending to lecture. We use Kindergarten to get ready for this type of learning. Practicing sitting still and listening. Waiting your turn. Following a routine. Memorization and recall.
If you’ve been at home with a primary caregiver, or in a daycare-type setting, Kindergarten is the first time you’ve been in an academic environment, the first time you’ve been on an external schedule, that you’ve had responsibility and consequences.
This is another difference between Montessori and Traditional education.
In Montessori Kindergarten you’ve been in a learning environment for several years. You’ve probably been in school five days a week, since consistency paves the way for success. You have a routine and are learning to put the needs of the community at least on the same level as your own needs, if not above your own. You’ve experienced responsibility and consequences, from putting your own work away, to waiting your turn for snack, to remembering your lunch on the way to and from school.
This year is also critically important for “learning to learn,” but in a very different manner.
Rather than learning to learn in the manner of a lecture, sit and attend, raise your hand, memorize and recall when asked, you’re learning to learn in the truest sense. You’re learning to teach yourself, learning to seek out information, learning you have the skills to answer any question you could come up with. In the truest sense, you are learning to learn.
While a traditional Kindergarten might be preparing children for the rigors of school, the Montessori philosophy for Kindergarten is preparing children for the rigors, joys, and discovery of a lifetime of learning. You are learning to learn by learning to ask questions and seek out answers, to make mistakes, reflect, and try again.
Find experts and learn from them. Share your knowledge and skills at every opportunity, not just to help others, but also to confirm and to grow your skills. Ask questions when you don’t know something, then ask another question, and another. There’s always more to learn.
Everything I learn is always important, not just if it’s on the test, not just if it’s my favorite subject. The things I know become the tools I can use to interact with this world. Fun facts. Skills I’ll build on for the rest of my life. A tidbit that will one day become my life’s work. I might not remember everything I learn, but it all impacts me, it all has value.
There is no such thing as boring. I might choose to spend time working on a sudoku rather than a crossword puzzle, I might choose the desert over the sea, I might prefer Greek to Latin, but how will I know unless I try? No matter where I live, the world is open to me when I learn to learn.
When we say children need to learn how to learn, we do not always know what a deep truth we speak. We often say this as a rationale for a child re-joining the traditional system after some time in a Montessori classroom — so often starting Kindergarten with their peers that Fall they are five years old, riding the bus to the neighborhood school. And yet, this is precisely the time when learning to learn is really established in a Montessori classroom.
When we give “learning to learn” as a rationale for beginning “real school” in Kindergarten, we’re actually meaning learning to conform. There’s a misunderstanding that, up to this point, children in a Montessori classroom have been allowed to do whatever they want. Maybe not a free-for-all, but certainly less structured than “real school.” Montessori classrooms are highly structured, and children have freedom within this structure. You’re allowed to choose any work, as long as you’ve been show that work, as long as no one else is doing that work, as long as you use it appropriately. Not “whatever you want.”
Young children are naturally impulsive. They don’t yet have the ability to think through something, to imagine all the possible negative consequences, and to make the best choice. An idea is sparked and immediately action follows. After the fact, an older child might be able to explain why it was not the best choice, but the impulse control, the forethought, those take a while to develop. It’s truly brain growth, and it’s a matter of time and age. When we see change take place over the course of a Kindergarten year, to see a child who is eager and impulsive grow to still be eager, but to show some discretion, to be more cooperative, to “go with the flow” a bit more than their young five-year-old self did, it could be that Kindergarten year and learning necessary skills, or it could simply be a change of nine months — your brain, your discipline, your skills have all grown.
For more than “sit still and be quiet because I said so,” we want children to have the desire to stick with a problem, to attend to the story because they find it interesting (or because their classmates might and while this story isn’t their favorite, the next one could be, and their strong empathy prevents them from acting in such a way that could be detrimental to the enjoyment or safety of others), to be still because they’re concentrating, to find learning enjoyable and worthwhile. Regardless of what they do after Kindergarten, regardless of where they complete that Kindergarten year, the child who begins First Grade will not be the same child who began Kindergarten. They will be older, wiser, with more discretion and more discipline, still hungry to learn, eager to help, a good citizen and a gift to any community they join. They do not need to learn how to learn, they simply need to not have that inner flame extinguished, and maybe even fed a bit along the way.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder