We know that children learn best when they are interested and engaged. Using children’s interests as the basis for our curriculum decision making helps to ensure that learning is not only interesting but also meaningful and relevant to children.
However, focusing on children’s interests should not lead to the assumption that children are best placed to make all the decisions about what we do, or to see ourselves as passive observers of children’s learning. When we say that Montessori is a child-led program, it involves more than simply allowing children to do as they wish. In fact they usually involve as much planning and forethought as any other form of program.
Using interests, not just following them
When considering the balance between adult and child direction, we think about using children’s interests rather just following them; the interest as the starting point, rather than as the end point. It then becomes our role, in partnership with children, to convert the interest into an effective learning experience, rather than assuming an experience will be worthwhile simply because it is child-chosen or child-directed.
There are many topics that we know children will be interested in once they are introduced to them—cooking or gardening for example. If we wait for children to show interest before introducing topics, we may miss the opportunity to introduce them at all.
Observe closely of what your children are doing and ask yourself some key questions; Is the interest just a passing one? Is it something that the children are happy to continue doing on their own? Or is it something more recurring and meaningful; an interest that could grow into something more? An interest doesn’t have to be grand or life changing— something very simple can spark the most amazing ideas.
Sometimes the best response to an interest is to simply acknowledge it with a comment, a question, or to provide some resources and materials to extend on what is happening. Stay involved in the process. Don’t be afraid to be part of an interest. With the right interest and with the time and resources to explore it properly, children will amaze you. But don’t forget that it is often an educator/parent’s careful support that makes the difference and allows the children to take an interest from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
‘Interest-based Learning’ published in www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au
Jones, E., & Nimmo, J. (1994). Emergent curriculum. Washington, DC: NAEYC.