Exploring Education: RIE, Waldorf, and the Montessori Method

04.01.2021 Home & Motherhood
Buttery Queen
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Pink Floyd famously sang, “Hey teacher, leave those kids alone,” and maybe they were onto something.

Last week, a neighbor stopped me while on a walk with my kids to tell me how lucky I am to not have kids in school. Later, another mom stopped me at the local playground to ask why my kids were not in school, and was surprised they were not in transitional kindergarten or preschool, then she proceeded to give me advice on why they should be.

It is my opinion that we all know what works best for our children and our families. We all want to give our children what we didn’t have and the aspects of our childhood that we loved. For some of us, school was a big part of that but others not so much.

Our family has a unique dynamic, in that my husband is a firefighter and I can work remotely. Many times, my husband’s “weekends” are the middle of the week. This has allowed us to experiment with different styles of “homeschooling.” However, it is an interesting time in our world and more people are not bound to the traditional corporate nine to five Monday through Friday work week. Due to this, more people are interested in adopting homeschooling practices. Pre-COVID if I had mentioned homeschool or unschooling (practical applied academics instead of formally schooling) to someone, I typically got a negative reaction. Now nearly everyone is curious about alternatives and it’s always refreshing to remind ourselves of the positives emerging from this time in history.

All of this is to say that we have experimented with and follow many young learning philosophies.

There are so many different theories and although some of them are formalized, a lot are simply intuitive. In fact, you might already be practicing these philosophies without realizing.

It’s my belief that we are constantly training our children, even if we are not consciously doing so. In the spirit of sharing and learning, here are a few of our experiences with different forms of learning.

Waldorf Education Also Known as Steiner Education

We started attending horse adventures, a Waldorf-inspired horse camp that teaches horsemanship and riding skills. Rudolph Steiner developed the philosophy behind Waldorf. It strives to teach through the mind, body, and spirit; to develop pupils’ intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner. For example, as we were physically learning a riding skill, we’d also sing about the skill as we were doing it.

Another favorite Waldorf teaching is in reference to reading. It was not recommended to physically read a book to your child, instead your child can explore the book and you can tell them the story. It was neat, as it forced me to stay present with my child and not get distracted with the book. 

Waldolf also teaches children of all ages together, so that similar to life, we can all learn from each other despite our differences.

Montessori Education

This form of education was created by Maria Montesssoru, an Italian physician. It emphasizes independence and capitalizes on children’s curiosity and eagerness to learn in a supportive environment.

Montessorri activities promote exploring through toys unassisted; therefore encouraging imagination and independent play. The premise is to be available to assist if asked — but not force the child to do things one way or another. The result of this is a lot of learning through observation.

We found this technique worked very well around animals, including house pets. For example, when we get eggs from chicken coops, bait a hook in fishing, or physically milk our goats — many applicable life lessons naturally emerge, as do biological questions and teachings on compassion.

We also followed the Montessori approach to sleeping. It basically puts the freedom into the hands of children and offers them the ability to learn self-decision, self-soothing, and healthy sleep habits.

As we transitioned our two eldest from co-sleeping with us, they chose to sleep next to us on a mattress on the floor, and eventually, like a light switch, one day to their own bed.

Resources in Infant Education (The Rie Method)

There was a point where I became a super frustrated new mom. My two-year-old repeatedly told me “no” to everything, threw a lot of tantrums, and was in the throes of all the emotions that toddlers experience at that age. A good friend introduced me to the teachings of Magda Gerber. She created the RIE (Resources in Infant Education) Method that was a series of teachings on communication.

Some of these lessons included speaking to your children in a respectful way, explaining what you are doing and why, consistently using a normal calm voice, and giving space for emotions, feedback, and feelings without judgement.

Although at times hard to do, it has been widely successful with many parents and their children.

The Reggio Emilia Approach

Recently, a mother in the “natural mothering group” shared with me her experience at the Reggio Emilia T-K school her son attends. She told me they teach kids to do everything with purpose and intention.

They ask the children what they are attempting to accomplish by doing something a particular way. In this way, it encourages problem solving skills and explores the idea that there are many ways to do something.

It is also extremely community and family based. They tinker with building practices and encourage art, even using what might be considered “adult tools” — but with supervision. The classes are student-led and the child is given time and space to use their imagination to develop skills on their own, rather than being taught a particular way of doing something.

As a biologist, I often look to biomimicry for answers. Questions I find myself asking include: is this problem solved in nature and how do we learn and teach? As humans, we have an inherent desire to learn, solve problems, and overcome challenges. 

All of the above philosophies are similar in that they encourage problem solving and learning by giving the child their own room for discovery. For this to be effective, caregivers and parents must provide a safe space for the process.

Although this is an examination of childrens’ education methods, as a parent I think we are also continually learning. There is no right way. We must trust our intuition and know that whatever path we choose will be the exact tools that our children need. On the other hand, we can offer the right challenges that teach them the lessons that are perfect for who they are going to be. If the opportunity for education is encouraged and nurtured through natural curiosity, then learning does not always need to be taught in an official way. Instead, it can be practical and applicable to daily life and most importantly, happen organically.

Buttery Queen (and yes that is her real name) is an educator, writer and mother of 3 living in Ojai, CA. She has a master’s degree in science and has worked as a biologist, in food safety, as a private chef and a café owner. She is passionate about food, adventure and nature. When she is not with her family; she enjoys SCUBA diving at the Channel Islands.

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