Children social development
Traditionally, nursery education started at three years of age, when most children were able to be physically independent of adults. Emotionally, many three-year-olds are capable of leaving their prime carer for short periods of time too, and socially they are ready to engage with others. In many countries, children spend the years from three to six in nursery or kindergarten and then begin compulsory education, when they embark on a new developmental stage.
Montessori’s own view of children’s developmental stages broadly coincides with this perspective. She sees the first six years of life as a series of symbolic rebirths following three specific embryonic stages. The physical embryo culminates in birth after the nine months of gestation. The spiritual embryo spans from birth to around three; this is a period when, according to Montessori, the child’s physical and psychological capacities unfold. Finally, during the social embryonic stage the social being emerges. It is during the latter that a child begins to absorb the social conventions and moirés of their culture; they are internalised and used in daily life. And this is when the child would enter the Montessori nursery. This approach broadly links with Piaget’s pre-operational stage and Erikson’s stage of initiative versus guilt.
The majority of three-year-olds are ready and curious to extend their social circles beyond the family. For many children, nursery is the first opportunity to experience life beyond the home in a home-like environment. They are introduced to new routines and new parameters of behaviour where other children need to be considered and where the wellbeing of others and respect for the environment are nurtured. In other words – a new set of rules is introduced.
In Montessori nurseries, these social skills are nurtured by first establishing the child’s individual routine and showing them how the classroom works. When ready the child will find their own friends and will begin to engage in cooperative play. Children are not expected to share and be part of the group from day one. They begin by being encouraged to choose from activities displayed on open shelves in baskets or on trays. The child will play with the self-chosen activity for as long or as little a time as they wish – their individual interests and rhythms will be followed. They are also shown how to put the activity back on the shelf where they found it, and whilst returning it will be reminded that it needs to go back on the shelf so that another child can use it.
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