Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Change in the Early Years, how to help children cope


Autumn has come again and another wave of nursery children have moved on to primary school. They leave a big gap as they are missed by the teachers and children they leave behind.

Some parents may worry about the impact of change on their child's social development if a close friend has moved on while their child is still at nursery: “With all these younger children around, will my child get enough attention? Will my child miss old friends? Will they have enough friends the same age or older? If they are with these new, younger children, will their progress be delayed?”

And yes, of course they will miss their friends. It’s difficult to accept change, to accept that they won’t see their precious friends every day anymore, but it’s a natural process that will happen time and again in their lives as they grow up.

Will my child get enough teacher attention?

Younger children are not as independent and will need more help with putting on their coats, washing hands, having snack and many other small tasks. That is an opportunity for the suddenly ‘older child’ to shine. Let’s assume the ‘older child’ in this story is a girl. She knows where things are kept and how things are done. Soon she realises that she knows a lot more than these newcomers and turns into a little leader. She helps the little children with their shoes and their fastenings. She gets their cups or opens their lunchtime yoghurt pot for them. Instead of needing the teachers' help herself she now turn into an important ‘nursery asssistant’ and should get a happy ‘Thank you’ from her teachers and friends. That change feels good!

Will my child have enough friends the same age or older?

Well, our young lady friend may well be the most senior of the children, but she is probably closely followed by others not far behind. While it may well be the first time this happens, it certainly won't be the last. With each change of school, from early years to university, she starts again as the little fish in the big pond and ends up as the big fish in the little pond. At each stage she not only acquires skills and knowledge, but she is also learning about friendship and leadership. Soon new relationships develop and she finds her own ‘followers’ who like her, look up to her and copy her. That change gives her motivation to do a good job, because she's being watched with admiring eyes. This learning is very good for her social development. It creates the kind of friendship that we find in families, among siblings. It promotes co-operation rather than competition and it is one of the hallmarks of good Montessori practice.


Will my child be learning enough?

I should think so! Having witnessed this annual exodus and entry of children more than a dozen times over the past fifteen years I can testify to the fact that the change to 'being older' creates a new and different kind of thirst for learning. The motivation is different. Instead of looking up to her seniors and wanting to be like them, she realises that the new children look up to her as a role model. She won't want to disappoint them. She appreciates her special time with her teachers more than before and seeks out learning in a new way.

Will her progress be delayed?

No, absolutely not! Eighty percent of success in life is from getting on and working with others and only twenty percent or less is about the knowledge we hold as individuals. Learning to lead, even on a small scale, is very important and so is learning to adapt to change. It may not be examined and it may not be marked, but it sure counts in life. The confidence that comes from feeling senior is a great motivator.

Will she want to be with these younger children?

There will be times when a younger child gets in the way of her learning, but Montessori has specific ways of minimising disruption to children who are concentrating. Individual work is respected and this respect is taught from the beginning. Trained teachers know how to recognise the signs of concentration. They know it’s precious and will assist the senior child in their attempts to achieve something for themselves, most likely by distracting the younger child away from them. Most of the time, though, the older child will enjoy the friendship with younger friends. Who does not enjoy being admired and looked up to? What is a leader without followers?


Will she miss her friends?

Yes she will, change can be difficult to deal with, but it's natural. Missing a loved one feels sad. At the same time she is learning that it is not final. She can still see her old friends after school and at the weekends. Loving parents can support the ongoing friendships until such a time as strong new friendships have been made. Loving teachers can support her social development by talking with her and sharing her feelings of sorrow and joy.

This autumn term I've seen one girl's sadness at missing her best friend, who was just a few weeks older than her. Things have just started to change. Her parents are very sensitive and they support her with her special book, which she writes and draws in most days. She comes with us teachers to answer the door and to help children collect their things before going home. She loves to ‘read’ the children’s name cards and hand them to them as they arrive. She enjoys working with the sandpaper letters to learn to recognise the sounds and the way they are written.

She is ‘coming out’ and this is a joy for us to witness. She is finding a new dignity and a new happiness. She feels privileged to do ‘difficult’ work and we feel privileged to assist her in her learning journey.