Imagine a house full of 50 children and finding inside of it order, tranquility and harmony instead of the expected chaos and cries. This spring, two kindergarten teachers from Berkovitsa and Lukovit had such an experience during their visit to the Casa dei Bambini Montessori private kindergarten. Anelia Yakimova and Galya Georgieva came to Sofia to exchange good practices with their colleagues. The visit was a part of a program aimed at sharing good practices with pedagogues from the Romani Early Years Network, whose coordinator for Bulgaria is the Trust for Social Achievement (TSA).
The teachers were most impressed by the fact that children there could do whatever they wanted, as long as they followed the established rules in the house. “They make decisions themselves while an adult watches and directs them if necessary. The goal is to provoke independent thinking and action, within certain limits,” Anelia Yakimova explains. The visit to the Montessori school provoked her to think about the inner discipline of children, as she noticed that the observed rules and order are sufficient enough to avoid any rewards, incentives or penalties. “The focus is on self-learning and self-discovery. Teachers encourage children to touch different materials, shapes and surfaces with their hands. By handling them, children get ready for real life and build specific habits and perceptions of space, texture, shape, volume and other elements of the surrounding environment. The Montessori method also encourages the natural sequence of learning from different scientific disciplines, instead of studying them in isolation from one another,” she adds.
Galya Georgieva explains how the school works with two groups: “The children form groups in accordance with their interests. Some of them are interested in mathematics—they counted beads on a wire and placed them on a wooden block next to a sign with the digit representing the number of beads. Another child opened up a box with the letters of the alphabet. From a second case, he pulled out two objects—little plastic ski sticks and a lizard—then wrote their names with the help of the letters. After that, he wrote these words with a pen in his notebook and put everything back in its place. Next to him, another team worked with colorful wooden constructor blocks and arranged them as part of a group project. In the kitchen area, other children were making pastries. In the second room, the children were studying English. There were words printed on red laminated cards which the children mixed up and then pronounced one after the other. A little girl next to them was looking at books, carefully putting them back where they belonged afterwards.”
In addition to self-discipline, children in Montessori schools also develop environmental care skills—in the yard of the garden there are flowers, vegetables and fruit trees that the children look after themselves. “There was another group of children in the yard who, with the help of a mentor, were learning about tools and how to use them—a saw, file, caliper and so on. The outdoor space has been transformed into a field of experimentation where all children take part in raising flowers, fruit, vegetables and trees. And, perched atop a white pine tree, there was a tree house. When we climbed up to it, we discovered that it was actually a children’s restaurant,” Galya Georgieva says.
The biggest plus of this methodology, according to both teachers, lies not only in the diverse range of multisensory teaching materials but also in teachers’ tolerance of the mistakes children make—thus, they stimulate them to constantly improve while gaining confidence.
“As educators, it is extremely important for us to be patient, persistent and supportive in order for them to make progress and enjoy their success. We hold daily conversations with parents and encourage them to use literary Bulgarian at home. In this way, children will learn to speak correctly and communicate freely with all their peers. We shared about the learning practice in Casa dei Bambini with our other colleagues in the kindergartens. We suggested that we work on the Montessori method to achieve even better results—our children can only benefit from that”, Galya pointed out.