At Polis Montessori World School, students spend a significant amount of time outside, exploring the great city around them. For Mandarin Lead Guide Kyla Chen, this is such a delightful part to her day.
“New York is very exciting,” she says. “It is vibrant, full of life, full of energy, and I love this idea that we use the whole city as an educational resource. Why not? This is the advantage of growing up in a city. There is so much to do!”
Teachers at Polis take their students to parks and museums, and Kyla says she takes her students in Children’s House to Central Park every day.
“The children are very excited! Not only do they need outdoor playtime for their gross motor skills, but even walking to the park, there is so much for them to see. Their eyes will be busy, and it is a nice walk after an intense work cycle in the morning,” she says. “And the Children’s House students know how to be so patient with the toddler community! They are skipping and walking sideways, but the toddlers are walking much slower, so the older children wait because they know we all have to take care of each other.”
And it’s is a social experience, too.
“They can get out to see everybody, meeting different children at the park and learning how to get along,” Kyla says. “They are learning how to solve small conflicts and how to share the space, and I think that’s good for children overall.”
Kyla also says the children appreciate this outdoor excursion as part of their day and are very motivated to get out the door.
“The children are so independent,” she says. “They will go to the toilet to get ready, then put on their coat, put on their shoes and get their safety vest. Then, when we are walking, they are talking all the way there! They love to talk with one another. They are talking in English, but we respond in Chinese, and it’s a great opportunity for us to enlarge their vocabulary in a new experience.”
Kyla says it’s important to expand their vocabulary outside the classroom and away from flash cards or learning materials.
“Outside, everything is real-life experience, and it’s very essential for this age group to also develop their language based on something that is real and not abstract. It helps to develop their sensorial experiences and even their academic work.”
Observation and Opportunity
Before receiving her Montessori training in San Diego, Kyla worked in a Montessori classroom in Hong Kong, where she learned so much and was inspired by the lead guide there.
“She was my role model, just by watching how she got along with children,” Kyla says. “She taught me so much, and I think to develop a teacher is the same as developing a student — you have to observe someone doing something in front of you to really learn. A lot of things are hard to put into words in the textbook, but just like in a Montessori classroom, the teacher has to see and learn from other teachers. That really helped me, it was a very fortunate working experience.”
Along with observation in the classroom, Kyla says she likes to expose her students to as many opportunities as she can so they can decide for themselves what they enjoy.
“They need to at least try new things. They may not like it or take advantage of the opportunity, but at least we are preparing for them the opportunity and putting it in front of them,” she says. “Children are interesting in that maybe today, they are not interested in an opportunity, but another day, they might quietly pick it up and start working. You want that to happen, you want to get everything ready in front of them for whenever their interest comes.”
In the Children’s House recently, Kyla encouraged her students to try new snacks as part of Chinese New Year.
“I offered one little girl to try dried red dates, and she just said, ‘No no no.’ But then she said, ‘Maybe, you put it aside just over there, and maybe later, I will try it.’ So I put it aside and then, quietly, when I wasn’t looking, she tried a bite! I think that’s so great. Sometimes, adults give too much pressure — ‘Try this, try this, try this’ — and children might want to, but they don’t want us looking or pressuring them. I want my students to be open to new things and brave to try something new on their own time.”
What can you do at home?
Observation and exposure to opportunities is just as important among families as it is in the classroom, and Kyla encourages parents at Polis to be mindful of how they use their time at home.
“Take time to do things with your children, and do them slowly,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s not obvious to parents that even tiny, little things can be a life lesson for children. For example, we know to step over a puddle, not to step into. This is very obvious to us, but children need to be shown, and adults need to take time to show those things.”
Kyla says washing hands is another great lesson in the home.
“For us to just say, ‘Go wash your hands,’ is enough, because we know what that means. But for children, it’s a big, complicated job that takes many small steps! Parents need to remember that everything can be big and complicated for children, and it is our job to make those big things approachable by separating them into small steps and then to do those small steps slowly in front of children so it reinforces a routine and becomes understandable to them.”
As an example, Kyla recalls an afternoon on the street in which she ran into parents moving slowly with their child.
“I was walking, in a hurry and needing to be somewhere by some time, when there was a boy, maybe one and a half years old, in front of me,” she says. “I still remember thinking in my mind, ‘You are so slow, why are you not moving so I can go?!’ But then, I looked forward and the parents are walking in front of him. Now, most parents in this situation would just carry the boy or take a stroller, but these parents, for as far as I could see, were waiting for the boy as he put one foot in front of the other. They probably had somewhere to be at some time, too, but you know those parents were really teaching a life lesson.
“Getting to know children better is helping me to know adults better, and I think sometimes it’s not convenient for grown-ups to take everything slowly, especially in the city,” Kyla says. “But slowly walking a long way with children is a wonderful investment of time. You can try it out, too!”
Meet Kyla and learn more about Polis today!