With a background in Montessori education and a love of holistic teaching techniques that nourish a full-spectrum learning experience for children, Maria Grana is a modern Mary Poppins (with a bag full of wooden toys). Here we speak to the Noosa-based educator about child-led learning, key holistic education principles and her top playroom tips.
You have a background in Montessori education. Tell us about your teaching experience.
I found the Montessori method when I met my mother-in-law, who was a Montessori teacher in the 70s. At that time I was already a nanny and was working with children every day. I fell in love with every book she lent me and soon after that, I decided to become a teacher. As part of my teaching journey, I had to start working in schools. The experience was very enriching but I always knew my mission was to help families at home; which is why my career specialises in helping families create holistic learning environments at home.
Why are you passionate about connecting children with holistic resources?
Although I’m Montessori trained, I believe children and families suit a multi-method approach to learning. We don't fit in one box, we take the best out of each box. That is why my projects have a holistic approach. The holistic playroom and the resources in it are inspired by many alternative education philosophies like Montessori, Steiner, Regio Emilia, and Pickler.
What ‘essential items’ should be in every child’s playroom?
I believe that is not about the ‘items’ but the ‘stations’ that make a playroom a wholesome learning environment. Taking that into consideration, a playroom for 0-6 years old children could include:
- READING AREA. A child-sized sofa and/or cushions, and a child-sized bookshelf.
- ACTIVITY SHELVES. Get child-sized shelves where you can display only some activities and hide the rest in storage. Rotate activities every week.
- ART AREA. A children-size table with art and craft supplies. Find new ideas to create every week.
- SENSORIAL AREA. Get some bowls, large and small containers, and some fine motor tools like spoons, tongs, and brushes. Add some creative ingredients to the bowls (such as chickpeas); choose a sensorial theme (such as farm), and let them explore.
- IMAGINARY PLAY. Create a cubbyhouse where children can imagine different scenarios. Add some gentle materials like rainbow silks. Include a tiny tree house, a fairy house, trains tracks and other materials for them to create an imaginary setting.
- PRACTICAL LIFE AREA. Introduce children everyday routines and activities: cooking, cleaning, caring for the plants or baby dolls, etc. Get a child-sized kitchen, pots and pans, cleaning kit, baby bed, and more.
- LANGUAGE AREA. Set up a child-sizes table with homeschool activities: learning boards, ABC flashcards, wooden alphabet, and activity books.
- MATHS AREA. Set up a child-sized table with learning boards, number flashcards, loose parts for counting, abacus, operation boards etc.
- MINDFULNESS AREA. Create a special corner for children to reflect, connect and work through their emotions. Yoga mat, yoga flashcards, crystals, affirmation cards. A place where they can go and feel emotionally supported.
- OUTDOOR AREA. Set up a space for children to enjoy fresh air, play with water and mud, gardening, etc.
What are the key ingredients of an inspiring learning environment?
I find it very nurturing to include different materials from different educational methods. I strongly believe parents don't have to transform their homes to look exactly like kindergarten classrooms, but they can create intentional spaces in each area at home to make children feel welcome, stimulated and safe.
Why do you think imaginative + nature-inspired + sensory play is so important for children’s development?
These kinds of activities support essential aspects of children’s development. With imaginative play, children can explore and experiment with different emotions and act out scenes in their play. Small world play allows children to control and manage their own environment, making all the big decisions and re-creating their world as they see it. It’s also a great way to learn how to connect and relate to other children.
In terms of sensory and nature play, I usually put them together as I prefer to work with natural materials. Furthermore, it supports the concept of ‘cosmic education’ where Maria Montessori teaches children to become aware of the interdependence of all things, and develop a sense of gratitude that comes from that awareness. Sensory play also helps stimulate the brain, creating more neural pathways; it improves coordination and fine/gross motor skills, as well as helping children self-regulate, and so on.
What are some of the advantages of child-led learning?
I relate this concept with what I’ve learn as a Montessori guide during my teaching journey. The term ‘Freedom’ and ‘Follow the Child’ are essential for every lesson. Children need the freedom to explore and discover their environment independently, and to engage their full attention on what interests them with minimum of interference and interruption.
Follow the child means to let go of our expectations and respect your child's development rhythm. Child-led learning enables children to choose and guide their own learning, helping to develop a broader range of topics that children are genuinely interested in.
Do you have any favourite holistic parenting books or online resources you can recommend?
I always recommend the same book: The Montessori Baby by Simone Davies and Junnifa Uzodike. It is super easy to read and it gives you the best tips to prepare your holistic journey from when the baby is in the womb.
What advice do you have for mothers who are intrigued by holistic education practices (such as Montessori) but don’t know where to start?
Get that book! Haha. And look up other alternative educational methods like Steiner, Reggio Emilia, Pickler. There are also amazing social media accounts that give parents activity ideas, where to get resources and how to adapt home spaces to turn them into environments where your children can explore in a nurturing and safe way.
What are the most important values you try to communicate and instil in your students?
Independence, freedom, communication and respect. And those are also the values I choose to prioritise in my adult life. I practise these values in my every day, the relationship with myself and my relationship with others.
What is your favourite thing about being a teacher?
Being able to submerge myself in a child’s world every day is such a privilege. When I’m with them I feel my mind go to the same place as when I meditate. I feel like the outside world stops and there is no pain, no stress and no time.
Maria will be facilitating an event at The Mumsie in July…watch this space!