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122 APRIL 2009
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From: Abu Dhabi

Assalaamu alaikum everyone! May the Peace be upon you! I was offered a very special privilege last month with a visit to The International Montessori Nursery in Abu Dhabi during a short visit to the United Arab Emirates. After two hours spent there with Barbara Knapp and her dedicated team of early childhood educationalists – and the 40 or so littlies who attend the nursery – I left feeling really excited that such a place like this exists in the Middle East, doing amazing things with children.

Welcome to the International Montessori Nursery at Abu Dhabi

On arrival, the first thing I noticed was the ample supply of imaginative play equipment where children can engage in imaginative play activities, whether by themselves or in small groups engaged in playful learning that had me reflecting on what I surely missed out on as a child. First we spent time with Mrs. Barbara who explained what the nursery was attempting to provide. While in her office, the phone rang several times from parents seeking places for their children at the nursery. Another family turned up without warning seeking to obtain a place for their child!

Practical learning starts at an early age

We then went through to the nursery which is situated in a big old villa where rooms are set up with a range of practical learning activities. I was particularly struck by a little girl who was sitting in a chair situated just on the edge of activities less than a metre from all the action. As we approached, she reached over to a shelf where there was an egg timer, turned it over to restart the timer, and announced “I’m having time out!” This little girl had created her own opportunity for what can only be described as “sort of alone time” and even gave herself an extra 3 minutes! She was in no way excluded and was undoubtedly one of those children that Henry Maier used to call “living radars”. She wasn’t missing a thing!

See what I have!

Another child was celebrating his birthday, an event that welcomed parents and baby brother to the celebration. As we watched, all the children sat on the floor around a big yellow circular rug placed in the middle of the largest room of the nursery. At the front of the room, one of the child care workers sat at a little table and began telling a story about this little boy’s life. At each stage of the story, the little boy was given a different photograph and walked around the room showing all the children first what he looked like as a baby, then a toddler, a 3 year old and then as he was now. As he walked around the room with a new photo, the child care worker led everyone in a birthday song and clapping until he returned to the table. All the children were mesmerized with each step in the proceedings. As the celebration ended, the little boy helped roll up the big yellow carpet circle used only for these special occasions.

Skills for living and doing

Next the nursery worker brought out 3 beakers of red, yellow and blue coloured water then everyone participated in a learning activity about primary colours that are used to create different colours. The children were once again captivated as together they worked out which colours mixed together to make green, orange and purple. Based on theories of child development originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, children participated in activity-based learning which introduced them to abstract concepts and practical skills. Thank you everyone at the International Montessori Nursery in Abu Dhabi for richly adding to my learning!

Social skills are part of everyday learning

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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