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01 July 2017 Update







As the Summer Break has arrived, now is the time to scatter a few breadcrumbs, to tantalise a youngster into following somewhere New!





Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor | Voluntary Tutor with Second Level Students | A Member of The Tutors' Association










This Post is more of a pondering on what might engage the interest of our youngsters, and is certainly NOT a prescription on how they SHOULD spend their free time.


School students in Ireland, for example, get longer holidays than those in most other European countries.  In primary school, the upper four years cover the ages of approximately 7-12 years.



Rather than just falling back on the usual X-Boxing, playing games online, getting caught up with YouTube output, when the weather is too bad to go out, or friends are not available to call round, what other attractive options are open to  youngsters?



Wherever an idea comes from does not matter.

What does matter is that youngsters are given encouragement, and can feel the enthusiasm around them at home, in their own development of their new interest.  If they need help in the early stages to work out how to source information on what has tickled their curiosity,  it would be easy for parents, carers, or older siblings, to assist in starting off a Project.



I have been wondering how much preparatory or project work these younger students undertake in their holidays, resulting from suggestions by, or questions from parents, teachers, or self-generated.  A time often comes in the life of a youngster, who has been encouraged to keep a wide-open, questioning, mind, that a topic calls out to be investigated.  Having looked through family photographs, for example, seeing ones grandparents looking young, on their wedding days, wearing gorgeous / hideous clothes, could spark an interest in many aspects of family histories.



The Project may become fascinating to the whole family, but it is the youngster's OWN Project so, it is for her or him to ask for opinions, and he / she should definitely NOT to be offered advice or information.



Some youngsters have their own passions which they follow-up, without any need of encouragement, via the local Library, online, and investigating local sites of historical, social, industrial / post-industrial interest, usually accompanied by a reliable adult, where necessary.  These passions, which can become life-long, or just last a summer break, should be encouraged by the family in general.


Help may be welcome with understanding particular elements of the topic.  So, a relaxed show of interest in how the Project is going, may be sufficient for the youngster to mention a query for which  he or she cannot find an answer.



Depending on the availability and value of the information uncovered by the youngster, it may well be collated to the point where it could be described as a display Project.  However formal the work ends up being, the youngster shall have learnt about:


*   Tracking down sources of information ~ photographs, maps, documents, and personal histories;


*    Talking to / interviewing older relatives and neighbours for information;


Evaluating data found, and deciding which to use and which to discard;


*    Finding out how to negotiate the research facilities of the local Library, how to ask for help, and how to ask for specified further material from the Central Library facility.



Most librarians are charmed to help a youngster bursting with enthusiasm, and are happy to show the correct ways to discover relevant material, how to reference it, and to encourage the use of the Library as part of their personal and educational fulfilment.



Children should be brought to their local Library regularly from as young as possible.  Most have facilities and activities for very early readers, and their younger siblings.  To learn to feel at home in the local Library, with one’s own Library card, is a rite of passage for every child. (I know it was a most significant and important day for me. I felt as if I was now in with others who love to read and to know.)  Accompanying their parents or carers to the Library regularly, and seeing how they find what they want, and how they talk about books and activities, upcoming events, with the staff, is an important on-going experience for all children.


This is a part of the crucial observing and learning of social interaction and engagement skills, in a relaxed, natural way.



These would be great experiences in learning how to interact with people in a positive and engaging manner.  Having seen parents, guardians or carers talking to relative strangers in shops, and heard how to ask for advice or for a particular item, young people pick up these skills unconsciously. Young people can be nervous or shy, disinclined to approach strangers to ask for help or advice.  Having seen, and later engaged in, social interactions with people in shops, chatting to neighbours, and learning how to introduce themselves to someone new in school, for example, are all very valuable skills. They are especially helpful for shy young people, as they are given templates on how to go about everyday social activities.



A good quality dictionary is a fundamental resource for every family. 

A good quality dictionary is a fundamental resource for every family.  They can be bought fairly readily second-hand or in charity shops, as people come to rely more and more on online dictionaries.  One does not have to spend much.  Having a book in hand, having found the explanation or spelling one seeks, one may then carry on, flicking through the pages, enjoying the discovery of extraordinary, fascinating, or plain very odd words!  That is so much more engaging and interesting than entering a word in a search engine!


I believe in the value of every youngster’s time being respected discovering new worlds in gardens, playing tennis when Wimbledon comes around, messing in streams looking for tiddlers, and running away, through the park or woods, from massive, blood-curdling, imaginary, hounds.


However, there are always those very rainy days when going out is not possible.  Could not parents, or older family members, who may be knowledgeable about the neighbourhood, be encouraged to talk about local family-run businesses over many generations; or the part played by locals in various risings, rebellions, or workers’ actions through history; where the old tram tracks are still to be seen; who were the local poets, writers, scientists, botanists, herbalists, and astronomers, forgotten sports heroes and heroines, amateur and professional?


Even an adult telling the very smallest part of a story, all he or she may know, may be sufficient to engage the curiosity of a youngster.  Was someone in the family history known for an act of bravery or extraordinarily stupidity, or as a crafts person or designer of renown.  Was anyone a World traveller, or did anyone run away to the circus?! 


Perhaps there is a family story passed down through generations, which has never been investigated fully.


Don’t we all love a family mystery!


I would never wish to take away youngsters’ days of freedom outdoors ~ to play, explore in nature, share, and inhabit these imaginary worlds.



... having an on-going project, to which a youngster can turn for pleasure and fulfilment, during the harshest ... days, ... is a glorious other World into which to retire.



However, with frequent moans of “I’m so bored”, heard because going outside is not possible, it could be the very time to introduce a tantalising snippet of family or local history.


People are curious ~ we always want to know

how the story ends!


From a low-key series of chats with grandparents or local older people to find out what life was like for them at the same age as the youngster, and what they can tell about the local ‘big personalities’ when they were young, to embarking on a full-scale project built on a few hints and questions, young people learn a great deal through osmosis, as well as the recognised knowledge gained.



They learn, unknowingly, the skills of how to communicate well; realising that listening closely is very important, and that the correct questions can open up a whole world of insights.  Grandparents and older neighbours are usually happy to tell stories from their youth, and frequently welcome the company and interest of youngsters.



I am definitely NOT suggesting that a youngster should be PUSHED into undertaking and completing a Project over a school break.  However, having an on-going Project, to which a youngster can turn for pleasure and fulfilment, during the harshest Winter days or downpours on Summer days, when going out to play is not possible and friends are unavailable, is a glorious other World into which to retire.


The skills a youngster develops when interviewing and chatting to neighbours and older people are:

*     The development of independence;

*         Self-confidence;

*         Self-reliance;

*         Self-directed workand;

*         Social skills and interaction.


These are hugely important to every youngster’s personal development, as delineated by Dr Maria Montessori.



Undertaking any Project would be an outstanding opportunity to develop these life skills.  The youngster would also learn:


*      The tricky skill of how to manage data gathered;

*   Arranging it in a narrative, perhaps with drawings, documents, photographs or maps;


*  Possibly including a conclusion drawn from a deep knowledge of the material uncovered.



At second level schooling, most students will undertake Project-Based Learning (PBL) work as part of their syllabus.  This involves the learning of all the different modalities: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and tactile.



Having planned, designed, researched and interviewed, developed, edited, and structured a personal Project, these younger students will be starting second level school with the confidence and skills to help them make this great transition easier.


MORE importantly, they will have developed their OWN Project, based on their OWN efforts, and their OWN motivation, and will have produced work of which they can be proud.  Developing this self-reliance and self-confidence, will help youngsters in every aspect of their lives,

for the rest of their lives.



Kind regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O'Brien



I am an elected Member of The Tutors' Association.


If you have any comments, positive or negative, I should welcome hearing your views.


If you find any errors or wish to disagree with any of the above, I should be very glad to be told.


 Email iseultccobrien@gmail.com


See my Linkedin site for further information





If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly.  If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite!  If I refer in passing to views expessed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text.  I work on a basis of goodwill and good intentions.  I shall make errors, being human, and when I do, I apologise now, and should always welcome a correction, which I would insert in the relevant Post prominently, in clear unambiguous text and type, repeating the apology. That's is the best I can do!


Did you like this idea? Did you show it to your youngster?

Iseult Catherine O'Brien