Enabling Children to Create Change: There's an Orangutan in our Classroom by Esma Izzidien
If you have a child who is around the age of six or older you may have noticed that suddenly they’ve entered a new plane of development. They are no longer simply content with absorbing facts and copying the actions of the adults around them. They now want to understand for themselves, they want to explore the moral field and use their own judgment to decide what is right and wrong. They can often resent limitation by arbitrary authority. Suddenly, the adults are no longer the centre of their universe. They look to their peers, they develop a desire to become part of a group. Peers become incredibly important.
This second plane of development from roughly the age of 6 to 12 years is such an important time for us as parents and educators to understand and nurture. Montessori famously said “establishing lasting peace is the work of education. All politics can do is keep us out of war”. We all know education begins at home. It’s our biggest responsibility as parents.
All too often we underestimate our children. I know I did. When my husband was watching the “Rang-Tan in my bedroom” advert one evening, our children, aged 5 and 7, noticing it was a cartoon, went over to watch and their questions came thick and fast “Was that true? Is that real? Did an orangutan’s mother really die? Why do we need palm oil? Did 25 orangutans die today? How can we help them?”. My husband looked at me and said “You should get the children at the school to do their own video”. It just seemed like a nice and cute idea at the time.
Some of the children in the school had already seen the video, others saw it for the first time when we showed it to them in class. The reaction from them all was the same. Particularly in our 6-9 years class. They were horrified and shocked and above all they were determined that they wanted to make a change. They were delighted with the idea of making their own video to raise awareness but that wasn’t enough. Many of them had so many questions about palm oil and orangutans. Their teachers didn’t just brush them off and ask them to continue with their other work for the day. They helped them find where to look and how to research. They found out about Wilmar International. They wrote to them. They wrote to Greenpeace. My daughter came home and told me more about palm oil than I knew. My son pointed out all the products in our home that he had learnt contained palm oil. It was the adults around them who had enabled them to follow their passion and had shown them how to make a difference.
We made our video “There is an orangutan in our classroom”. It was great fun but above all it mattered. It mattered to the children and their passion was contagious. They have made their teachers and many of their parents passionate about saving the orangutans. The response to releasing it was phenomenal. The children have spoken to a reporter about their project, featured on the news and have had Greenpeace express their delight with it and are sending someone to our school to answer all their burning questions.
The lesson the children have had in being part of our video is one of the most important lessons they’ve had this term. That you are never too young to take a stance and make a difference. That their opinions matter and that we will listen to them and enable them to act on them. I thought they would enjoy making the video and then move on. I was wrong. I underestimated them. They want to make a difference and we will ensure we do all we can to support them.
“This is education, understood as a help to life; an education from birth, which feeds a peaceful revolution and unites all in a common aim, attracting them as to a single centre. Mothers, fathers, politicians: all must combine in their respect and help for this delicate work of formation… This is the bright new hope for mankind.” - Dr. Maria Montessori | The Absorbent Mind