VICTOR HARBOR – Watching Froukje Matthews direct a small class of children under five is mesmerising.
But it is the children who are most mesmerised, as today Froukje has shown them a small metal bell which rings when struck with a wooden stick.
They sit attentively in a circle and hand the bell around to each other.
They look so well behaved, but “it takes a while,” Froukje says.
Froukje, a dutch-Australian, has run a preschool at Victor Harbor for 27 years, with a focus on teaching children basic etiquette. This includes cleaning up their own dishes, washing their faces, and putting toys away.
She is retiring this week, having bonded with hundreds of children and parents across three decades.
Her preschool is a Montessori school. Originating Italy, Montessori is an education method that develops natural interests and activities, rather than use formal teaching methods.
Teaching is based around play, but each game has a developmental purpose.
Froukje’s Montessori preschool is based in a re-furbished shearing shed, which is part of a historic Victor Harbor farm.
Her husband Christopher Matthews did the work on the shed himself, turning it into a quaint, purpose-built cottage. Everything is built to the children’s dimensions.
There is a kitchen sink only one foot high, where they wash up after a meal. And a mirror where they must clean their faces before they can go outside to play.
“Montessori is an approach to education that is built on observation first. It is based on education of the senses and practical life,” Froukje said. “We isolate one sense at a time.
“And the backyard is a source of natural history and biology.
“Most mainstream preschools are play-based, but the environment here is set up in such a way that their play is set up with a very particular purpose to it.
“While they are here they are actually always being guided, because the group is no bigger than 10, we can work directly with them for whatever stage they are at.
“You can’t tell a person to be confident, you really have to experience it by doing it so that you can feel confident. That’s really a process that translates into adulthood.”
On the topic of technology, and parents giving their children iPhones and smart phones to play with, Froukje believes it can be damaging to childhood development.
“Parents are giving children their phones when they are agitated and won’t sit still. They give them a phone, but by doing so they are taking away time the child would be actively looking around.
“They need to look around, observe and learn.
“They don’t learn to read people’s facial expressions, which is how they learn to associate with tone of voice.
“The constant interaction is so important with a child. It’s very labour-intensive and it is tiring, but it’s very important.”
After 27 years she still finds it fascinating to watch the week-by-week improvement in preschool children.
“I’ve always been interested in neurology and brain development. Being able to see that happen every single week has been fascinating.”
Froukje says early childhood educators are able to pick up development problems that might be prevented.
“The earlier you can pick these things up, the better,” she said.
“There are certain exercises that if they have problems with, might indicate they will have literacy and numeracy problems.”
Froukje aims to start writing a blog, drawing from a lifetime of experience and observations with Victor Harbor children.
The story Victor Harbor preschool teacher Froukje Matthews retires after 27 years first appeared on The Times.