What Every Montessori Parent Ought to Know About Montessori
This article is a shortened version of the article by Tim Seldin, President of the Montessori Foundation as found in Vol. 4, Number 4 of Tomorrow’s Child.
Montessori is everywhere
There are over 4000 schools in the United States as well as many countries around the world. In our country, some are public schools and many are private. The schools offer a wide of programs from birth through high school. The diversity within Montessori is tremendous. Each school reflects its own unique blend of facilities, programs, personality and interpretation of Dr. Montessori’s vision.
What makes Montessori different?
The Montessori approach is often described as an “education for life.” In too many traditional schools, students memorize facts and concepts with little understanding. Even the bright students are passive learners. The students want teachers to hand them the “right” answer. Montessori schools work to develop culturally literate children and nurture their fragile sparks of curiosity, creativity and intelligence. The priorities include a low regard for mindless memorization. Montessori believed that there was more to life than simply the pursuit of wealth and power. To her finding one’s place in the world, doing work that is meaningful and fulfilling. and developing the inner peace and depth of soul that allows us to love are the most important goals in life. Montessori students tend to become self-confident, independent thinkers who learn because they are interested in the world and enthusiastic about life. The Montessori school gives children the sense of belonging to a family and helps them learn how to live with other human beings. Look beyond the materials and find a place where children really want to be. The school is the children’s community. They move freely within it, selecting work that captures their interest, rather than participating in teacher selected projects.
Montessori schools are based on the principles of respect and independence
Success in school is directly tied to the degree to which children believe that they are capable and independent human beings. Children would demand, “Help me learn to do it for myself.” In a Montessori school children develop a meaningful degree of independence and self-discipline. This sets a pattern for a lifetime of good work habits and a sense of responsibility. Students take pride in doing things for themselves carefully and well.
Montessori teaches children to think and discover for themselves
Each child is treated as a unique individual learner. Children learn at their own pace and in ways that work best for them as individuals. Teachers are flexible and creative in addressing each student as a unique individual. Montessori educators keep asking the right questions to lead children to discover the answers for themselves. Learning becomes its own reward. Each success fuels a desire to learn even more. Older students are encouraged to do their own research then analyze their results to reach their own conclusions.
Freedom of movement and independently chosen work are important
Children learn by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation. Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will. They may select any activity and work with it as long as they wish, so long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything. They must also put it back where it belongs when they are finished. Especially at the early childhood level, the works are designed to draw the child’s attention to the sensory properties of objects: size, shape, color, texture, weight, smell, sound., etc. Gradually the child learns to pay attention, seeing more clearly small details in things, beginning to observe and appreciate the environment. This is a key to help the child discover how to learn. The goal of freedom in exploration is to help the child fall in love with the process of focusing his complete attention on something and solving its riddle with enthusiasm and even joy. The independence leads to empowerment on social and emotional levels, as well as confidence in his ability.
The environment is carefully prepared
The Montessori classrooms are commonly referred to as prepared environments. Care and attention is given to creating a learning environment that will reinforce the children’s independence and intellectual development. The room is set up to facilitate student discussion and stimulate collaborative learning. Students become involved with their work. The teacher may be difficult to spot. She will be working with one or two children at a time, advising, presenting a new lesson or quietly observing the class at work.
The Montessori curriculum
The classroom is organized into several curriculum areas, including: language arts (reading, literature. grammar, creative writing, spelling and handwriting), mathematics and geometry, everyday living skills, sensory awareness exercises and puzzles, geography, history, science, art, music and movement. Most rooms include a classroom library. Materials are on shelf units on open display ready for use. The course of study uses an integrated thematic approach that ties the separate disciplines of the curriculum together into studies of the physical universe, the world of nature, and the human experience. Literature, the arts, history, social issues, political science, economics, science and the study of technology all complement one another. Montessori schools offer a rigorous and innovative academic program.
The Montessori materials; a road from the concrete to the abstract
Children learn most effectively through direct experience; and the process of direct investigation and discovery. Asking a child to sit back and watch us perform a process or experiment is like asking a one-year old not to put everything in his mouth. Children need to learn by doing. The Montessori learning materials are tools to stimulate the child into logical thought and discovery. They are carefully designed to appeal to children at their level of development. They are displayed to provide maximum eye-appeal without clutter. The materials are arranged in sequence from the most simple to the most complex and from the most concrete to the most abstract.
Typical class size
A normal class has 25 to 35 children equally divided among boys and girls and three age levels. A multi-ethnic balance is also sought for each class. There will be one trained Montessorian and one aide. Only part of the class changes each year, so each class tends to be a fairly stable community. The large class size actually encourages the children to learn from each other, rather than be dependent on the teacher. There is confidence built for the older child who has mastered and helps a younger child. Role models are assured, also, with the multi-age classroom.
The daily schedule
Days are not divided into fixed time periods for each subject. Teachers call students together as they are ready for lessons individually or in small groups. A typical day is divided into “fundamentals” that have been assigned and self-initiated projects and research selected by the student. Students work to complete their assignments at their own pace. Teachers closely monitor their students’ progress. Students constantly share their interests and discoveries with each other. The youngest experience the daily stimulation of their older friends and are naturally spurred on to be able to “do what the big kids can do.”
How Montessori teachers meet the needs of so many different children.
The secret of any great teacher is helping learners get to the point that their minds and hearts are open and they are ready to learn. The focus involves a basic love of learning. The Montessori teacher develops a sense of each child’s uniqueness by developing a relationship over a period of years. In a typical class, as much as 40% of the day may be spent on discipline and classroom management. Montessori educators play a different role, serving as facilitators, mentors, coaches and guides. The teacher’s primary role is to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual and social emotional environment within which the children will work.
Montessori guides (teachers) have four principle goals:
- to awaken the child’s spirit and imagination
- to encourage his normal desire for independence and high sense of self esteem
- to help him develop the kindness, courtesy and self-discipline that will allow him to become a full member of society
- to help the child learn how to observe, question and explore ideas independently
Lessons are usually presented to fewer than a handful of children at a time. Each lesson is brief and efficient. Lessons center around the most clear and simple information necessary for the children to do the work on their own: the name of the material, its place on the shelf, the ground rules for its use, and some of the possibilities inherent within it. The goal is to give the children just enough to capture their attention and to spark their interest so they will return to the material on their own. The teachers closely monitor each student’s progress, keeping the challenge level high. Working with children over two or three years, the teacher gets to know each student’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses well.
Homework, tests and grades
Montessori students have to live within a cultural context, which involves the mastery of skills and knowledge we consider basic. The freedom of choice comes within this framework, but high standards and expectations exist. The ongoing impact of a Montessori program and its long term outcomes are not always visible and dear to parents. There is often worry that children are being set up for failure when they transfer to a traditional classroom. Parents can expect to be kept informed about their children’ s progress and the classroom program. Test taking skills are important in our culture. Most schools regularly give students quizzes on the concepts and skills they have been studying. Standardized tests are also given. Tests are used as a feedback loop indicating when lessons need to be repeated or expanded.
Children compete daily with each other both in class and on the playground. Montessori objects to competition when it is used to create an artificial motivation for student achievement as in grades or class rank. The Montessori learning focus leads to children who are not afraid of making mistakes. They quickly discover that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear or embarrassment.
**Parent Involvement (a subtext from J. Allen Axson)
Since learning occurs as a life-long natural event, the home environment continues to be a learning lab for the Montessori child. The lessons you offer daily in responsibility through allowances, trips, dialog, reading, etc. are all extensions of the classroom. The parent is expected to become involved in their child’s lifelong development. Regular contact with the teacher is vital. Artificial homework assignments are not emphasized, so you often have more time for meaningful family interaction rather than homework hassles. Of course practice in some skills is extremely valuable and teachers often recommend this. The family atmosphere also leads many parents to a willingness to share their time and talents to enhance the school environment and opportunities for children. Parents are welcome and important to a well balanced Montessori school.