Why We Chose Montessori
My children are 7 and 5 years old, and have been in Montessori school since the ages of 3.5 and 1.5. We chose Montessori education for them because we really believe the key to success in education is fostering a love of learning – an internal drive to accomplish, learn, and achieve. We were disappointed in many aspects of traditional public schools – namely that children are all the same age in one classroom, all learning the same things, at the same time, being taught in the same way, and all expected to meet the same requirements (which are laid out by administrators/agencies far removed from the individual children doing the learning). We also were opposed to the use of external motivators and punishments for “good”/”bad” learning/testing. We didn’t agree with the rampant commercialization and marketing that goes on in public schools (from book fairs featuring media-heavy materials: Barbie, Bratz, etc to children having to have the latest fashion or TV character on their backpack). Finally, we wanted an environment where our children could have exposure to many different ways of learning and doing – not just sitting at their desks inside – but regularly working outside, gardening, and caring for animals (our children’s school is on a farm, and land and animal care is part of their curriculum).
In a Montessori learning environment, children are grouped into classrooms that incorporate a variety of ages. So, instead of everyone being 6 in kindergarten for example, children from around 2.5 years to around 6 years learn together. Older children help younger children with things they’ve already learned and mastered, and in teaching, further reinforce their own skills – in addition to learning empathy, gentleness, and patience. Younger children learn not only through lessons from the teacher but from observing older children as they go about their day of work and activities. Learning through doing and observing is natural – think about how our children learn about appropriate behaviors from us and their siblings.
There is no expectation that at the end of turning age 4 you must know X,Y,Z in Montessori. Age designations in traditional school are limiting at worst, unspecific at best. Every child has different capabilities for learning, different methods of learning, different interests and times when they are most open to learning different skills – the same windows aren’t open for every child at exactly the same time – Montessori honors that by allowing learning to flow and grow with each individual child.
Children learn through doing: working with their hands, washing, folding, buttoning, tying, building, stacking, filling, pouring. Each lesson builds on another – without a child knowing she’s learning about the cube root of numbers, she’s already learning the basic understanding of why and how to do those skills as she stacks, matches, and fills the binomial cube. As a child is taught to wash a table she’s not just learning how to wash a table (a valuable life skill in itself, of course), but learning about sequence, responsibility, concentration, and muscle action and coordination. Each lesson in Montessori builds on other, previous lessons, that mesh seamlessly with each other – children often don’t realize they are being “taught” something – they are fascinated with the presentation, and the ability to do and practice real skills. As they practice, they’re learning. Just as they do in “real life”.
There is no grading, homework, or testing in Montessori, rather, observing, learning, and doing. When external motivators like test scores or grades are introduced to a child, children often work to achieve those external rewards (getting an A), or to avoid those external punishments (getting an F or being held back a grade). The natural love of learning is squashed when what matters most is the end result and how it will be judged, instead of encouragement and focus on the process. The end result (reward) of a job well done should be doing the job well, having enjoyed doing it, learning from it, and completing the task. Not how well you can replicate the task artificially in a testing situation or what someone else thinks it should be ranked. Not all kids – not all adults(!) – are able to take what they’ve learned and write it down. Maybe their writing and fine motor skills aren’t as developed as their ability to show through building with blocks that they understand quantity or volume, so why should that child be punished through a “bad grade” or being “held back” a grade when a similar student may have simply developed a knack for test-taking? I think about students in my college classes who would study for hours upon hours for a test, and get the same grade as I had, when I’d only re-written my notes from class (I found in life that writing things down is the best way for me to remember things – talk to me all you want, I won’t remember, but writing? it’s there for good!). People all learn differently; Montessori respects and encourages that.
In Montessori, children are introduced to a material or activity by their teacher/guide, and then offered the opportunity (at their own pace) to pursue that activity further – or not. Sometimes, a child or small group of children will be given a “lesson” on a material and then won’t choose that material again for several weeks. And that’s okay! Sometimes, a child will learn a material and ONLY choose to work with that material or do that activity for several days or weeks – and that’s okay too – she’ll learn when she’s ready and willing! The expectation is only that a child has been taught initially how to use a material or do an activity in the appropriate way, so that the material can help the child self-correct when she’s ready to choose it again (i.e. a teacher never hovers over a child “helping them” with a concept that they are able to learn on their own through experimentation, experience, and practice); and she can learn through doing, and then through teaching others, instead of learning by just watching or listening to someone else do it (like a teacher writing a lesson on a board in a traditional school).
Children are able to self-direct their educational path based on their interests. This doesn’t mean a child just runs around freely all day knocking down other children’s work (though, an observant Montessori guide who sees that behavior might offer to teach that child about “sweeping outside” or “walking the line” or other physical practical life outlets). Instead, it means that Montessori teachers believe that when we pay attention to what our children are saying and doing, we trust that children have an innate desire to learn, and we foster that desire through opportunity, they will choose to take the opportunity to learn more. In this way, I have found Montessori to be much like Attachment Parenting: trusting and believing that your child is an individual and should be honored as such, that she has important things to say (even if she can’t say them yet, like as a baby crying), and those things shouldn’t be ignored, but honored.
People learn differently. Period. To expect that every child can be taught in the same way at the same time and come out with the same knowledge is a disservice to the child. It can result in frustration in school, and throughout life: feeling like they’re never “good enough” when really, it’s just that they may never have had the opportunity to learn at their own pace according to their own skills and desires, and without the pressure of external punishment or reward. I trust that through Montessori education, we’re giving our children the opportunity to learn at their own pace, to grow through their own experiences, and to direct their learning via their own interests. We’re fostering their natural love of learning, which will serve them throughout life in feeling like they can take on any goal they wish and accomplish it!
Kelly Moore, Author of KellyNaturally.com Kelly is an attachment parenting, gentle disciplining, vegetarian, working mom of two Montessori-schooled kids. She’s been a family bed sharer, tandem breastfeeder, and babywearer. Kelly loves to garden, read, help her husband run their business, and find fun places to go adventuring with her family. She blogs at KellyNaturally.com.
Kelly is an attachment parenting, gentle disciplining, vegetarian, working mom of two Montessori-schooled kids. She’s been a family bed sharer, tandem breastfeeder, and babywearer. Kelly loves to garden, read, help her husband run their business, and find fun places to go adventuring with her family. She blogs at KellyNaturally.com.
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