Friday, September 18, 2020

What is Montessori? For new and returning parents!


This year we return to a very different experience for our students, parents and staff.  Even as we navigate the best approach to provide the closest Montessori learning possible, there are challenges and necessary adaptations.  

Today I want to share with you an important part of my experience through over 40 years teaching and being an administrator in both public and private Montessori schools. 

If we return to Dr. Maria Montessori's teachings and her own knowledge of children we learn that every child has the same basic needs and interests.  It is our responsibility not to put barriers in the path of the child as they grow, learn and mature.  Montessori called these needs the human tendencies.  

These are true for all children and adults everywhere.

Order:  At home or at school, a sense of order helps the child to organize their thoughts, to feel secure and confident, to become more and more capable and independent.  In the classroom, everything has a place and that place does not change.  At home, the child's room can be set up to provide this benefit. 

Communication:  Communication comes in many forms:  words, actions, symbols, signs, body language and behavior.  In Montessori talking with friends when appropriate is encouraged.  Teachers make time to talk with each child every day, to tell stories and share ideas.  At home, family time together to talk, sing, play games and share a meal helps the child to feel valued and understood.  Language is the tool of the intellect.  

Orientation:  This is the ability to fit in, to relate to a place or group.  Orientation gives the child a sense of direction and belonging.  If the child is disoriented he may be insecure and unsure of himself.  In Montessori every child has grace and courtesy lessons that teach manners, respect and ways to resolve problems.  These lessons are given as information, not as correction or disapproval.  At home, helping your child to understand what is expected as a family member and how he or she can contribute to the good of the family will aid in achieving orientation.

Concentration:  We all want our children to be able to concentrate.  To build concentration skills it is important that the work is interesting and attractive to him.  Montessori lessons are designed to build on the child's interests and abilities.  At home, reducing outside interruptions will help develop the ability to focus.  If you are reading with your child or engaged in a lesson or conversation giving full attention will demonstrate the importance of the book or task, and of course, show the child how important he or she is.  

Repetition:  Learning takes place through repetition.  Children have a desire for perfection and for this reason it is important to allow time for repetition.  As the child repeats the work they become more confident and ready to move on to the next challenge.  Remember that when we try a new activity it takes time to feel confident and strong.  Mistakes are just the steps to competence.  We must honor the effort and not just the result as the child repeats any skill. 

Perfection: All human beings have the desire for perfection.  We achieve perfection by practicing skills, following our abilities and interests, and staying with a task until we succeed.  It is important that children have the time and support to work toward perfection.  This will differ with every child and in every endeavor so patience on the part of adults while encouraging and supporting effort will be most helpful.

Exactness:  The human tendency for exactness shows in our ability to do intricate work, to choose the right words when speaking, to follow a recipe, drive safely and in many other areas.  Children develop this ability in the Montessori classroom with many activities which require increasing exactness, culminating in the ability to do complex math, solve difficult problems and be orderly and precise in their work.  

Exploration:  Young children are sensorial learners.  At a very young age they will spend hours building towers with blocks, using clay, playing in the sand.  In school many of the primary Montessori materials use this tendency to encourage exploration of size, sound, touch and weight.  As they progress, later work encourages discovery of results of experimentation, exploration of the history of the world, the secrets of science and math.  Without the tendency to explore mankind would not have progressed. 

Abstraction:  The human tendency to seek abstraction begins with a base in reality at the youngest ages.  For this reason we offer only real information to the primary child.  As the child forms a solid base in reality (no talking animals, etc.) the ability to begin thinking beyond what they know and move into the world of imagination and more complex creativity becomes possible.

Movement:  Movement is essential for all humans.  Children who are free to move about will show increased ability to concentrate and focus.  In the Montessori classroom children are free to move about, to choose different kinds of work as long as they do not disturb others.  In my early days of teaching I went to a child who was just wandering about and suggested he choose some work.  This four year old replied "I am working.  I am thinking about numbers."  I learned a lot about movement from this young boy.  As parents let's help our children to have activities every day that involve moving:  gardening, playing ball, washing the car, cooking...all of these will built confidence and skill. 

Work:  Every human needs to engage their mind, body and spirit in a purpose.  Work helps the child feel productive and useful and gives a sense of belonging.  In Montessori we call our lessons work because we want the children to respect and enjoy work.  As adults when we show respect and enthusiasm for our own work we teach a valuable lesson to the child. 

Activity:  This is a new dimension of work.  Purposeful activity gives all people a sense of value and importance.  Donating time to a cause, helping a neighbor, caring for someone who needs help, planting a garden...all of these are examples of how we build self esteem and confidence.  Children can contribute to the good of the family.  Even the youngest child can help in many ways.  Think about calling these activities "contributions to our family" rather than "your job".  These important activities are part of every classroom as the students care for plants and animals, clean up after lunch, keep their materials in a neat manner and enjoy being a real part of the school through their activity.  In the adolescent community (middle school) the students take on projects and community activities which are the culmination of earlier work in the classrooms. 

I hope this gives you a glimpse into the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori and her deep understanding of the needs of all humankind, especially children. 

Next week I will post some books if you would like to explore the world of Montessori further.  

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