What is Montessori Anyway?
The Montessori method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. Dr. Montessori’s Method has been time tested, with over 100 years of success in diverse cultures throughout the world. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.
There are currently over 20,000 Montessori schools around the world, which educate children from birth to age 18. Most of the schools serve young children from about age 2 or 2.5 years to age 5 or 6. The schools that use the name "Montessori" in their titles vary with regard to how strictly they adhere to Montessori methods, so parents should be sure to research the school's methods carefully before enrolling their children. There is some controversy in the Montessori community about what constitutes a Montessori school. The American Montessori Society keeps a list of schools and teacher training programs.
The father of three Montessori students, a business pilot, author, and international speaker, Trevor Eissler illustrates how Montessori education best prepares children for the world outside the classroom. Enjoy!
Montessori schools intend to foster the creativity of their students by encouraging them to play independently. Students often can choose what to play with, and they interact with Montessori materials rather than with traditional toys. Through discovery rather than direct instruction, they work to develop independence, self-reliance, and confidence. Usually, classrooms have child-size furniture, and the materials are placed on shelves where the children can reach them. Teachers often introduce the materials, and then children can choose when to use them. Montessori materials are often practical in nature and include pitchers from which to measure, natural materials such as shells, and puzzles and blocks. The materials are often constructed from wood or textiles. The materials also help children develop skills such as fastening buttons, measuring, and building, and they are designed to help the children master these skills over time through their own self-directed practice.
In addition, children are usually taught in mixed-aged classrooms so that older children can help nurture and teach younger children, thereby increasing the older children's self-confidence. The same teacher generally stays with children for their entire time in one grouping, and therefore the teachers get to know the students very well and help guide their learning.
To see a side by side comparison between Montessori and Traditional classrooms, click HERE.
How do you decide if Montessori is right for your family?
Montessori education should not be chosen just because parents are seeking an alternative to the traditional classroom. Parents should choose Montessori because they believe in this approach. It is important that the Montessori approach fits your child’s needs, as well as your family’s values, beliefs and expectations about how you want your child to experience education.
Some questions to consider when deciding if Montessori is right for your family:
Am I as a parent ready to support a teacher and my child in a non-traditional approach to learning?
Is my child an independent worker?
Am I willing to be active in my child’s education?
Is my child able to accept responsibility?
Does my child follow directions?
Is my child able to focus on tasks for a period of time and not be occupied with things going on around him/her?
Do I encourage my child to make choices and to take responsibility at home?
Do I support the emphasis on cooperation rather than competition?
Do I support the Montessori belief in fostering children’s self-reliance, responsibility and independence?
Is my approach to discipline based upon natural and logical consequences rather than “rewards and punishments?”
Do I believe that my child would benefit from having the responsibility for choosing appropriate learning activities and materials?
Do I support the Montessori classroom organization that includes multi-age groupings (typically three “grades” of students)?
Am I prepared to learn more about Montessori principles at school and at home?
Do I believe in using anecdotal notes and Montessori checklists, rather than traditional, graded report cards?
Competition in Montessori? Oh, Yes!
Competition in Montessori? Well, No! Which is it? Is there competition in the Montessori classroom or not? Well – yes and no!
Let’s examine the “No” first. There is no formal institutionalized competition in the Montessori philosophy because Montessori is about your child not about your child in competition with others. Your child is not competing with anyone else. Nor is your child competing for stars or popsicles or even attention. Your child is not being compared to anyone else in the environment nor is your child being set up to win or lose.
Competition is not part of the curriculum or the philosophy and yet there is competition in the classroom. So where does it come from? It walks in the door with your child. Competition is part of human nature. Some of us are more competitive than others. Some of us lean more to cooperation but all of us have some of the competitive gene.
What Montessori education can achieve is to help a child recognize and manage this human characteristic. Traditional education often uses the negative aspect of competition (“I’m better than you.”) to motivate learning and behavior. Children are unfairly forced into competition with others who may be more talented or gifted in certain areas while their own personality strengths (determination, aesthetic, creativity, compassion, etc.) are not recognized or valued because they do not fit the educational matrix that is being graded. Yet, it is these other strengths that in the end determine the satisfaction of a life well lived. Here, competition can be destructive to the developing self-image of the child. How many brothers and sisters grow up competing with each other – wasting years of energy – only to realize that they are in different races, have different personalities, different talents and different goals?
Learning to manage the positive aspects of competition has great value. In the Montessori classroom children get to choose the arena of their competition. It is never the slowest child who accepts the challenge of a race with the class sprinter but yet there are always takers. There are those who enjoy the demonstration of their abilities and those who want to stretch their own limits – which is only done against good competition. Montessori children (and mature adults) realize that there are venues in which they cannot compete and realistically assess their own goals and abilities. Montessori children can grow up into adults who have no need to compete with Hollywood looks, Wall Street money or professional athletic prowess because they are secure in knowing who they are and what their gifts and talents are.
So, where do we find and how do we judge healthy competition in the Montessori classroom? We find its most excellent use in the Montessori concept of mastery. Mastery brings out and into focus the child’s most significant competitor – himself or herself. Mastery says “I’m not working for a grade, I am not working to get by or to do the least I can do. I am working for excellence. And I am my own competition.” And that is the mindset that produces success in life. Choosing your goals wisely (learning to choose wisely is another Montessori quality) according to your abilities, passions and goals brings the kind of success that is meaningful. Many people have found that unless you know who your real competitor is you often run races in life that give you no pleasure and bring you no closer to your goals. Montessori children are afforded the opportunity to compete with the best – themselves.