One of the positive contributions of the internet is the spreading of Montessori educational philosophy.
For nearly the first century of the existence of Montessori, the ideas were spread from person-to-person in training which involved years of lecture, reading, and observation in a Montessori school. The trainings were held in cities few and far between, and the books were difficult to come by. The odds were great that if you were a mother at home taking care of little children, you wouldn’t have had access to this incredible information.
Thanks to the internet, I have had this access to information, and I consider it a blessing. I have been pointed to the great Montessori books and to excellent online explanations and I’ve even watched videos of actual teacher training(!) and videos which demonstrate how to demonstrate… I have immersed myself for years in reading about this method – very skeptically at first, and then bit by bit with more conviction, and I’ve been able to “practice” on my 4 little kiddos. Now, I love these ideas. Now I want to share what I’ve learned about the method, and how to incorporate it at home. Now, I think this method, if widely practiced, would radically heal our hurting culture – and that’s not an exaggeration.
So, what are the major Montessori ideas? I’m going to list a summary here, and then start posting about each of them as time permits. For each bullet point, I will elaborate on ways to implement the ideal at home, for those of us who do not live close to an affordable, well-run Montessori school:
- If children are awake, they are learning. (Sleep is necessary for processing what they’ve learned since they last slept.) “Learning” isn’t an activity that can be delegated to certain days or hours.
- “Education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experience upon the environment.” (MM) These hands-on experiences and the using of the senses should be widely permitted. (If you have to say “don’t touch that!” about something, it doesn’t really belong in a child’s environment!)
- Every child is unique, and should be permitted to develop at his or her own pace, following his or her own interests. (Have you seen a list of your state’s “standards” of education? You won’t find any reference to joy on that list. DOES THAT NOT BOTHER ANYONE ELSE? Do we really think that as a species, we wouldn’t want our young to be happy, and see in that happiness an indicator of success? Oops, I digress…)
- Children, although unique, experience predictable “sensitive periods” during which learning new skills happens effortlessly (described as the absorbent mind.)
- Children have a deep longing for meaningful work.
Characteristics of a child’s environment include:
- Safety first, of course.
- Unconditional love and acceptance, of course, and words that are calm and respectful.
- Mixed ages.
- Order, as much as possible. (Everything should have it’s own place – minimize clutter.)
- Freedom of choice of activity, and freedom of movement as much as possible. (Think of learning as happening through the child’s hands. What takes away freedom of choice and movement more than a car-seat?)
- Materials of the appropriate size (think chairs, tables, utensils) and they should be beautifully made.
- Respect for the child’s capacity and need for sophisticated vocabulary in early childhood.
- Respect for the child’s ability to concentrate, and nourishing this ability by not interrupting a child who is concentrating on something unless absolutely necessary – not even to give praise. (The busier your schedule is, the more your child will be interrupted.)
- Natural materials and lighting as much as possible.
- Materials used should be self-correcting and presented to the child at the appropriate stage of development. (Grading is not necessary – observation is.)
A great book for parents who are just beginning to have an interest in Montessori: