Maria Montessori Method of Teaching and Your Child
We have always been asked why our children go to a Montessori School. It looks like the children are always at play and yet the school fees are enormously higher than what traditional schools require. Considering that we are not filthy rich to spend that much, are we wasting our hard-earned money?
To answer the question, let me start by briefly describing what a Montessori Method of Education is in my own understanding. It is basically a unique approach to education wherein an environment is designed to stimulate the child’s interest and facilitate self-directed learning. The ‘teacher’ doesn’t teach the children by giving class lectures but rather directs each child to certain activity, ensures that the child is introduced to and progresses in all learning areas, demonstrates the use of materials, clinically observes and records the child’s progress and upholds the Montessori environment. Below are some features of Montessori education and how they contributed to our children’s overall development.
The Montessori environment is designed to inspire children to learn by themselves. There are no huge blackboards for teachers to write and children to copy though a smaller whiteboard is available for illustration purposes when needed.
Seats are not stiffly arranged one after another. Chairs and tables are available for individual work, in pairs or in groups. A demo table is where the teacher introduces and demonstrates to a small group of students how to use a particular material.
Our daughter even wished for a smaller demo table for herself because she is fond of demonstrating materials, loves to help classmates and idolizes her teacher.
Montessori materials are organized in low, open shelves for accessibility. Children do not just sit, write, listen and talk. There are lots of activities that would require them to move about inside the classroom for maximum independent learning and exploration.
“Education is a natural process
spontaneously carried out by the individual
and is acquired not by listening to words
but by experiences upon the environment.”
- Dr. Maria Montessori
Because Maria Montessori believed that the hand was the direct link to the mind, the materials are all designed to be manipulative.
Children trace sandpaper letters as they utter the sound; they don’t just look at shapes but hold on to materials and feel the edges of geometric solids; beads are used when counting to see and feel quantities.
Bead strings form squares for every hundreds and a cube is formed when the count reaches a thousand. There are also Montessori materials designed for sensory education to refine one individual sense at a time.
“We cannot create observers by saying 'observe,'
but by giving them the power and the means for this observation
and these means are procured through education of the senses.”
- Dr. Maria Montessori
Mathematical formulas are not given for the children to memorize; instead the derivation is explained with the use of materials. They would then proceed to pen and paper and progress in solving problems effectively without the aid of materials.
Deeper understanding of concepts is therefore acquired. Moreover, the use of materials and the consideration for children’s individual progress and development (learning at their own pace) facilitate the advancement of younger children, say elementary student, to learn concepts that would traditionally be presented only when they reach High School.
With the premise that children are capable of self-directed learning, this trait is facilitated by self-correcting didactic materials. It will be obvious to the child if it was done correctly or even without constant adult intervention. If pieces are left over, appear to be missing or doesn’t fit, the child would have to review his work to identify what went wrong and correct the mistake himself.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say,
"The children are now working as if I did not exist."”
- Dr. Maria Montessori
Materials may look like toys to others such that a Montessori child at work may appear like playing. Montessori materials are not toys; they are educational tools that facilitate independent learning in children who seriously work on them. Montessori children develop strong concentration and attention to detail with the use of these materials.
The good news is that Montessori materials are already available on-line so you can purchase materials appropriate for the developmental phase for your children and create a Montessori environment at home. Independent work and use of self-correcting materials have immensely contributed to the superb critical thinking skills and problem-solving capabilities that we see in our children.
Daily Work Scheme and Multi-age Grouping
Teachers of Casa children direct and guide them to what materials to work on by suggesting or giving options. Elementary children on the other hand make their own daily plan. They decide on what material to work on for each area of learning, choosing from among the materials that had been presented to them, and considering how much work they can possibly finish for the day. Though the plan is still subject for approval by the teacher, the exercise provides the sense of freedom blended with self-discipline. As mentioned in the classroom setting, children can work independently, in pairs or in groups promoting interactions among classmates.
The multi-age system groups the students according to the period of development. Montessori identified it as a key variable in perpetuating a positive environment for individual and collaborative learning and social development. It allows students to work with both younger and older classmates. Children ages 3-6 are in the same classroom handled by one teacher in the Casa program. Six year old children that used to teach and lead younger Casa children then move up to become Grade 1 students and will be grouped with Grades 2 and 3. This time they are the youngest in the group and would experience becoming the followers and will be assisted by older students because they are new to the elementary program.
The daily work option and multi-age schemes allow for social interaction, development of leadership skills and concrete understanding of cooperation and team effort. Our inherently domineering daughter has become a good team player who can both be an effective leader and a cooperative member towards the accomplishment of a goal.
Exams and Homeworks
In our children’s school they don’t recognize the word exam. What they know is mastery check. Their level of understanding is tested by answering a set of questions or solving math problems. Mastery check is a regular thing to them, as normal as getting dressed and coming to school. They don’t even get tensed like other kids about to take an exam. I don’t have to review them or pay a tutor because they themselves worked on the materials while in school. It probably helped that they have a positive home and school environment that gives them the confidence or the no grade and no student ranking policy of the school relieves the pressure in taking the mastery check. This time, I can only guess.
Children from traditional schools often bring home assignments consuming lots of afterschool time. This seldom happens with my children because they are trained to manage their time and finish regular works in school. What they normally bring home are the weekly spelling drills and the daily reading log. They are encouraged to read any age-appropriate books or article everyday to develop love for reading. Our children ages 10 and 7 enjoy reading classic novels, bible stories and science books with outstanding comprehension.
Grading System and Ranking
No numerical grade or other forms of reward or punishment is given. The progress of a child in each academic area is assessed based on the accomplishments in the child’s portfolio, teacher’s observation and record keeping. Mastery of skills enumerated in the skills checklist required for the age-group, together with a narrative report of the child’s accomplishment and behavior, happiness, maturity, kindness, love for learning, concentration and work ethics are gauges for evaluating the effectiveness of the system in supporting the child’s development.
“One test of the correctness of educational procedure
is the happiness of the child.”
- Dr. Maria Montessori
The children are not ranked and no honors are given to best performing students because the children are taught to compete with themselves and not with others. They focus more on collaborative learning rather than competition. Fast learners and older students are rewarded with gratification they feel every time they help schoolmates in need of assistance in academics or otherwise.
In a Montessori environment, there is freedom with limits and there is respect for the materials, people and environment. There is freedom to wear whatever is comfortable but decent because they don’t have school uniforms. But when it is announced that Wednesday is dress day, girls should wear a dress or a skirt and boys should wear a shirt with collar. Children plan their activities for the day and they are expected to really work on it. They can move inside the classroom but they should not be walking around aimlessly. If it is circle time, they should learn to control themselves and cooperate.
Children learn from the materials such that utmost care and respect for the said materials should be given. They are free to choose which material to work on but they should return it properly before getting another one. If another child is still using the material that a child wants to use, then he should wait for that child to return the material in the shelf. This shows respect for others as well. Even at home, our school kids don’t fight over things and know how to wait for their turn.
“Discipline must come through liberty. . . .
We do not consider an individual disciplined
only when he has been rendered as artificially silent
as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic.
He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.”
- Dr. Maria Montessori
When our eldest child is about to attend school we looked for an institute that is either developmental in its approach or follows the Montessori Method of Education. Back then, our understanding of the true nature of these approaches was still very vague. What we were certain was that the teacher to student ratio of these kinds of school is low, something like 1:10 to a maximum of 1:15. Unlike Government-operated and other private institutions that are traditional in its method of education with 1:45-60.
Non-traditional schools can therefore effectively monitor the progress of every child and can allow them to work in their own pace. With these conditions and the other features of Montessori Method of Education that we began to understand, as discussed above, we believe that our children are better off. Far better than their parents who were educated traditionally; excelled academically but lacks valorization of personality. A Montessori Method of Education is exactly what we want for them and it is all worth our hard-earned money.
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