28 Mar 2011
Montessori is a philosophy. I consider it as a ‘way of life’ as opposed to ‘alternate schooling method’.
Magic number in Montessori – 3.
Mixed age classrooms. Younger children and older children working together is a typical trait of a Montessori classroom.
Montessori classroom, often called as an environment, is divided in to practical life area, sensorial area, language area, cultural area and math area. In practical life children learn things like pouring from one cup to another, the hand control and hand-eye coordination learnt from this process is later applied to writing. Every area is interlinked. Though a typical Montessori classroom is a big hall with 50 – 55 children of mixed age, the children magically segregate themselves in to age appropriate areas. Younger children are almost always found in the practical life area, the older children in the math area and such.
Motto behind the Montessori environment is ‘everything has a place and everything in its place’. Same applies for children and teachers in the environment. The teacher’s place – to observe and to guide. The children find their own place in the environment. Coming in to a Montessori environment the children are taught by modeling – by both the adults and the other children in the environment. The new child finds where she fits in this well organized environment and slowly grows from a novice to a leader.
Montessori considers 0-6 years of age as a unique window. It is known as ‘sensitive period’. Through her environment, the child is forming experiences which play a major role in how the neural networks are formed in the brain. By four these neural networks are precipitating and it becomes increasing difficult to rewrite the neural patterns. That is why many Montessori schools have an age limit after which they do not take non-Montessori children in to their environment.
Montessori places great deal of respect on sense of order, which is innate in a child. The first three years, all the child does is to make sense of the world and create order within herself. Sense of order in simple words can be explained as ‘where everything goes and when everything happens’. Though she cannot tell time, the child has a concept of time. Example, nap after lunch, dinner after going to the park, read books before bed etc. When the environment is predictable – few things, each in its place, well displayed, the child is more confident in the environment. Care must be taken to respect the child’s sense of order.
Many steps exist in a work and this is called cycle of work. If the child wants to paint, the cycle is -> get the apron on -> get paper -> pick paint -> paint -> place art work on drying shelf -> get water in a pail/container to clean easel -> dry the easel with a towel -> dump dirty water -> dry the container -> place all material in respective places (used towel in laundry basket, hang apron on peg, used paint cup and brushes in the sink). Every adult unfamiliar with Montessori to whom I have explained this cycle, have expressed doubts like , ‘this is too restrictive/child will feel burdened/are you for real?/this will never work’ etc. But I have seen 18 month – two year old children who do this without missing a beat. The main thing to recognize is that the doubt lies not within the child, but within the adult. The adult’s contribution to make sure that the child progresses successively without breaking the cycle of work is, to do the work once herself, think through the steps bearing in mind the age of the child, make sure that everything is available in the right place in the environment – like the paper is trimmed to size and placed on the paper tray, paints are filled regularly, dirty paint cups/brushes are cleaned and replaced, art work drying rack is accessible, towels are filled in the hamper, sink/faucet is easily accessible. I have also heard arguments that it is too much to expect from a child. I disagree. We talk about gratification and this is how a child learns gratification. Children learn their boundaries, which is not at all negative. Not to mention they expand their mind to the thinking that a certain problem has many steps and vice versa are aware that the small steps lead to a bigger picture.
Montessori environment places high emphasis on grace and courtesy. The idea is to teach through example that every person, every object, every process needs to be respected. This simple thing has deeper spiritual meaning. I can almost draw a curriculum web based on this.
Montessori, considers everything as work and every work is done in a certain way. In a manner of speaking even play is work and children are expected to play without harming themselves or their friends.
Montessori is based on reasoning and believes that fantasy can wait till the child is six and is capable of recognizing fantasy. As I have told many times, this does not make the children deficit of imagination and creative thinking. If a child is inclined to enjoying fantasy, even if they are Montessori schooled, they grow in to adults with logically sound fantasies. My most famous argument, ‘logic can exist without fantasy, but fantasy cannot exist without logic’. As an extension of this, tech toys, the iPads, iPhone apps and such are frowned upon. Because a young child needs to recognize not just cause and effect, but also a reason for this. All tech toys do is to teach children that things happen, take it for granted and don’t ever try to open your toy and analyze why and how.
Movement is incorporated in to the process of learning. Movement molds brain development in wondrous ways.
Montessori environment is filled with non-plastic objects, earth tones, no bright over stimulating colors, wooden materials, natural fabrics and such.
Montessori is neither strict nor all play. I like to think of it as flexibility within a structure.
Many more things to say, but I leave you all with this: any philosophy is only as sound as the adult who implements it.