Many of you may already know, Montessori schools have mixed-age classrooms. This is because Maria Montessori observed that older children helped younger children with their lessons and tasks. Studies show that peers often motivate each other to succeed. The environment and materials are set up in a similar way in every Montessori classroom. The environment is meant to be clutter free, beautiful, peaceful, and natural. The materials are intended to capture the child’s interest, not the shelves. Walls should not be a distraction; therefore, they should have practical things like calendars, maps, a clock, and some fine art at a child’s eye level. Montessori’s materials have proven extremely useful in teaching skills; first with concrete, tactile objects which eventually help build abstract thinking and understanding of a skill.
Students are encouraged to choose lessons that spark their own personal interests; however, there are teacher guided expectations as well. In lower elementary, children are introduced to the concept of time management. That means that while trying to allow them to work as long as they desire on any given task, they are gently reminded that there are other tasks that need attention and focus as well, and are equally important. They will discover that perhaps math may take a while to complete, but reading doesn’t take quite so long. Eventually, they will organize their day accordingly; i.e., reading first, a break to paint, math next, perhaps a snack, then on to a language lesson. It is hard for adults to believe that a child 6-9 years of age, could make those choices. They can! I have witnessed independent choices being made in my classroom.
Children naturally learn through repetition. Montessori’s method allows children to learn a new concept through teacher demonstration, then they are encouraged to practice multiple times. Instead of fussing at a child for choosing the same lesson repeatedly, Montessori guides (teachers) observe the child’s progress. Eventually, the time will come when the child has mastered the lesson/skill. At that point, the guide may introduce a new lesson/concept. If a child is not ready for a new concept, forcing him to learn will only result in frustration for both child and adult, as well as a loss of desire and motivation to learn that concept. The guide may need to step back and revisit that concept at a later date.
Montessori’s method allows for learning, initiative, and effort to be associated with the joy of personal accomplishment and success in a child’s formative years.
The misconception regarding Montessori is that there are no rules, which is often associated with the freedom of choice. Freedom of choice and lack of rules are too very different concepts. Montessori classrooms offer the students the opportunity to create a reasonable set of rules that will foster a peaceful environment. This is typically done during the first week of the new school year. Older children are more familiar with the rules from previous years and will often help create and enforce those rules.
Accountability and Social Graces:
Along with class rules, children learn accountability. They are expected to clean up after themselves, be mindful of others’ belongings and feelings, and practice care of the environment. They have class jobs, which include sanitation engineer, morning snack set up, afternoon snack clear up, botanist, etc.
These jobs are in addition to cleaning up after themselves, and have a clear job description. If they break something, whether accidental or deliberate mistreatment, they are expected to either fix or replace the item. They are taught how to solve social issues through health communication. They are held accountable for their actions. Trust is extremely important to them at this age. They want to be trustworthy so it’s important to express to them what trustworthy behavior is.
At the end of the day, what we want for our children is for them to become confident, independent, productive and successful.
So, why Montessori?
A child is an adult in training, and Montessori’s method nurtures the “whole” child. This method allows for social emotional skills to be a prime focus, allowing for the child to develop the self-control and self-discipline needed in order to practice and master the academic skills. The result will be a self-motivated, self-confident, student with the natural desire to succeed. Montessori is not just about a quality education. The method is a set of guidelines for becoming an adult who is a productive member of the community.