Please, forgive in advance all the English speaking mistakes you will notice in this long post
I already told you here that, since August, I have the great privilege to be part of a Montessori school. Today, I tell you more about it. This school is, I believe, a heaven for children and I am really happy to work there and to know that Lynne will attend it. I do not have experience of any other Montessori schools and I do not have any training yet except my own motivation and my daily experience. So I can only tell you about what I live in my school and about what I understand about this brilliant pedagogy.
USA is more open about variety of education types. Montessori schools are not rare, here, around Saint Louis (Missouri). The school I work for is an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale, created by Montessori herself in 1929) member, which show the quality of the education.
The school is located in an old house, nested in a green landscape surrounded by woods. Children are free to climb on trees, to build forts. They are outside whatever the weather (except for the youngest ones). You should see how they enjoy playing in the mud on rainy days. As the Swedish say : there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. There is a veggies garden and a chicken yard which the oldest children are responsible for. Parents can buy eggs.
Big projects are on the way (extend the program to toddlers and adolescents, remodeling and creating new buildings), but today, this is a small place that counts around 150 children from 2.5 to 12 years old : children’s house (2.5 to 6 years old), lower elementary (6 to 9 years old) and upper elementary (9 to 12 years old).
Thoughts on Montessori education
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) is the first women to become physician in Italy. She spent her life working with children. Based on her scientific observations, she developed a pedagogy : a life philosophy and a leaning material extremely thought, precise and elaborated.
Montessori education promotes respect of the child. The child is seen as a person, not a sub-human whose brain needs to be shaped. The goal is not to standardize spirit but to help little human being to bloom, grow free in their own way. For Montessori, respect, peace, harmony and benevolence would lead children becoming responsible adults, respectful of others and of environment. An utopia ? Well, no… “within the child lies the fate of the future”. The answer to a better world can only go through children.
All activities lead by a child answers inner needs of self construction and development. That is why we always use the word “work” instead of “play”, even for the youngest child. This is a way to emphasize the importance of children’s actions which are too often underestimated by adults.
Montessori observed in the children several natural stages of development. And from those, she phased her pedagogy :
- The nido period (the nest) : from birth to 18 months (safe walk). A soft cocoon, most of the time set within the family, or if you are lucky in one of the few Montessori day care
- Young children community: from 18 months to 3 years old (I will talk about it when I write a post about Lynne’s toddler program)
- The children’s house : from 2.5 or 3 years old to 6 years old
- Elementary: from 6 years old to 12 years old (sometimes divided in 2 cycles : lower and upper elementary)
- Adolescents: from 12 years old to 18 years old
- Young adults : in college
From birth to 6 years old, the child goes through phases called sensitive periods. During those periods, her attention is intensely focused on the acquisition of a specific skill (movement, language, sense of order, sensory….). The child absorbs naturally and without effort. But if she cannot find material to answer her current need, then learning the skill later will be harder and not natural at all.
From 6 to 12 years old, the child needs to open her world and socialize. She enters a period of abstraction and concepts. She develops her moral and justice sense.
Montessori didn’t not have time to develop her pedagogy about adolescents and we only have some guide lines.
The child is at the center of her learning. She is responsible for herself and her learning. A Montessori classroom is not about a teacher giving her talk to children. A Montessori classroom is about children building their own knowledge and learning, guided by a teacher. Besides, educators are called “guides”. Their work is about taking the child through autonomy. Their biggest task is to observe. Observe the child to understand her and know when she is ready to receive this or that knowledge (follow the child).
Classrooms are usually working on 3 years cycles (3-6 years old, 6 to 9 years old, 9 to 12 years old). Mixing ages is really positive for everyone :
- Children have time to learn and deepen their skill at their own pace. When a child integrates a new knowledge at a moment she is ready to receive it, it will likely be easy and long-lasting.
- Youngest ones get benefit from oldest one’s experience (a child learns more efficiently from another child than from an adult). The oldest children become model and little teachers. They reinforce their knowledge and develop their sense of responsibility and empathy.
Child learns through her senses. The role of hand is especially important. Maria Montessori created a very specific material. Generations of children validated the genius of this material. Each concept and idea can be taught through a concrete material which is extremely normalized. Made of wood, glass, metal, … the material isolate only one difficulty (one idea) at a time (but there is several use for the same material, depending on the maturity of the child) and has a control of error in itself (to be used independently by the child). Oldest children use less and less material as they get more and more familiar with abstraction. I will try to write a post to give you an idea of the material we use.
There is no lecture, no general teaching (except the 5 great lessons), because the teacher follows the pace of each child. Knowledge are given through what we call “lesson”. A lesson is given to one child or a small group of children.
In a Montessori classroom, children are moving. They are free to walk, sit, lay down with material set on rugs. They can talk (with low voices). They work alone or in small groups. Force a child to stay sit in silence is a nonsense, don’t you think ?
Children chose freely their work. They can ask the teacher to receive this or that lesson, or the teacher can propose. Once children have been given a lesson, they can work on it as long and as often as they want.
There are no reward, no punishment, no notation (grading). Children work for themselves. This is what independence is about…. We try to arouse children’s curiosity, and the taste for discovery and learning. Children do not work because of the threat of a test or because they have to please their parents. They work because they want to know more. Because they are happy to discover the world that surrounds them.
They are no homework. Out of the school, children are free to enjoy family, friends and personal activities.
We encourage children to find a solution to their own problems or ask other friends for help. When a conflict happens, we push children to talk to each other. Adults step in only in last resort.
A Montessori school sees the child as a whole. It does not reduce her to a single part of her human-being. The child is not only a brain we have to feed. The child is an adult to be ho has to find her place in the society (and interact with other with grace and courtesy). She has to be able to be responsible and to take care of herself and of her environment (his is why practical life exercises and daily chores are so important).
Lower elementary, with children from 6 to 9 years old
Every morning and every evening, the teacher respectfully greet and takes leave of each child by shaking hand and watching them in the eyes (and getting low to their size)
What we call our classroom is in fact several rooms of an old house. There is also a solarium. There is a lot of light. It is charming. I love it !
There are no assigned tables. Children are free to sit where they want, alone or in group as long as they doe not disturb their classmates. They can chose to work on the floor, on rugs.
There is only one break during the day (lunch time). But as the children are free to move, or read in library, the need to let off stream is not the same.
All children eat in the school (catered lunch or homemade). They all eat in classroom, with teachers. They have to set their serving and clean after themselves.
Children have to take care of their environment. Each of them has a daily chore (job) to do that changes every week : pets or plants care, fool cleaning, tables cleaning, load and unload dishwasher (from lunch), do laundry (place-mats, napkins, cleaning clothes…), sharpen pencils …
Outside teachers come to give Spanish, gym and music class
Almost every day, after lunch recess, the teacher read aloud books to the children while they work on origami, draw, do crochet…
Every child has a journal where he writes every work he does during day time. Teacher check it every end of day. Every week, teacher and children have their one to one conference. They check the work done and talk about what they are going to do next.
There are no written lessons. Children can make some books with some the work they do.
Children share the material (pencils, erasers, rulers…). If they decide to bring some personal items, they have to share with the others. This is the rule in my class, but I know this can be different depending on the teacher.
Children do not have school bag or books to carry. Lessons are given from material, not books. It does not mean books are not used. Far from it ! Library is available and each child is free to spend a while during the day.
Mathematics curriculum is extremely strong… do you know a lot of children of 8 years old who know their square until 76 ?
I am an assistant to the teacher and the least I can say is that I do not have time to get bored ! My day is filled from the minute I enter the classroom to the second I leave it.
This year is a bit special because they are a lot of children and we are 2 assistants in the classroom. This is a real blessing because I can learn so much from my coworker who has much more experience than me. Next year, class will be divided in 2 classes.
My work is to make sure children have always equipment and material to work on, make sure the material is used properly, help children to find solution to their problems, helps them to resolve their conflicts, help them to find work and sometimes work with them (or cook with them !), make sure chores are well done, watch the lunch break recess and thousand other things … In January we have the project to begin French speaking lessons…
Here is a little overview of my work and my comprehension of the Montessori pedagogy. I learn a lot, in education, in relationship, in English speaking… and I am far from having finish to learn yet !
Please, do not hesitate to share your experiences of Montessori school or even your thoughts….