I worry sometimes that we are our own worst enemy in the Montessori world. It is such a wonderful philosophy and method of education, but we get bewitched by new ideas and abandon the best of Montessori as we rush to implement them. Or we never totally implement Montessori because we fear it is too unusual, thereby missing some of the main benefits of the method. Naturally, not every Montessorian does this but many do. Why? … it is NOT an either-or choice, Montessori or mainstream. But sometimes we think it is!
Last time I told you I had discovered that today’s Montessori educators have a problem explaining what they do in the language of the state curriculum. Unfortunately, the communication problem is wider than the Montessori classroom. The quality of Montessori is being affected at a national and international level. Whatever the age group, there is usually a strict curriculum in every state. All educators, Montessori or not, must follow the curriculum. Does this mean we have to lose quality Montessori? No! But we must pay attention to what is going on!
Many years ago, I was working on a project on childcare. I was chatting to a colleague who was a childcare lecturer in a UK based college. We were strolling to lunch and she mentioned that she would not approve a student who did not know what PILES were. “PIES, what is that?” I said. I felt vaguely embarrassed as I did not know the “basics” according to her. “Oh,” she said, “the main categories of child development – physical, Intellectual, linguistic, emotional and social development.” “Oops!” I thought. I knew all about areas of development but never heard of PILES. And this was in an era when we were screaming from the rooftops that the development of the child was totally integrated! My heart went out to newly trained Montessori teachers who had not heard this term. Of course, they had studied those areas, within the Montessori method, but had never heard of that term – PILES!
The next shock I got was visiting Montessori schools (under 6 years) in Ireland, schools that had abandoned the “pure Montessori” in order to incorporate the new state curriculum for early years. Some had a “Montessori room”, a “Montessori hour”, a “pre-Montessori class”. Obviously, they thought they had no time to do Montessori fully in addition to a busy state curriculum. Very few knew that, with Montessori, they were already doing most of the things on the shiny new curriculum. Montessori organisations and colleges started to set up ways of recording, showing that the curriculum was covered. One very clever association set up a cross reference between Montessori and the curriculum. Unfortunately, not everyone understood how to manage these tools, and, in some cases, the parents had learned to expect a “Montessori room” and a “Montessori hour”. I have met parents who boasted to me that their child was being “promoted” to the “Montessori class”!
I also saw the “Montessori room” and “Montessori hour” habit in several other countries, in every case, based on a need to satisfy the state curriculum. In China I saw two lovely kindergartens that did Montessori for 45 minutes each day! When we visited, the children were skilled at using the materials. Some even chose second and third materials. Perhaps there was some free choice or perhaps the children had been prepared for our visit. Whichever, there was no work cycle, therefore no opportunity for concentration, the most important outcome of a Montessori education. It was the same problem, a need to follow another curriculum for most of the day, denying many children the right to benefit from true Montessori education.
In recent decades, the state qualifications authorities across Europe, have been reluctant to make awards for full Montessori qualifications, believing that it was necessary to have a broader spectrum. As a result, most Montessori training programmes had to condense the Montessori content into half the time previously given to it. Again, it was a communication problem. We, the Montessorians, found it difficult to explain that Montessori does not work when mixed up with lots of other things. Of course, we accept that childcare workers need to know about the law, health and hygiene. But they already cover all areas of child development and child education through their Montessori training course, why do they need to study them again? Montessori students study deep not wide! When I hear people saying Montessori is not “social” or does not develop language well enough, I want to weep. Children in a Montessori class live a totally natural social life and talk just as often as they need to!
Naturally, in those years, the standard of understanding Montessori fell. Soon some started to think that Montessori was really about some fancy materials, locked into a room and accessed for one hour per day. My best story is about the woman who told the small children, “If you don’t hurry and tidy up soon, I will make you do the Montessori materials!” I guess she knew no better but she was responsible for the children!
What about the teachers of the older children, 6-12 years? Many of them fell into a complicated situation too. I visited schools in Norway and Sweden. They complained that Montessori was not working, children were “doing nothing”, were not choosing freely and so on. On closer examination, it turned out that the adults were only doing Montessori, and allowing free choice for part of the day because children “had to learn” so many things on the state curriculum! Half the day was teacher controlled, and the children had forgotten how to choose spontaneously and freely. Well, of course, Montessori was not working! Once again, no language was available to explain what was already being done within Montessori to satisfy the requirements of the state curriculum.
What kind of a solution could be found? Years ago, I realised that we had to document what we were doing and cross reference it to state curriculum. I guess you have been listening to me talking about the problems for long enough, so now it is time to talk about the solutions! Next blog 😊