The Montessori method is a wonderful system of
education and I love to be a part of it, most of the time at least. I think we all do. The children gain, the adults gain, the parents gain – we are all so pleased with our method that we are sometimes accused of being elitist or of being a closed group that allows no others in. When I trained as a Montessori educator over forty years ago, all my colleagues were those who chose Montessori because they loved it. We were not looking for credits or state-recognised certificates. We were driven along by a common passion and enthusiasm. Of course, that made us even more isolated! We probably appeared elitist even though we wanted everyone to join in and get the benefits of Montessori!
I remember my shock as a Montessori student, when I heard my revered lecturer say, “I know you want state recognition for Montessori to allow every child to benefit, but I have grave reservations…. the most important parts of Montessori will get swallowed up in a much bigger system and the benefits will be lost”. I thought she was a pessimist. Forty years later I believe she was a realist! I have seen Montessori spread a great deal over the last forty years, and, in many instances, it has moved partly outside the private system and attracts state funding. Montessori is being forced to deal with state curricula that demand compliance and parents that demand a high level of accountability. We no longer have a choice, we must move outside our comfortable “cosy” group and explain ourselves!
Who can explain Montessori education fully in a few sentences? It takes years to fully understand the method. Most of us feel under pressure to defend our work when faced with laws, local regulations, tests and comparison studies. This undermines our daily work, so we must strive to find better ways to “sell” what we do and put a protection between our work and that pressure!
In the last blog I suggested we explain Montessori to others through our materials and activities. I also mentioned that the materials have no meaning without the Montessori method behind them. Therefore, we must also explain the main Montessori principles to put the materials in context.
I have gathered a few little phrases that help me to remember the core of Montessori. Everyone has their own way of doing this but here are my ideas….
For “children”, read “infants, children, adolescents. Montessori secondary schools believe they are under excessive pressure about the curriculum but these points apply to all ages!
What are the benefits of Montessori education?
Children become independent joyful learners (as they were when they were born!) – they cover the “curriculum” without undue stress.
Children learn to concentrate and to manage their own lives, socially and academically
How does this happen?
Adults don’t teach, children teach themselves using a prepared environment (including Montessori materials and activities).
Adults prepare the environment to make that happen – preparing it for independent learning. Order, beauty and attention to detail are essential!
Adults also prepare themselves to make it happen – observation every day and self-awareness make it possible to know the “when, what and how” of the prepared environment.
Children are given freedom to choose in every possible way, and they grow in confidence, learning to take responsibility for their own behaviour and their own learning.
A daily three-hour work cycle (shorter for toddlers), allows children to develop the skill of concentration which supports confidence and supports all learning.
Adults clearly guide every step of the way, through objective presentations, showing children how to do the things that will inspire them and help them to become independent learners.
Adults should not help unless asked and should observe before deciding the next action.
That sounds wonderful! Can we make it happen? Only if we give attention to protecting our environment and our method of education. In the next blog we will explore how we can be Custodians of the Environment, protecting what we do while, at the same time, presenting Montessori to the “outside” world.