Did you know that potty training, or “toilet learning”, as we call it, should start before 18 months of age? In our school, children begin the toileting process as soon as they can pull themselves up and support their bodies. It’s not about setting high expectations, assuming child will learn how to use the toilet and control their bladder right away, but more of establishing a routine, and providing all of the tools the child needs to succeed. In time, they will recognize that using the toilet is a common routine. They will internalize the concept, ‘my urine goes in the toilet, not in my diaper or on the floor’. They recognize that you respect their time and space by providing a safe place for them to fulfill their bodily needs. Each meticulous step in the toileting process, is a step towards the child’s overall independence and self confidence.
“Yet, when all are agreed that the child loves to imagine, why do we give him only fairy tales and toys on which to practice this gift? If a child can imagine a fairy and fairyland, it will not be difficult for him to imagine America. Instead of hearing it referred to vaguely in conversation, he can help to clarify his own ideas of it by looking at the globe on which it is shown.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
One of the most obvious differences between Montessori and your typical, conventional daycare, is the use of real materials in the classroom, as opposed to plastic toys made from synthetic materials. The pedagogy is only successful if the child has real tools to work with. One of the characteristics of a normalized child is their “attachment to reality”. We strive to provide real material as safely and practical as possible. We want children to develop real skills and habits for living in a real world.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with imaginative/fantasy play, however there is a time and a place. Play is the work of the child. Playful learning is done so through many aspects of the Montessori philosophy. Play is beneficial for children in a variety of developmental areas, and different types of play is associated with different stages. The pedagogy is dedicated to meeting all of the developmental needs of the “whole child”. Montessori guides must consider play as a developmental area, and observe and guide the children’s movement in the classroom to support their growth. These areas should contain the same preparation, analysis and sequencing as all other areas of the classroom.
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Fred Rogers
“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities, which they can perform themselves. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.” – Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
I find it fascinating how children have an innate desire to be a part of a community; to belong. They want to be involved in purposeful work, and to keep their tiny communities clean and orderly. It’s not necessarily something we have to teach, but something that can come about by providing the right tools, and making sure these tools are easily accessible. We model for the child how to carry about one’s body, how to handle fragile things, that everything we do has certain steps that have to be followed, and that their are effects or consequences for everything that we do. In Montessori, we teach the child skills that can be used in “real life”, beyond the classroom. These lessons are done so through their persistent participation in exercises of “practical life”.There’s much to be said about the Exercises in Practical Life, and how beneficial and extremely crucial they are to the child’s overall development. It’s through practical life works that the child learns concentration, focus, scope and sequence, pre-writing skills (cleaning a table with a bar of soap from left to right in circular motions), fine and gross motor development, small and large muscle development, they develop a sense of order, and generally learn to take pride in their work. They learn to be independent young adults, free to think critically and problem solve. Continue reading
A Montessori education helps students develop a love for learning and it teaches them to be self-directed learners who can harness their creative potential.
Imagine an education system that trained students to be creative innovators and leaders without the use of grades, tests or homework. It actually exists and it’s called the Montessori Method.
The Montessori Method focuses on fostering a hands-on, self-paced, collaborative and enjoyable learning experience. It teaches students to start small with their ideas, to build them through experimentation and to solve the problems that come up along the way with a sense of stimulating curiosity.
One of the most striking aspects of Montessori education is its similarities with the “fail fast, fail forward” do-it-yourself hacker mentality that has built many of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley. Even the popular innovation frameworks in the global start-up scene, like agile development and lean startup methodology, share similarities with the experimental process of Montessori learning.
I believe that if we want to become better creators and innovators, we would be wise to study the principles of the Montessori Method. Even though the Montessori Method is usually associated with the primary education of children, the seven pillars of self-directed learning that it is based on also apply to adults who want to become more creative, adaptable and self-motivated:
7. Lifelong Learning
“It is interesting to see how little by little, these children become aware of forming a community which behaves as such…Once they have reached this level, the children no longer act thoughtlessly, but put the group first and try to succeed for its benefit.” (Dr. Maria Montessori)
In Montessori, our main goal is to help the child succeed in whatever way possible. When they first enter the community, there is a certain level of expectation for how they are to act. Children are treated with respect, and treat one another as such. This is called Grace & Courtesy. To help orient them to the environment, they are taught basic, or preliminary lessons on how to function in the classroom. They’re given lessons on which works are to be used at the table, or which ones can be used on the floor, where to locate table/floor rugs, the Guide models how to gently close/open doors, how to walk quietly and control ones body while moving about the community, how to ask for help, how to push in a chair, how we walk around our friends’ work, saying “please” and “thank you”, covering one’s mouth when coughing, or saying “excuse me”, and just generally how to act in the classroom. Exercises in Practical Life are also introduced to help the child refine skills necessary to carry out more complex works, such as dish washing, sweeping, dusting, window washing, and so forth.
I get asked quite frequently by newly enrolled families, “Why is my child receiving lessons on how to push in a chair”, or “Why did they spend the afternoon practicing walking on the line? Shouldn’t they be reading, or doing the art works”, or something along that line. These preliminary lessons, are just as important as any other lesson, and build the foundation for how the child will act and work in the classroom for years to come. These lessons are extremely significant to the child’s orientation to the environment. We cannot expect a new child to enter the community, and immediately focus all of their attention and concentration on one work at a time. Especially if they’ve never been in a school setting before. Take “learning to write” as an example. The child will never learn to properly write without first mastering the pre-writing lessons, such as strengthening their large muscles, developing strong hand-eye coordination, then refining their pincer grasp, and then working with pre-writing materials, such as tracing the metal insets, or tracing sand paper letters with their fingers, and so forth. In time, the child learns to master these complex works through muscle memory. Montessori children are patient. Their young minds are extremely absorbent. They have a deep appreciation towards caring for their environment, and those around them, above all else.
Dr. Montessori introduced the exercises in Grace and Courtesy as she observed a young child’s need for order. “Montessori education includes explicit instruction on social behavior in a part of the curriculum called Grace and Courtesy, which are on par with lessons in math, music, and language” (Lillard, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius). Grace and courtesy lessons help the child to have the language required to build confidence and awareness of those around them. They also help the child become a productive member of the classroom community.Our goal is to model these fundamental lessons for the child, and have them repeat the activity in their own successful way. The child needs to participate in these core activities to prepare them for their environment; to learn how to grow into problem-solving, independent, young thinkers.
To initiate perfection at this time of life is an immensely productive piece of educational work: the teacher reaps a wonderful harvest after a minimum of trouble given to sowing the seed. (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child)
We reference the child’s daily activities as “work”. “The task of the child is the formation of man” (Dr. Maria Montessori). In other words, the child’s “work” is to create the type of person they will be for the rest of their lives. Their work is extremely important. These early years of their childhood are very precious. Their work is to be honored and protected, both at school and home. Giving them the opportunity to explore and learn from the tools in their environment is extremely critical to their development.
The term “play” is referenced as “work” in a Montessori community, because the children “play” with a purpose. Work is purposeful. When a child plays, it does not always need to be imaginative, overly-stimulated, chaotic, loud, or involve physical activity. When young children play, their purpose is to develop an executive function. Playing can involve many things, such as refining a fine or gross motor skill (small and large muscle movement), playing emphasizes emotional and social interactions, problem solving, patience, developing hand-eye coordination, balancing their bodies, learning to prioritize in order to carry out a particular task…the list is endless. A Montessori classroom caters to all of these functions of “play”.
“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 5)
As Montessori Guides, our main responsibility is to engage the child to the environment, therefore letting the materials teach the child. We do not present a lesson, and afterwards put it away in a closet, never to be touched again. The entire environment is available to the child (considering they’ve been given the proper lesson). They’re given the opportunity and freedom to work with whatever their driven to do for that day. The child experiences many different, spontaneous “sensitive periods”, where they’re internally driven to fulfill an inner desire. Often times, they’re desire is as simple as practicing to walk so that they can refine their balance and composure. Or, it could be that they want to work with water in the “practical life” area (as many children do), so you may see them washing their hands, cloths, tables, dishes, or watering plants for the entirety of the work cycle. Whatever it may be, it’s important to make sure the environment is fully prepared to meet their individual needs.
“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.56)
Simply put, the child absorbs everything. Every object, sound, smell in their environment plays a vital role in their daily learning. Stop and observe your children every once and a while. Watch their careful, gentle movements and observe how they carry out their work. Try to understand what they desire most, and capitalize on these spontaneous learning opportunities. Through the child’s work, they feel a sense of purpose; that they are contributing to a greater good. They are developing and refining skills, and shaping their personality, which will further build the kind of person that they will be for the rest of their lives.
Photos credit http://melmphotography.com/
Article Credit: mariamontessori.com
I had an interesting conversation with a prospective parent recently who teaches at a local college. She shared that she and her colleagues are constantly discussing “how underprepared kids are for college in terms of ‘soft skills.’” By soft skills she meant skills other than the purely academic — the personal qualities, habits and attitudes that make someone a successful college student and, by extension, a good boss or employee later in life. She had just come from an observation in toddlers and primary and was surprised to have seen that in Montessori, “starting in toddlers students develop the self-motivation, independence, and follow-through that many college students lack!” In other words, beginning at these very young ages, Montessori children are already developing the soft skills that will benefit them so greatly later in life.
It was a pretty astute observation for a prospective parent seeing Montessori for the first time, and it got me thinking. When I talk to parents, I often describe a Montessori learning material, like the binomial cube, detective adjective game, or golden beads, that leads to the acquisition of academic or “hard skills.” Obviously, hard skills are important, but soft skills are equally so. Continue reading
One of our absolute favorite blogs that we religiously follow, How we Montessori, posted a wonderful article explaining the benefits of allowing our children the opportunity to work with dangerous, or fragile things. In the classroom, our students are encouraged to work with challenging tools, such as scissors to develop fine and gross motor skills, they’re also allowed to grate/cut vegetables as part of food preparation/”practical life”, which teaches valuable life skills, and they’re invited to use glass tumblers to drink out of during mealtime. If they drop the glass, it’s not a problem. They’re well-equipped with problem solving skills to clean up any mess they make. We want them to learn how to handle delicate materials so that they will learn self-control, and self-discipline, amongst many things. We empower and enable our children to be self sufficient, working with tools that aid in their independence. Often times, learning from mistakes can be a powerful method.
Children need risk. Risk challenges them and keeps them alert, it makes them responsive and teaches consequences. However parents are often so afraid, it’s to the detriment of their children. Maria Montessori would call this oppression.
Children are capable. But they need our help. We need to enable and empower them.
Children need to learn new skills, real life skills. Once they are capable in one area they will have the confidence to work and excel in other areas. When they complete real work there is a powerful sense of accomplishment which can build the child’s sense of self. Children need work and accomplishments they can be proud of.