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With the struggles of public school education, many parents find themselves looking at alternatives methods of educating their children. Private school, home school, and Montessori school all remain viable options. The Montessori Method of education offers a unique learning experience for children and has been tested throughout hundreds of years and in numerous diverse cultures. It has proven effective time and time again. Take a look at what the Montessori model looks like, why it’s effective but also why it’s not right for all children.
The Montessori Method of Education
The Montessori Method of Education was created by Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori took the scientific knowledge that we have about children and their development and decided to apply those observations to their education. The Montessori view sees children as beings who seek knowledge and are capable of starting their learning within a supportive and prepared educational setting. This approach not only values the child’s ability to learn but views this process more holistically; taking the child’s spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and cognitive aspects into consideration.
Components of a Montessori Program
A Montessori program includes several components in order to be categorized as Montessori. First of these components is the grouping of children from multiple different age groups. This may sound unusual to individuals who are accustomed to the traditional education
arrangements. However, multiage grouping in Montessori programs is done so strategically. The idea is that younger children have the opportunity to learn from older children. Older children are provided with the opportunity to use their innate abilities to teach the younger children. This type of environment encourages communication, socializations and the reinforcement of fundamental educational concepts. This type of arrangement is similar to what adults experience in the workplace; socializing and teaching skills to others who have not yet mastered them.
The next fundament element of a Montessori program is the learning triangle. The learning triangle includes the teacher, the child, and the environment. All of the pieces of the triangle interact with one another to create a positive learning experience. The teacher takes responsibility for preparing the classroom to be conducive to learning. The teacher is responsible for providing the child with the freedom to explore while enforcing limits and order. The child has the opportunity to take advantage of what the environment has to offer, growing in all areas; cognitively, spiritually, socially, psychically and emotionally. The child uses the teacher as a source of support or guidance when he/she needs it.
Another key component to the Montessori model is the application of a child’s stages of development to their education curriculum. Dr. Montessori recognized the important periods that children experience as part of their natural development. She identified these periods as windows of opportunity to teach children as they grow. In order to do this, Montessori teachers take the time to develop lessons and materials that are consistent with the child’s natural developmental process. For example, in early childhood there is significant research to support the idea that children learn through sensory-motor activities. They must work with their senses to develop cognitively.
This means learning through experiencing their senses; visually, auditory, tasting, touching, moving, and smelling. As the child grows and develops, their learning style changes. In middle childhood, children begin to be able to organize their thoughts. At this stage, they move from a concrete way of thinking to a more abstract thought process. This is the time where the child begins to apply knowledge to real-life experiences. All of these experiences and education are designed to teach the child skills that will prepare him/her for adolescence and the advanced concepts to be learned at that age level.
Montessori School Pros
One of the primary benefits of a Montessori program is the unique approach taken with each child. Children in Montessori programs are not treated as a group; they are not subjected to standardized testing that doesn’t effectively measure their unique qualities and capabilities. Rather, they are valued for their individual needs. The Montessori model recognizes that children are all unique, and all learn differently. As such they make a concerted effort to accommodate every child’s learning style as well as provide the child with the opportunity to learn at his/her own pace.
The Montessori program serves to support children in developing independence, order, as well as coordination and concentration. The classroom routine, environment, and the teaching materials all serve to support these concepts; they seek to aid a child in his/her ability to educate him/herself.
As mentioned above, a multi-age classroom is a unique setting that supports a child’s education in multiple different ways. One of these ways is by establishing a close-knit and caring educational community. Usually, the age-span within the classroom is around three years and provides children the opportunity to mentor one another as well as learn from one another. Older children gain responsibility and serve as role models while younger children can feel supportive. Teachers are important modelers of respect, kindness and enforce the process of peaceful conflict resolution.
Children are often the leader of their learning experience. They are offered what is termed as freedom within limits. This gives the child the opportunity to determine the focus of their learning. The Montessori program seeks to drive child interest and curiosity; the best way to do this is by supporting their natural interests and ensuring that learning remains fun for them.
Montessori teachers provide supportive learning environments that encourage children to find answers to their questions. Children are supported and provided with the tools necessary to aid them in obtaining knowledge.
Children are taught to recognize and correct their own errors. A Montessori program will require that students evaluate their own work, with a critical eye. As the get older and gain maturity, they will need to recognize their mistakes, correct them as well as learn from them.
Montessori School Cons
While there are many positive aspects of a Montessori education, there are critics of the model. One of the cons identified by critics is the inability of some teachers to allow students to choose the learning activities that they find most interesting. While freedom within limits remains an important component of the Montessori education, many critics suggest that not all teachers can enforce fully this component in the classroom.
Another criticism of the Montessori education is the response of some kids to the program. Not all children are a good fit for a Montessori structured classroom. Many children, in fact, do not flourish well in non-structured environments. Because the Montessori program includes an element of freedom, it may not be ideal for children who crave structure and need structure to succeed.
Some critics suggest that students who begin a Montessori education will then struggle if an attempt to transition into traditional school is made. Many parents and children deny this criticism stating that their children did not have difficulty transitioning out of Montessori school. There are many elements that can impact this, however. A child’s age at the time of transition, length of time at Montessori school, the child’s flexibility, etc. Any educational transition for a child can prove to be challenging, regardless of the original setting.
Finally, some critics argue that many schools use the term “Montessori” without upholding the essential Montessori components. Unfortunately, this claim may prove to be true. Parents should be especially cautious when evaluating a school. Prior to enrolling their child parents should have an in-depth understanding of the entire school, the curriculum, the teachers and how their child will be treated. If any of the information the school provides is inconsistent with the key components of a Montessori program, bring this up to the school prior to enrolling the child. A list of Montessori schools can be found here.
A Montessori program can be a wonderful alternative education opportunity for children. As opposed to traditional education, the Montessori program provides an educational environment that encompasses the entire child; social, physical, cognitive, emotional and physical. Further, the Montessori program considers the scientifically proven childhood stages of development and uses these stages to develop educational curriculums that best meet the needs of the students.
Students are treated as the unique individuals they are and are given the opportunity to seek out knowledge in areas they find most interesting. Children are taught in an environment that includes both children in their peer group and older. This multi-age environment supports a child’s ability to learn from others as well as to teach and mentor young children as they get older. While the benefits of a Montessori education are numerous, this method may not be ideal for all children.
As mentioned above, not all children exceed in less structured environments. A Montessori education is not as structured as traditional education, as such it may not be a viable option for children who excel understructure. Prior to enrolling your child, always ensure that the school meets the standard elements of a Montessori education. Take the time to evaluate the program and ensure that it is right for your child prior to enrollment.
Public education in our country has always been intended to ensure that our nation’s children learn necessary skills and concepts for use in the marketplace. It was designed to teach children fundamental concepts, and different methods of learning to ensure that each child was able to be successful into adulthood. The pursuit of knowledge remains the goal, however red tape put in place by a struggling education system is proving to challenge this fundamental right.
As the public education system has developed, we have seen a great shift in the way students are taught as well as in the ways they learn. There is great debate about the effectiveness of the education provided to our children, and what ramifications that may have on the future.
Then Versus Now
If you’re a parent to a school aged child you are astounded by all of the differences in your child’s education when compared to yours. Not all of these differences are negative. Look at the abundance of information right at your child’s fingertips, all thanks to Google. Or, what about the speed at which we can produce typed documents because of improvements in computer technology. Children even have access to electronic books. These technologies were in their earliest stages of development during our school aged years, and now they’re providing great opportunities for our children.
But, what has been sacrificed in order for teachers to have the time teach about this new technology and other mandated subjects? Remember having to learn how to write an entire paper in cursive? Cursive is a thing of the past, and elementary aged students are only being taught how to sign their name-not learn the entire alphabet in cursive. How about having to find books in the library, or search through encyclopedias for information? Students are no longer learning the importance of research and quality references, rather selecting sources like Wikipedia. While these elements may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, they represent a pretty big issue with the current educational system.
The Fundamental Flaw of the Current System
While experts argue the many flaws of the current educational system, there is one fundamental flaw. We are treating students like lab rats. Teachers are bogged down with too many students in one classroom which restricts their ability to connect with each student. They connect only with the particularly bright or problematic students, leaving the mediocre students to find their own way. In turn, public education requirements have dictated new methods of teaching, regardless of the way a child’s brain works. We are no longer treating children as individuals and working to meet their educational needs independently. Rather, all of the students are grouped together, taught the same exact way, and then tested on their understanding of the material; similar to the methods of research conducted on lab rats.
The current system values a school and the educators within it based on test scores and outcomes. While outcomes are valuable, because they help us determine what is working and what isn’t, standardized testing isn’t the optimal method of testing students because it’s standardized. Children are people, not lab rats and tests that are “standardized” don’t capture the true capabilities and talent of our students.
Why We Must Do Better
“Powerful learning is based on the premise that the educational approach that we create for ‘gifted’ children works well for all children.”—Carl Glickman. “Gifted” children programs provide a curriculum specific to children with higher levels of intelligence. These programs are smaller, much more personal and foster the special talents and capabilities of the “gifted” children. Now, why aren’t we teaching all students with the same concepts? After all, all children are gifted in their own way.
Our children represent our future. In order for future civilizations to flourish, we must foster learning and empower our children to succeed into the future. The current education system focuses so much on standardized testing and outcomes that we even have seen standardized teaching take the forefront in many states. Each child is unique in their capabilities, talents and how they learn. Applying a standardized method of teaching will not foster a child’s individual potential; rather those traits will be squashed by a failing system.
We must do better because the future of our country depends on it and the minds of our children depend on it. We need to take the emphasis off of standardization and return back to an educational system that looks at children individually, helping them learn in the method that is best for them. Rather than a culture of testing, we must instead focus on a culture of learning. Remember that education is really the pursuit of knowledge. Let’s help our kids pursue knowledge, not strap them down with standardized tests that evaluate their ability to learn from standardized curriculums.