I decided some time back that I was going to homeschool Aristotle until he was old enough to attend formal classes by way of kindergarten. Nevertheless, in this day and age, a parent is required to start investigating the various options of schools well before a child is ready to attend because the waiting lists to a “good” school are long and the battle to gain a placement is fierce.
Take Chiltern House for an example. I have heard lots of good things about them – professional teaching staff, great environment, interesting programs, etc. However, they’re fully booked out with a long waiting list. In fact, they are so popular that they have gotten to the point of being “over-populated” – which is also not a good learning environment for a young child who requires more individual attention from a teacher. I’ve also heard they are opening a new branch, so we’ll see…
With a bit of digging around, I discovered this new term called “Montessori“. From what I can gather, it is a good thing, however I couldn’t tell you how or even why it is good. My SIL2 who has had some experience in the early childhood education industry told me that oftentimes there are local schools that call themselves “Montessori” even if the only Montessori certified staff on hand is the Headmistress. Then there is the difference between being Montessori trained and Montessori certified – which appears to be akin to the difference between merely having taken the course and passing your exams.
And yet Montessori is more than just being certified or trained in the teachings but it exists also in the environment and educational materials. To attend a school that has Montessori trained staff is quite ineffectual if the school’s environment does not conform to the Montessori Method.
So I decided it was high time I understood exactly what the Montessori Method is and how it works. This is what I have learned…
What is the Montessori Method?
The Montessori Method is a method of education founded by Dr. Maria Montessori who first formulated the method for children with learning and developmental disabilities. She later adapted her method for children with normal cognition and development. Based on what I understand, the Montessori Method creates a well-planned and structured environment where children can pursue areas of study of their interest. In other words, the child directs his own learning.
By allowing a child to lead, you tap into his potential for learning. Just as we find it easier to learn about things of interest to us, a child finds it easier to learn about subjects of interest to them. That’s not to say they can’t learn about another subject, it is just harder when his mind is not primed for it. Wiki gives a good explanation of this:
“That there are numerous “sensitive periods” of development (periods of a few weeks or even months), during which a child’s mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge such as crawling, sitting, walking, talking, reading, counting, and various levels of social interaction. These skills are learned effortlessly and joyfully. Learning one of these skills outside of its corresponding sensitive period is certainly possible, but can be difficult and frustrating.”
A typical Montessori environment encompasses the following:
- freedom of movement and freedom of choice for the children
- structure and order in the arrangement and sequence of the materials
- an atmosphere that is attractive, warm and inviting
- materials that provide active learning experiences
- vertical grouping (in the age ranges 2½ to 6 years, 6 to 9 years, 9 to 12 years, 12 to 15 years)
- a closeness to nature and the natural world and activities and materials that reflect the reality of life, not fantasy
Based on the Montessori philosophy, a child up to 6 years old requires physical materials that engage the senses to learn. Well, I think you can guess what Montessori teachers have to say about TV and computers for young children then. And if you can’t, well, here it is:
“Television . . .Is an anti-experience and an anti-knowledge machine because it separates individuals from themselves and from the environment and makes them believe they are living while they are only observing passively what other people decide to make them see.” – Dr. Silvana Montanaro, MD, Psychiatrist, Montessori Teacher-Trainer.
“The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces as the behavior it prevents… Turning on the television set can turn off the process that transforms children into adults.” – Urie Bronfenbrenner, Professor of Human Development, Cornell University.
The Montessori Curriculum is broken down into the following categories:
- Practical Life
- Language and Literacy
- Cultural Subjects (which include Geography, History, Natural Sciences, Experimental Sciences)
- Creative Subjects (Art and Craft, Music and Movement, Drama)
However, a typical lesson can incorporate one or several of these categories depending on the direction the child chooses to take.
From the theoretical aspect of what I understand it to be, the Montessori Method makes sense to me and I was rather keen to implement it into my current homeschool program with Aristotle. Hubby suggested I take a course to understand it further, however, based on the costs of these Montessori resource materials I found for an online course, I don’t think I will pursue that path.
Instead, I found some Montessori homeschool programs that are much more affordable. There is also a whole host of Montessori books available which I think is sufficient detail on how to implement Montessori. My only difficulty now is deciding which book to get (if you have any Montessori experience, please recommend a book to me in the comments below). I’ve also discovered that there are a whole host of Montessori materials available – toys, books, activities, puzzles, etc.
Looks like it isn’t that hard to start a Montessori program at home after all…