Written By: Kristina de Novaes Soares
“What’s the hype about Montessori?” people are asking. It seems like lately Montessori schools are popping up more and more all over the world, in all cultures and languages. Rumor has it that it helps kids from infancy to older ages become self aware, self confident, social, independent and even develop basic reading and writing skills as young as a toddler. But those aren’t just rumors, according to research that has been done. In a study done in 2006 by Montessori Research, “children at a public inner-city Montessori school with children who attended traditional schools indicates that Montessori education leads to children with better social and academic skills.”
What is Montessori?
The Montessori method of teaching was designed by an Italian woman, Dr. Maria Montessori, who studied at the University of Rome to be a physician. In her time studying and in her early career, she studied children who were suffering from mental illnesses or disabilities. As time went on and she had own son – Mario Montessori- she continued her studies and went back to the University of Rome to study psychology. She studied Mario (as a “normal child without mental disabilities) and began to understand what children really needed in order to learn to their full capacity. She began teaching her strategy in a low-income district of Rome in 1907. She called this school Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House), which is still up and running today. Once other schools noticed the immense success she had with the kids, it began to grow rapidly in Rome and to Milan.
Dr. Maria Montessori wanted a child-centered approach to teaching that allows the children to learn in a natural way, on their own. Instead of “teachers” they have “guides” who they follow by example. There are no big, scary adults yelling, “No!” to them, rather a mature conversation and redirection. There are no pacifiers or bottles, only sophisticated youngsters carrying their own cups. There is no sitting on a couch to watch television, only purposeful activities that help activate the child’s brain to develop life skills (such as math or writing).
The method is based on scientific observations and has been tested consistently during its 100-plus years of existence. From Italy to Korea and from Mexico to the United States, Montessori is proving to be a huge success for children all over the world with all kinds of backgrounds and upbringings.
This teaching method is based on the four planes of development: infancy- aged 0-3, childhood- aged 3-6, adolescence- aged 6-12 and adulthood- aged 18-24. According to Karla Ballesteros, a Montessori teacher with 14 years of experience, childhood is the most important time for the child’s development. This is because at around age three, the child is consciously learning and absorbing information. “During the childhood stage, kids learn and develop more than they do in their whole life,” says Ballesteros, who studied Montessori in the Casa dei Bambini in Italy as well as in La Jolla, California.
How does it work?
Besides the “guides” that lead the activities, Montessori also focuses on peer learning as well as self-construction, freedom and spontaneous activities. Basically, the children are able to feel free to make their own choices. There are uninterrupted, timed work periods. During these work periods, the kids are able to quietly engage in their choice of activity, watch others do an activity or enjoy the peace and quiet.
The environment, Ballesteros explains, is very important when teaching Montessori. “For us, preparing the environment is one of the three most fundamental parts of our method. Creating a place that the children can expand and be guided toward development without pressure or force. The other two fundamental parts are the materials for the activities and the ‘guides.’”
While the environment is calm and welcoming, the “guides” make sure that everything is within the child’s reach and each activity has a special purpose. For example, two jars next to each other, the left one full of beans and the right one empty. The child places beans from the left jar into the right jar. This prepares the child’s brain to learn basic concepts that they will need later, such as reading and writing from left to right.
“The kids begin their day here with us by cleaning their own stations,” says Ballesteros. This way they are learning life skills like taking care of themselves, maintaining a clean environment and respecting those around them. “Then for two hours, the children work in silence and focus on the different Montessori activities around the classroom. This is a time for the child to freely explore, try new things, learn new skills, all while being in a relaxed and natural state of mind.”
When it comes to babying and punishments, Ballesteros says that the Montessori method prefers to take a different approach. “Instead of blowing their nose for them or fixing something for them, we help them do it themselves. We show by example and let them follow us,” explains Ballesteros. “As for punishments, we always have ‘logical consequences.’ If you use a material, you have to clean up after. If you break something, you have to pick it up.”
Although Ballesteros says that the childhood stage is the most important, the Montessori concept can be implemented with all ages. In the 1920’s, Dr. Maria Montessori began a program for adolescents where they were able to live in residential schools that provided a safe community in which they could practice real-life activities such as farming or selling their own handmade products. According to the American Montessori Society, Dr. Maria Montessori believed that by giving the adolescents independence, they would be able to develop the skills needed to work within society. And as Dr. Maria Montessori grew up in a time of world wars and sexism, she strongly believed in creating a peaceful environment.
Ballesteros emphasizes that one of the best parts of the Montessori concept is the mutual respect. “The children are respected physically, intellectually and emotionally. And I love the fact that the children learn in a natural way that is respectful of their own interest,” she says.
For more information about Montessori, visit: http://www.montessori-ami.org/
About the Author: As a prior writer and editor for The Daily Aztec and Business Review America Latina, Kristina de Novaes Soares has covered topics from politics and business to dating and traveling. Based in San Diego, California she currently teaches kids privately with Open Minds Education and freelance writes for multiple publications. You can visit her at itsmekrispy.comor follow her on Twitter @krispy386.