Montessorians have had over 100 years of “product development,” but our outreach, communication and visibility has not received the same attention...
Corinne Stastny, Primary Course Assistant at MNW, mother, and former Montessori Teacher, lends her insights into Montessorians working with the youngest members of our world; babies and toddlers.
The Montessori approach to children under the age of three evokes much curiosity and enthusiasm from those more familiar with Montessori at other age levels. Those of us with Primary or Elementary backgrounds know we love our prepared environments, know we love Montessori, and are sure that babies and toddlers everywhere would no doubt fall in love with a Montessori learning environment designed for them! However, we also know that Montessori is not always easy to convey or understand in just a few short sentences.
I’ve picked the brains of Assistants to Infancy (A to I) trained alumni a bit, combined it with my own experiences applying A to I principles with my child, and am happy to give some introductory resources for families creating mindful environments for little ones. My focus here is just on babies who are not yet walking, as the most common question I hear from curious enthusiastic souls is “Someone’s having a baby and is curious about Montessori. What should I tell them?” Below is a menu of resources, choose what you feel best captures the imagination of your target audience!
Know that the same essential principles apply to Montessori at any age group: respect and communication, supporting independence, free choice within limits, learning through experience, preparing an environment that matches the specific needs of the child.
While rather involved, the inspiring texts of Understanding the Human Being by Silvana Montanaro and The Child and the Family by Dr Maria Montessori can be a strong resource for families seeking to a deeper connection to theory.
AidToLife.org– This beautiful, clear, and powerful website, provided by AMI, offers simple, straightforward advice that is easy to understand and apply.
MichaelOlaf.net - Michael Olaf and Susan Stephenson have inspired Montessorians, parents, and parents-to-be for years. The Joyful Child, a book focusing on 0-3 in the home, is now available and a rich resource!
In a Montessori Home is an inspiring book and DVD package from NAMTA featuring families enjoying Montessori principles in the home.
Aside from schools, A to I graduates often share their knowledge via private consultations. Montessori Northwest has the names of a few of these parent educators, and would welcome the names of more!
Come to Montessori Northwest, where we have a model home and toddler community environments. We have regular open houses and are happy to schedule individual tours Monday – Friday. The Assistants to Infancy training course is enrolling for the summers of 2014 and 15, and we are seeking not only teachers-in-training for this level, but also families whose infants can participate in on-site observation sessions both summers. Being part of the observation is an incredible window into the Montessori approach to this age group!
Visit our website, http://montessori-nw.org/info-assistants-to-infancy, or Email Andrea for more information--503-963-8992.
Having left the Primary environment several months ago to join the Montessori Northwest Administration, it was like a homecoming with "my people" to participate in the second session of Ginni Sackett's Primary Workshop Series: History, Heritage, Culture. The joy of working with children and families came rushing back to me as our community of colleagues approached the realities of engaging children from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds in neutral, fun, experiential activities.
Complementing nuggets of lecture, we flipped roles to play like children. When free of discrimination, prejudice, and stereotype, children can come to embrace the universal similarities that thread across our species! Similarly, from movement to story and the artifacts within an environment, the adult is privileged - forced - to undergo a self-analysis that ensures they are practicing the preaching. After all, anything less would be disingenuous.
In short, as Montessorians girding humanity's future through the vehicle of these young children, there is a relief in knowing our work is inherently designed to foster utopian results.
Elementary students at Montessori Northwest have a unique Foundations Course integrated into their learning experience. Several times throughout the year, they hear from MNW’s Primary Trainers to learn about the first plane child. The focus of these lectures is the work of self-construction as it relates to foundational theory, physical, emotional, and social development. These areas of focus, along with the development of literacy and numeracy for the child under age six, create a “foundation” for what is built upon in the years that follow.
We asked a current Montessori Northwest Elementary student to share her thoughts on the Foundation Course. Here’s what she so eloquently said:
There are 23 of us, all eager to learn about Montessori education for the Elementary children. But in order to understand the 6 to 12 year olds, we need to understand their previous experiences. The integrated Foundation Course is our opportunity to learn about the child in his formative years, the child who will become our Elementary learner. From lecture readings to dramatizations, from the exploration of the environment to Walking on the Line, from Maria Montessori’s discoveries of the child to the trainers' profound knowledge and wisdom, we truly immersed ourselves in the world of the 1st plane child. Through our work on the Foundation Course, we were all able to learn about and to communicate our understanding of the 0-6 year old, the trained adult who supports this child and the prepared environment.
With this foundation in place, we have an understanding of how the child’s absorbent mind and sensitive periods guide him in becoming the person he is, and how the adult and the environment can positively serve that child’s potential. Our task, as elementary teachers, is to collaborate with him in his next stage of development.
From a personal standpoint, having previously undergone the primary training, I had the opportunity to re-visit and reflect upon principles of practice. What stands out in that reflection is the importance of understanding the difference between child work and adult work, and the significant implications of that understanding. Our Montessori theory tells us that the child is internally-motivated and process-oriented, whereas the adult is externally-motivated and product-oriented. The child’s work is to self-construct so that he can ultimately be a productive member of an adult society.
As is often the case, understanding the theory is the easy part. The challenge lies in the practice. As Montessori educators, we have the clear advantage of working in an environment that supports and guides the child’s self-construction. Within a structured frame-work, we allow them to work at their own rhythm, with developmentally- appropriate materials that are freely-chosen so that they can respond to their inner directives. That being said we are still adults who can fall into the pitfalls of our agendas and timelines. In our spiritual preparation we must regularly examine ourselves to ensure that we are staying true to our Montessori principles of following the child, and not imposing our adult expectations on them. In doing so, we will create a psychological atmosphere that tells the child that he is in a safe place to do his work, with adults that are on his side. The result will be children who are among things, joyful, benevolent, trusting, and non-competitive. These characteristics are in fact manifestations of the child’s natural state.
Many adults and parents believe otherwise. They think of children as having tantrums, being whiny, uncontrolled and generally demanding. Unbeknownst to them, these negative behaviors are defense mechanisms that the children build to defend themselves against adults who are imposing their adult rhythm on the child. When the child is able to follow his inner laws of development, he will drop his defense mechanisms and choose pro-social behaviors.
It is our task to advocate for young children by finding accessible ways to inform parents and caregivers on the child’s need for a process- oriented, self-directed learning opportunity. Of course, this has to be done in a way that does not critic nor judge, but rather inform in a compassionate and supportive way. We live in a society where there are many working parents who are under high demands from the working world, and we do not want to add to their stress. We do however want to stress the importance of temporarily altering our adult characteristics for the sake of the child’s developmental rhythm and needs, and ultimately for the sake of a better world because put simply: happy children make for happy adults.
Our future work as Montessori educators will be charged with many wonderful and eye-opening moments with children, but it is also one that comes with a great deal of social responsibility. I think we can take comfort in knowing that the child will be our ally if we trust his human potential and stay true to the Montessori principles.
Yours in training--Maryse Cohen
For those of us in Montessori, the idea that one should feel shamed, embarrassed, dumb, or sad in connection with a normal urge is the antithesis of what we want for children. We want children to feel respected and supported. We want to be an aid to life, in service to the human potential. And yet, one place where it can be hard to overcome our own obstacles and conditioning is in connection with the natural tendency for children to talk! Because I’m here to tell you, if elementary children are not shamed, embarrassed, put down, or saddened into silence, then chances are they will be talking. Often. About everything.
The most important thing about spoken language in the elementary is that it should be recognized as important work for the children. “They don’t want to work; all they want to do is talk,” is sometimes what we hear from Montessori teachers. What’s needed here is a wider, truer definition of work, because the talking is the work. What happens when children talk to each other? How can we see this talking as developmentally appropriate and beneficial? We start by recognizing that when children are talking, they’re doing a lot of cognitively and emotionally important things. They are noticing, attending, perceiving, commenting, describing, explaining, abstracting, comparing, connecting, debating, defending, experimenting, opining, synthesizing, bonding, and expressing, to name just a few. Whey would we want to interfere with that? Our role as adults is not to keep them from talking, but to help them find interesting and useful things to talk about.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with some different structures or rules to help the conversations in my elementary classrooms be useful and productive for the children. “We talk about whatever we want at lunch,” is a good one, but some practitioners find that it doesn’t support the children enough. “We don’t talk about television or video games or movies at school,” is one that worked for a while in one community. I explained to the children that what children are allowed to see on screens was a family decision made at home, and out of respect for each other’s families, we kept our focus in school on what could be shared at school without compromising those decisions.
But the most useful “rule” about talking was this one: We talk about our work. Talking is a sign of interest. So if the children are talking about something, they are telling you they’re interested in it! And you, the adult, can probably think of a dozen ways to relate what they’re talking about to something they might explore or work on in your Montessori classroom. So join in the conversation and redirect them! “You know, what you’re saying reminds me of a lesson I’ve been wanting to give you…” We can tolerate a few irreverent noun booklets or sentence analysis sentences about the Portland Timbers; we can turn a discussion of Halloween candy into a word problem that can be solved with the checkerboard. And any conversation gets deeper and more philosophical if the Fundamental Human Needs Chart is guiding it.
Furthermore, the children can share in the responsibility of making their conversations useful and productive. “Oh, I hear that you’re talking about Disney World/ghosts/your new Nikes/your grandma’s cat that got hit by a car/Miley Cyrus/etc. How can you make that your work?” Warmth, humor, and the absolute conviction that they are here to work and they will be happier if they’re working is what you, the adult, can bring to the conversation. When we can see the children’s talk as a natural manifestation of a healthy community, we can guide them in positive, pro-social ways.
Halloween is almost here – ushering in a frequently scary season for Montessori teachers. We often have conflicted feelings around holidays and events that occur in the larger culture – afraid that these distract children from their work, disrupt the calm and productive atmosphere in the environment, and are just plain bothersome to us. I’d like to propose changing those feelings and
Think of a time recently where you undertook a task, game, or pastime that you really enjoyed. Maybe it was a Sudoku puzzle, or stripping wallpaper off a wall, or doing a craft project, or completing a jigsaw puzzle. Were you having fun? Yeah, you were. Not laugh-out-loud, knee-slapping, hysterical laughter fun, but rather
How do you know you’ve performed a task correctly? What does it take to be able to say, “That went well”, or “I could have done better”?
As adults, we self-correct constantly and pretty much unconsciously: speeding up our work so we can be ready for that 3pm meeting, putting some broccoli back into the bag if we accidentally take out too much, stabilizing our overfull mug of coffee as we walk across the room. We’re good at self-correction; we’ve had a lot of practice.