Montessori’s goals for children are often in alignment with a parent’s own goals for their children: that children respect and care for the people and things around them, have fun while they learn, and take responsibility for their actions.
Child Development and Montessori
School should offer children more than just academic skills. It should help them grow into confident, independent, caring and self-motivated people. The goal of Montessori education is to develop the whole person; someone who is more than the sum of their test scores.
Equally important to the Montessori experience is the growth of the child’s character. Montessori teachers strive to engender in the child a sense of responsibility and the connectedness of people and things. Children learn that their choices have consequences, not only in their immediate interpersonal relationships, but also in the world at large. By allowing safe consequences to flow freely from the child’s choice, he learns to exert control over himself to limit negative results and promote positive ones. This development of executive function, most particularly self-regulation, is at the core of the child’s drive towards confidence and independence.
In Montessori classrooms, academic skills are integrated into the natural life of the classroom. Through hands-on play, the most basic foundations of mathematics and literacy are introduced through games, activities, and with special materials that appeal to children. Contrary to many adults’ schooling experiences, children in Montessori schools enjoy math, reading and writing, and enthusiastically look forward to their next lesson. This sets up a love of learning that the child will carry with her throughout life.
Understanding children's developmental needs is important in creating positive parent/child relationships. Children, especially very young ones, are intensely driven by their developmental needs, which can sometimes clash with the needs of parents and caregivers. By understanding the child's drive towards independence, we learn to offer her the time and skills she needs to complete the task herself. The intense effort she puts into small, repetitive tasks is deeply satisfying, and the end result gives her confidence and comfort in her skills. If she is not allowed to work through the task to completion, the child may react strongly. This kind of opposition, originated in the conflicting needs of the adult and the child, highlights one of the main obstacles to a harmonious relationship between adults and children.
One of the key tenets of Montessori theory is that this harmonious relationship can be achieved through understanding why children act the way they do, and by patiently offering them experiences that fulfill their deep, inner developmental drives. The entire Montessori environment is designed to meet these drives and satisfy them through the child’s own activity. In Montessori schools, children have fun while they learn, respect and care for the people and things around them, and take responsibility for their actions. This is true preparation for real life.
There are several factors to consider when choosing a Montessori school for your child.
DIFFERENT FITS FOR DIFFERENT FAMILIES
Each Montessori school has its own ‘personality’. For example, some are more academically oriented, while others more strongly emphasize the child’s connection to nature and the outdoors. Parents should discuss the school’s mission and programs with the admissions director to ensure that the school is a good fit for their child and their family.
OBSERVE AT THE SCHOOL
Parents should observe at a school before selecting it for their child, preferably in the classroom their child will attend. Most Montessori schools welcome observers, and the children are accustomed to visitors. The visitor is typically directed to a chair where they sit and observe the entire room. Observations usually last thirty minutes to an hour, and allow the observer to get a feel for the room. Consider asking to observe at a school more than once; every day is unique!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Although every classroom is a little different, there are some general traits that indicate a quality Montessori environment:
- The teacher has received quality Montessori training
- The children seem generally happy and relaxed
- The children independently select activities from the shelf and use them with concentration
- The environment seems orderly and the materials in good condition
- Most interactions between children are positive, but in cases where they are not positive, the children generally resolve the problem by themselves
- The children are treated with respect by all adults
There is no trademark or governing body to ensure the quality of Montessori schools. In 1929, Maria Montessori became aware that there were a growing number of schools using the term “Montessori” to describe their environments, with little evidence of Montessori principles. To prevent this, she attempted to trademark her name, but it was decided by the courts that the term Montessori was already in the public domain. As a result, any school can label itself a ‘Montessori school’ regardless of teacher training.
Maria Montessori created the Association Montessori Internationale (More on AMI here) to protect the integrity of her work. Today, schools with AMI-trained teachers have met the high standards for teacher training that Maria Montessori set down over eighty years ago.
SCHOOLS IN YOUR AREA
Observing and working with real children in real classrooms is a critical component of AMI teacher training. We are deeply grateful to the schools and staff who have participated in Observation and Practice Teaching by hosting MNW teachers in training. Click here to view the entire list. Some states have associations or organizations that compile lists of Montessori schools. An internet search should locate one for your state, if it exists. In the state of Oregon, the Oregon Montessori Association provides a list of its member schools, linked to a Google map.
Ideally, a child's developmental needs are met by both their home and school environments. Even small changes can yield great results.
PHYSICAL PREPARATION OF THE HOME
The preparation of the child’s environment will change as he grows older. When the child is very young, the emphasis is on safety, increasing independence, and access to appropriate toys and activities. For example, a young child might have a low table in the kitchen on which a glass and a small pitcher with water are available at all times. This allows the child to get a drink of water herself whenever she is thirsty. This kind of preparation of the home environment can be repeated in many ways, and mirrors closely the self-directed experiences the child has in the Montessori classroom.
ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IN HOME LIFE
Children feel great satisfaction when they are included in family tasks. From setting the table, to folding the laundry, to raking leaves, fostering your child’s genuine interest in contributing to family life benefits everyone. The child feels confidence and self-worth at having contributed, and parents set up an expectation from an early age that everyone helps around the house.
Encouraging your child to make choices at an early age is one of the most powerful gifts a parent can offer. Giving choices fosters independence, cooperation and experience with natural consequences. This can be done in many ways. For a very young child, it can be as simple as, “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt today?” This technique of offering choices can be extended into all parts of the child’s life, growing in relation to her abilities, and leading to development of executive function and self-regulation.