Maria Montessori focused her work and study of children on creating the child’s method of education. This method was developed through fifty years of scientific research, in which she studied how children develop and learn. Remember that Montessori was a medical doctor, the first in Italy, and was also an engineer and scientist. She used her scientific knowledge and observation skills to do something revolutionary: watch children without interfering in order to leanr more about them. She provided them with materials, often smaller versions of what was at that time found in the home, and let them be in charge of their own schoolroom, which was really their second home. She called this schoolroom the “casa de bambini”, or children’s house. It was the children’s house because everything in the home was sized for the child, not the adult.
By allowing children to choose work, have choice in the activities they did at school, providing specialized auto didactic materials, and minimizing the interaction or interference of the adult in the child’s work, she created an environment where children learn to discipline themselves, work with each other peacefully, and regulate themselves through challenging and interesting work. She noticed that children who may be aggressive, hyper, emotional, or otherwise “difficult”, when given the sort of classroom environment described above, became calm and contributing members of the classroom society. Noting that “the child makes the man” (meaningt hat our experiences at a child leave indelible impressions on the adult we are to become), she knew that peace could only truly be a part of the child when the child learns in a just, peaceful and equitable environment.
Montessori noted that traditional method of education set children up as adversaries to one another, and this is something I undoubtedly observed in my nearly two decades of traditional teaching at all grade levels: preschool through community college. When children are encouraged to compete and given a letter or nmebr that publicly shows their superiority or inferiority, children are divided against each other. Children in conventional schools learn to be passive int heir own education, and that leave to their being passive in other parts of their lives as well. They learn to cover their papers, be distrustful of one another, or to whisper to one another and be distrustful of their teacher. There is an “us versus them” or “me against them” feeling in every traditional classroom I have ever worked or observed in, no matter how dynamic the teacher. There is distrust and power struggle. Children learn to report on each other rather than working out their problems.
These dynamics make early impressions on children. They understand that someone else decides their fate – the teacher or the principal. They learn to link the idea of success with the ability to parrot back what they have been told by one person, whether aloud or on a test. They learn to limit their ideas to ones that are within the scope and understanding of their educator, because it is very difficult for a traditional educator to step outside her comfort zone. This I have witnessed voer and over again. It is suspect if you are too slow, it is suspect if youa re two quick. Either of those will get you a special “pull out” program, where everyone is aware that you are “different”. None of these things occur in a Montessori environment. Children are agents of their own education. They are welcome to choose and decide what they do all day. They learn to resolve their conflicts using their words and interpersonal skills through ongoing role-play during grace and courtesy lessons. The teacher-student relationship in Montessori education is a peaceful one of mutual respect. The Montessori teacher is trained to speak and work with the child as a coworker, rather than a ward or charge. These differences lay the foundation for a peaceful child. And peaceful children become peaceful adults.
As the focus of traditional education becomes more and more limited to merely transmitting a limited supply of facts and figures, it steps away from the intangible elements of life that make us human. Those things that we cannot measure by a test get pushed aside, and children are left with yawing deficiencies in areas that are necessary for peaceful co-existence. If we want a peaceful world, we cannot start with the adults. We must start with the children. We must start today.
"The children of three years of age in the "Children's Houses" learn and carry out such work as sweeping, dusting, making things tidy, setting the table for meals, waiting at table, washing the dishes, etc ., and at the same time they learn to attend to their own personal needs, to wash themselves, to take showers, to comb their hair, to take a bath, to dress and undress themselves, to hang up their clothes in the wardrobe, or to put them in drawers, to polish their shoes . These exercises are part of the method of education, and do not depend on the social position of the pupils; even in the "Children's Houses" attended by rich children who are given every kind of assistance at home, and who are accustomed to being surrounded by a crowd of servants, take part in the exercises of practical life . This has a truly educational, not utilitarian purpose . The reaction of the children may be described as a "burst of independence" of all unnecessary assistance that suppresses their activity and prevents them from demonstrating their own capacities. It is just – these "independent" children of ours who learn to write at the age of four and a half years, who learn to read spontaneously, and who amaze everyone by their progress in arithmetic." (From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 66)
“Do we believe and constantly insist that cooperation among the peoples of the world is necessary in order to bring about peace? If so, what is needed first of all is collaboration with children.... All our efforts will come to nothing until we remedy the great injustice done the child, and remedy it by cooperating with him. If we are among the men of good will who yearn for peace, we must lay the foundation for peace ourselves, by working for the social world of the child.” (International Montessori Congress, 1937)
“Education should not limit itself to seeking new methods for a mostly arid transmission of knowledge: its aim must be to give the necessary aid to human development.... If ‘the formation of man’ becomes the basis of education, then the coordination of all schools from infancy to maturity, from nursery to university, arises as a first necessity: for man is a unity, an individuality that passes through interdependent phases of development. Each preceding phase prepares the one that follows, forms its base, nurtures the energies that urge towards the succeeding period of life.” (From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 84)
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