Montessori Parents -Parenting the Montessori Way
Dr. Maria Montessori: A Historical Perspective
To aid life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the basic task of the educator.
My experiments, conducted in many different countries, have not been going on for forty years (ed. now eighty-five years), and as the children grew up parents kept asking me to extend my methods to the later ages. We then found that individual activity is the one factor that stimulates and produces development, and that this is not more true for the little ones of preschool age than it is for the junior, middle, and upper school children.
Ours was a house for children, rather than a real school. We had prepared a place for children where a diffused culture could be assimilated, without any need for direct instruction...Yet these children learned to read and write before they were five, and no one had given them any lessons. At that time it seemed miraculous that children of four and a half should be able to write, and that they should have learned without the feeling of having been taught.
We puzzled over it for a long time. Only after repeated experiments did we conclude with certainty that all children are endowed with this capacity to 'absorb' culture. If this be true - we then argued - if culture can be acquired without effort, let us provide the children with other elements of culture. And then we saw them 'absorb' far more than reading and writing: botany, zoology, mathematics, geography, and all with the same ease, spontaneously and without getting tired.
And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.
Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Maria Montessori is as controversial a figure in education today as she was a half century ago. Alternately heralded as the century's leading advocate for early childhood education, or dismissed as outdated and irrelevant, her research and the studies that she inspired helped change the course of education.
Those who studied under her and went on to make their own contributions to education and child psychology include Anna Freud, Jean Piaget, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erikson. Many elements of modern education have been adapted from Montessori's theories. She is credited with the development of the open classroom, individualized education, manipulative learning materials, teaching toys, and programmed instruction. In the last thirty-five years educators in Europe and North America begun to recognize the consistency between of the Montessori approach with what we have learned from research into child development.
Maria Montessori was an individual ahead of her time. She was born in 1870 in Ancona, Italy, to an educated but not affluent middle class family. She grew up in a country considered most conservative in its attitude toward women, yet even against the considerable opposition of her father and teachers, Montessori pursued a scientific education and was the first woman to become a physician in Italy.
As a practicing physician associated with the University of Rome, she was a scientist, not a teacher. It is ironic that she became famous for her contributions in a field that she had rejected as the traditional refuge for women at a time when few professions were open to them other than home-making or the convent. The method evolved almost by accident from a small experiment that Dr. Montessori carried out on the side. Her genius stems not from her teaching ability, but from her recognition of the importance of what she stumbled upon.
As a physician, Dr. Montessori specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry. She taught at the medical school of the University of Rome, and through its free clinics she came into frequent contact with the children of the working class and poor. These experiences convinced her that intelligence is not rare and that most newborns come into the world with a human potential that will be barely revealed.
Her work reinforced her humanistic ideals, and she made time in her busy schedule to actively support various social reform movements. Early in her career she began to accept speaking engagements throughout Europe on behalf of the women's movement, peace efforts, and child labor law reform. Montessori become well known and highly regarded throughout Europe, which undoubtedly contributed to the publicity that surrounded her schools.
In 1901 Montessori was appointed Director of the new orthophrenic school attached to the University of Rome, formerly used as the asylum for the “deficient and insane” children of the city, most of whom were probably retarded or autistic. She initiated a wave of reform in a system that formerly had served merely to confine mentally handicapped youngsters in empty rooms. Recognizing her patients' need for stimulation, purposeful activity, and self-esteem, Montessori insisted that the staff speak to the inmates with the highest respect. She set up a program to teach her young charges how to care for themselves and their environment.
At the same time, she began a meticulous study of all research previously done on the education of the mentally handicapped. Her studies led Montessori to the work of two almost forgotten French physicians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin. Itard is most famous for his work with the “Wild Boy Of Aveyron”, a youth who had been found wandering naked in the forest, having spent ten years living alone. The boy could not speak and lacked almost all the skills of everyday life. Here apparently was a natural man - a human being who had developed without the benefit of culture and socialization with his own kind. Itard hoped from this study to shed light on the age-old debate about what proportion of human intelligence and personality is hereditary and what proportion stems from learned behavior.
The experiment was a limited success, for Itard found the wild boy uncooperative and unwilling or unable to learn most things. This led Itard to postulate the existence of developmental periods in normal human growth. During these sensitive periods a child must experience stimulation or grow up forever lacking adult skills and intellectual concepts that he missed at the stage when they can be readily learned!
Although Itard's efforts to teach the wild boy were barely successful, he followed a methodical approach in designing a process, arguing that all education would benefit from the use of careful observation and experimentation. This idea had tremendous appeal to the scientifically trained Montessori, and later became the cornerstone of her method. From Edouard Seguin, Montessori drew further confirmation of Itard's work, along with a far more specific and organized system for applying it to the everyday education of the handi-capped. Today Seguin is recognized as the father of our modern techniques of special education for the retarded.
From these two predecessors, Montessori took the idea of a scientific approach to education, based on observation and experimentation. She belongs to the Child Study school of thought, and she pursued her work with the careful training and objectivity of the biologist studying the natural behavior of an animal in the forest. She studied her retarded youngsters, listening and carefully noting every-thing that they did and said. Slowly she began to get a sense of who they really were and what methods worked best. Her success was given widespread notice when, two years after she began, many of the “deficient'' adolescents were able to pass the standard sixth grade tests of the Italian public schools. Acclaimed for this “miracle'', Montessori responded by suggesting that her results proved only that public schools should be able to get dramatically better results with normal children.
The Italian Ministry of Education did not welcome this idea, and she was denied access to school-aged children. Frustrated in her efforts to carry the experiment on with public school students, in 1907 Montessori jumped at the chance to coordinate a day-care center for working-class children who were too young to attend public school.
This first Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, was located in the worst slum district of Rome, and the conditions Montessori faced were appalling. Her first class consisted of fifty children from two through five years of age, taught by one untrained caregiver.
The children remained at the center from dawn to dusk while their parents worked. They had to be fed two meals a day, bathed regularly, and given a program of medical care. The children themselves were typical of extreme inner-city poverty conditions. They entered the Children's House on the first day crying and pushing, exhibiting generally aggressive and impatient behavior. Montessori, not knowing whether her experiment would work under such conditions, began by teaching the older children how to help out with the everyday tasks that needed to be done. She also introduced the manipulative perceptual puzzles that she had used with the retarded.
The results surprised her, for unlike the “retarded” children who had to be prodded to use the materials, these little ones were drawn to the work she introduced. Children who had wandered aimlessly the week before began to settle down to long periods of constructive activity. They were fascinated with the puzzles and perceptual training devices. To her amazement, children three and four years-old took the greatest delight in learning practical everyday living skills that reinforced their independence and self-respect.
Each day they begged her to show them more, even applauding with delight when Montessori taught them the correct use of a handkerchief. Soon the older children were taking care of the school, assisting their teacher with the preparation and serving of meals and the maintenance of a spotless environment. Their behavior as a group changed dramatically from street urchins running wild to models of grace, and courtesy. It was little wonder that the press found such a human interest story appealing and promptly broadcast it to the world.
Montessori education is sometimes criticized for being too structured and academically demanding of young children. Montessori would have laughed at this suggestion. She often said, “I studied my children, and they taught me how to teach them.”'
Montessori made a practice of paying close attention to the their spontaneous behavior, arguing that only in this way could a teacher know how to teach. Traditionally, schools pay little attention to children as individuals, other than to demand that they adapt to our standards. Montessori argued that the educator's job is to serve the child; determining what each one needs to make the greatest progress. To her, a child who fails in school should not be blamed, any more than a doctor should blame a patient who does not get
well fast enough. After all, it is the job of the physician to help us find the way to cure ourselves, and the educator's job to facilitate the natural process of learning.
Montessori's children exploded into academics. Too young to go to public school, they begged to be taught how to read and write. They learned to do so quickly and enthusiastically, using special manipulative materials that Montessori designed for maximum appeal and effectiveness.
The children were fascinated by numbers; to meet this interest, the mathematically inclined Montessori developed a series of concrete Math learning materials that has never been surpassed. Soon her four- and five year-olds were performing four-digit addition and subtraction operations, and in many cases pushing on even farther.
Their interests blossomed in other areas as well, compelling an over-worked physician to spend night after night designing new materials to keep pace with the children in geometry, geography, history, and natural science.
The final proof of the children's interest came shortly after her first school became famous when a group of well-intentioned women gave them a marvelous collection of lovely and expensive toys. The new gifts held the children's attention for a few days, but they soon returned to the more interesting learning materials. To Montessori's surprise, most of the time children who had experienced both preferred work over play. If she were here today, Montessori would probably add: Children read and do advanced Mathematics in Montessori schools not because we push them, but because this is what they do when given the correct setting and opportunity. To deny them the right to learn because we, as adults, think that they shouldn't is illogical and typical of the way schools have been run before.
Montessori evolved her method through trial and error, making educated guesses about the under-lying meaning of the children's actions. She was quick to pick up on their cues, and constantly experimented with the class. For example, Montessori tells of the morning when the teacher arrived late to find that the children had crawled through a window and gone right to work. At the beginning, the learning materials, having cost so much to make, were locked away in a tall cabinet. Only the teacher had a key and would open it and hand the materials to the children upon request. In this instance the teacher had neglected to lock the cabinet the night before. Finding it open, the children had selected one activity each and were quietly working. As Montessori arrived the teacher was scolding the children for taking them out with-out permission. She recognized that the children's behavior showed that they were capable of select-ing their own work, and replaced the cabinet with low open shelves on which the activities were always available to the children. Today this may sound like a minor change, but it contradicted all educational practice and theory of that period.
One discovery followed another, giving Montessori an increasingly clear view of the inner mind of the child. She found that little children were capable of long periods of quiet concentration, even though they rarely show signs of it in everyday settings. Although they are often careless and sloppy, they respond positively to an atmosphere of calm and order. Montessori noticed that the logical extension of the young child's love for a consistent and often-repeated routine is an environment in which everything has a place. Her children took tremendous delight in carefully carrying their work to and from the shelves, taking great pains not to bump into anything or spill the smallest piece.
They walked carefully through the rooms, instead of running wildly as they did on the streets. Montessori discovered that the environment itself was all important in obtaining the results that she had observed. Not wanting to use school desks, she had carpenters build child-sized tables and chairs. She was the first to do so, recognizing the frustration that a little child experiences in an adult sized world.
Eventually she learned to design entire schools around the size of the children. She had miniature pitchers and bowls prepared, and found knives that fit a child's tiny hand. The tables were light-weight, allowing two children to move them alone. The children learned to control their movements, disliking the way the calm was disturbed when they knocked into things.
Montessori studied the traffic pattern of the rooms as well, arranging the furnishings and the activity area to minimize congestion and tripping. The children loved to sit on the floor, so she bought little rugs to define their work areas and the children quickly learned to walk around them. Through the years, Montessori schools carried this environ-mental engineering throughout the entire building and outside environment, designing child-sized toilets and low sinks, windows low to the ground, low shelves, and miniature hand and garden tools of all sorts.
Some of these ideas were eventually adapted by the larger educational community, particularly at the nursery and kindergarten levels. Many of the puzzles and educational devices now in use at the pre-school and elementary levels are direct copies of Montessori's original ideas. There is far more of her work that never entered the main-stream, and educators who are searching for new, more effective answers are finding the accumulated experience of the Montessori community to be of great interest.
Maria Montessori's first Children's House received overnight attention. Thousands of visitors came away amazed and enthusiastic. Worldwide interest surged as she duplicated her first school in other settings with the same results. Montessori captured the interest and imagination of national leaders and scientists, mothers and teachers, labor leaders and factory owners. As an internationally respected scientist, Montessori had a rare credibility in a field where many others had promoted opinions, philosophies, and models that have not been readily duplicated.
The Montessori method offered a systematic approach that translates very well to new settings. In the first thirty years of this century, the Montessori method seemed to offer something for everyone.
Conservatives appreciated the calm, responsible behavior of the little children, along with their love for work. Liberals applauded the freedom and spontaneity. Many political leaders saw it as a practical way to reform the outmoded school systems of Europe and North America, as well as an approach that they hoped would lead to a more productive and law-abiding populace. Scientists of all disciplines heralded its empirical foundation, along with the accelerated achievement of the little children. Montessori rode a wave of enthusiastic support that should have changed the face of education far more dramatically than it has.
Montessori's prime productive period lasted from the opening of the first Children's House in 1907 until the 1930s. During this time, she continued her study of children, and developed a vastly expanded curriculum and methodology for the elementary level as well. Montessori schools were set up throughout Europe and North America. Dr. Montessori gave up her medical practice to devote all of her energies to advocating the rights and intellectual potential of all children.
During her lifetime, Dr. Montessori was acknowledged as one of the world's leading educators. Education moved beyond Maria Montessori, adapting only those elements of her work that fit into existing theories and methods.
Ironically, the Montessori approach cannot be implemented as a series of piecemeal reforms. It requires a complete restructuring of the school and the teacher's role. Only recently as our under-standing of child development has grown have we rediscovered how clear and sensible was her insight.
Today there is a growing consensus among educators and developmental psychologists that many of her ideas were decades ahead of their time. As the movement gains support and begins to spread into the American public school sector, and gains official recognition internationally, one can readily say that Montessori, begun a century ago, is a remarkably modern approach.
Brief Answers to Questions Parents Often Ask
Why Do Montessori Classes Tend To Be Larger than Those Found in Many Other Schools?
Why Do Most Montessori Schools Ask Young Children to Attend Five Days a Week?
Why Is Montessori So Expensive Compared to Other Schools?
Why Do Most Montessori Schools Want Children to Enter at Age Three?
How Can Montessori Teachers Meet the Needs Of So Many Different Children?
Why Is A Montessori Classroom Called a “Children’s House?
What Do Montessori Schools Mean by the Term “Normalization?
Is Montessori for All Children?
Is Montessori Opposed to Homework?
Is Montessori Unstructured?
Are There Any Tests in Montessori Programs?
How Do Montessori Schools Report Student Progress?
Will My Child Be Able to Adjust to Traditional Public or Private Schools after Montessori?
Is Montessori Opposed to Competition?
Is It True that Montessori Children Never Play?
Is Montessori Opposed to Fantasy and Creativity?
Why Does Montessori Put So Much Stress on Freedom and Independence?
What If a Child Doesn’t Feel Like Working?
What about Children with Special Needs?
Wasn’t Montessori First Developed for Children with Severe Developmental Delays?
Is Montessori Effective with the Highly Gifted Child?
Isn’t Montessori Elitist?
Does Montessori Teach Religion?
Why Do Montessori Classes Group Different Age Levels Together?
Sometimes parents worry that by having younger children in the same class as older ones, one group or the other will be shortchanged. They fear that the younger children will absorb the teachers’ time and attention, or that the importance of covering the kindergarten curriculum for the five-year-olds will prevent them from giving the three- and four-year-olds the emotional support and stimulation that they need. Both concerns are misguided.
At each level, Montessori programs are designed to address the developmental characteristics normal to children in that stage.
Montessori classes are organized to encompass a two- or three-year age span, which allows younger students the stimulation of older children, who in turn benefit from serving as role models. Each child learns at her own pace and will be ready for any given lesson in her own time, not on the teacher’s schedule of lessons. In a mixed-age class, children can always find peers who are working at their current level.
Children normally stay in the same class for three years. With two-thirds of the class normally returning each year, the classroom culture tends to remain quite stable.
Working in one class for two or three years allows students to develop a strong sense of community with their classmates and teachers. The age range also allows especially gifted children the stimulation of intellectual peers, without requiring that they skip a grade or feel emotionally out of place.
Why Do Montessori Classes Tend To Be Larger than Those Found in Many Other Schools?
Many schools take pride in having very small classes, and parents often wonder why Montessori classes are so much larger. Montessori classes commonly group together twenty-five to thirty children covering a three-year age span.
Schools that place children together into small groups assume that the teacher is the source of instruction, a very limited resource. They reason that as the number of children decreases, the time that teachers have to spend with each child increases. Ideally, we would have a one-on-one tutorial situation.But the best teacher of a three-year-old is often another somewhat older child. This process is good for both the tutor and the younger child. In this situation, the teacher is not the primary focus. The larger group size puts the focus less on the adult and encourages children to learn from each other.
By consciously bringing children together in larger multi-age class groups, in which two-thirds of the children normally return each year, the school environment promotes continuity and the development of a fairly stable community.
Why Do Most Montessori Schools Ask Young Children to Attend Five Days a Week?
Montessori is not always more expensive. Tuition costs depend on many factors, including the cost of the various elements that go into running a particular school, such as the cost of the buildings and grounds, teacher salaries, the size of the school,* the programs it offers, and whether the school receives a subsidy payment from a sponsoring church, charity, or government agency.
Two- and three-day programs are often attractive to parents who do not need full-time care; however, five-day programs create the consistency that is so important to young children and which is essential in developing strong Montessori programs. Since the primary goal of Montessori involves creating a culture of consistency, order, and empowerment, most Montessori schools will expect children to attend five days a week.
Why Is Montessori So Expensive Compared to Conventional Schools?
Montessori programs are normally more expensive to organize and run than conventional classrooms due to the extensive teacher education needed to become certified and the very high cost of purchasing the educational materials and beautiful furniture needed to equip each Montessori classroom.
Why Do Most Montessori Schools Want Children to Enter at Age Three?
Dr. Montessori identified four “planes of development,” with each stage having its own developmental characteristics and developmental challenges. The Early Childhood Montessori environment for children age three to six is designed to work with the “absorbent mind,” “sensitive periods,” and the tendencies of children at this stage of their development.Learning that takes place during these years comes spontaneously without effort, leading children to enter the elementary classes with a clear, concrete sense of many abstract concepts. Montessori helps children to become self-motivated, self-disciplined, and to retain the sense of curiosity that so many children lose along the way in traditional classrooms. They tend to act with care and respect toward their environment and each other. They are able to work at their own pace and ability. The three-year Montessori experience tends to nurture a joy of learning that prepares them for further challenges.
This process seems to work best when children enter a Montessori program at age two or three and stay at least through the kindergarten year. Children entering at age four or five do not consistently come to the end of the three-year cycle having developed the same skills, work habits, or values.Older children entering Montessori may do quite well in this very different setting, but this will depend to a large degree on their personality, previous educational experiences, and the way they have been raised at home.
Montessori programs can usually accept a few older children into an established class, so long as the family understands and accepts that some critical opportunities may have been missed, and these children may not reach the same levels of achievement seen in the other children of that age. On the other hand, because of the individualized pace of learning in Montessori classrooms, this will not normally be a concern.
How Can Montessori Teachers Meet the Needs of So Many Different Children?
Great teachers help learners get to the point where their minds and hearts are open, leaving them ready to learn. In effective schools, students are not so much motivated by getting good grades as they are by a basic love of learning. As parents know their own children’s learning styles and temperaments, teachers, too, develop this sense of each child’s uniqueness by spending a number of years with the students and their parents.
Dr. Montessori believed that teachers should focus on the child as a person, not on the daily lesson plan. Montessori teachers lead children to ask questions, think for themselves, explore, investigate, and discover. Their ultimate objective is to help their students to learn independently and retain the curiosity, creativity, and intelligence with which they were born. As we said in an earlier chapter, Montes-sori teachers don’t simply present lessons; they are facilitators, mentors, coaches, and guides.
Traditionally, teachers have told us that they “teach students the basic facts and skills that they will need to succeed in the world.” Studies show that in many classrooms, a substantial portion of the day is spent on discipline and classroom management.
Normally, Montessori teachers will not spend much time teaching lessons to the whole class. Their primary role is to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual, and social/emotional environment within which the children will work. A key aspect of this is the selection of intriguing and developmentally appropriate learning activities to meet the needs and interests of each child in the class.
Montessori teachers usually present lessons to small groups of children at one time and limit lessons to brief and very clear presentations. The goal is to give the children just enough to capture their attention and spark their interest, intriguing them enough that they will come back on their own to work with the learning materials.
Montessori teachers closely monitor their students’ progress. Because they normally work with each child for two or three years, they get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, interests, and personalities extremely well. Montessori teachers often use the children’s interests to enrich the curriculum and provide alternate avenues for accomplishment and success.
Why Is a Montessori Classroom Called a “Children’s House?”
Dr. Montessori’s focus on the “whole child” led her to develop a very different sort of school from the traditional teacher-centered classroom. To emphasize this difference, she named her first school the “Casa dei Bambini”or the “Children’s House.”
The Montessori classroom is not the domain of the adults in charge; it is, instead, a carefully prepared environment designed to facilitate the development of the children’s independence and sense of personal empowerment. This is a children’s community. They move freely within it, selecting work that captures their interest. In a very real sense, even very small children are responsible for the care of their own child-sized environment. When they are hungry, they prepare their own snacks and drinks. They go to the bathroom without assistance. When something spills, they help each other carefully clean up.
Four generations of parents have been amazed to see small children in Montessori classrooms cut raw fruits and vegetables, sweep and dust, carry pitchers of water, and pour liquids with barely a drop spilled. The children normally go about their work so calmly and purposely that it is clear to even the casual observer that they are the masters in this place: The “Children’s House."
What Do Montessori Schools Mean by the Term “Normalization?
“Normalization” is a Montessori term that describes the process that takes place in Montessori classrooms around the world, in which young children, who typically have a short attention span, learn to focus their intelligence, concentrate their energies for long periods of time, and take tremendous satisfaction from their work.
In his book, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, E.M. Standing described the following characteristics of normalization in the child between the age of three and six:
A love of order
A love of work
Profound spontaneous concentration
Attachment to reality
Love of silence and of working alone
Sublimation of the possessive instinct
Independence and initiative
The power to act from real choice and not just from idle curiosity.
Return to Top of Page
Is Montessori for All Children?
The Montessori system has been used successfully with children from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, children with developmental delays, and children with emotional and physical disabilities.
There is no one school that is right for all children, and certainly there are children who may do better in a smaller classroom setting with a more teacher-directed program that offers fewer choices and more consistent external structure.
Children who are easily overstimulated, or those who tend to be overly aggressive, may be examples of children who might not adapt as easily to a Montessori program. Each situation is different, and it is best to work with the schools in your area to see if it appears that a particular child and school would be a good match.
Is Montessori Opposed to Homework?
Most Montessori schools do not assign homework to children below the elementary level. When it is assigned to older children, it rarely involves page after page of “busy” work; instead, the children are given meaningful, interesting assignments that expand on the topics that they are pursuing in class. Many assignments invite parents and children to work together. When possible, teachers will
normally build in opportunities for children to choose among several alternative assignments. Some-times, teachers will prepare individually negotiated weekly assignments with each student.
Is Montessori Unstructured?
At first, Montessori may look un-structured to some people, but it is actually quite structured at every level. Just because the Montessori program is highly individualized does not mean that students can do whatever they want. Like all children, Montessori students live within a cultural context that involves the mastery of skills and knowledge that are considered essential.
Montessori teaches all of the “basics,” along with giving students the opportunity to investigate and learn subjects that are of particular interest. It also allows them the ability to set their own schedule to a large degree during class time.
At the early childhood level, external structure is limited to clear-cut ground rules and correct procedures that provide guidelines and structure for three- and four-year-olds. By age five, most schools introduce some sort of formal system to help students keep track of what they have accomplished and what they still need to complete.
Elementary Montessori children normally work with a written study plan for the day or week. It lists the tasks that they need to complete, while allowing them to decide how long to spend on each and what order they would like to follow. Beyond these basic, individually tailored assignments, children explore topics that capture their interest and imagination and share them with their classmates.
Are There Any Tests in Montessori Programs?
Montessori teachers carefully observe their students at work. They give their students informal, individual oral exams or have the children demonstrate what they have learned by either teaching a lesson to another child or by giving a formal presentation. The children also take and prepare their own written tests to ad-minister to their friends. Montessori children usually don’t think of assessment techniques as tests so much as challenges. Students are normally working toward mastery rather than a standard letter grade scheme.
Standardized Tests: Very few Montes-sori schools test children under the first or second grades; however, most Montessori schools regularly give elementary students quizzes on the concepts and skills that they have been studying. Many schools have their older students take annual standardized tests.
While Montessori students tend to score very well, Montessori educators are deeply concerned that many standardized tests are inaccurate, misleading, and stressful for children. Good teachers, who work with the same children for three years and carefully observe their work, know far more about their progress than any paper-and-pencil test can reveal.
The ultimate problem with standardized tests is that they have often been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and poorly used to pressure teachers and students to perform at higher standards. Although standardized tests may not offer a terribly accurate measure of a child’s basic skills and knowledge, in most countries test-taking skills are just another Practical Life lesson that children need to master.
How Do Montessori Schools Report Student Progress?
Because Montessori believes in individually paced academic progress, most schools do not assign letter grades or rank students within each class according to their achievement. Student progress, however, is measured in different ways, which may include:
Student Self-Evaluations: At the elementary level, students will often prepare a monthly self-evaluation of the past three month’s work: what they accomplished, what they enjoyed the most, what they found most difficult, and what they would like to learn in the three months ahead. When completed, they will meet with the teachers, who will review it and add their comments and observations.
Portfolios of Student Work: In many Montessori schools, two or three times a year, teachers (and at the elementary level, students) and parents go through the students’ completed work and make selections for their portfolios.
Student/Parent/Teacher Conferences: Once the students’ three-month self-evaluations are complete, parents, students, and teachers will hold a family conference two or three times a year to review their children’s portfolios and self-evaluations and go through the teachers’ assessment of their children’s progress.
Narrative Progress Reports: In many Montessori schools, once or twice a year, teachers prepare a written narrative report discussing each student’s work, social development, and mastery of fundamental skills.
Will My Child Be Able to Adjust to Traditional Public or Private Schools After Montessori?
By the end of age five, Montessori children are normally curious, self-confident learners who look forward to going to school. They are normally engaged, enthusiastic learners who honestly want to learn and who ask excellent question.
Montessori children by age six have spent three or four years in a school where they were treated with honesty and respect. While there were clear expectations and ground rules, within that framework, their opinions and questions were taken quite seriously. Unfortunately, there are still some teachers and schools where children who ask questions are seen as challenging authority.
It is not hard to imagine an independent Montessori child asking his new teacher, “But why do I have to ask each time I need to use the bathroom?” or, “Why do I have to stop my work right now?” We also have to remember that children are different. One child may be very sensitive or have special needs that might not be met well in a teacher-centered traditional classroom. Other children can succeed in any type of school.
There is nothing inherent in Montessori that causes children to have a hard time if they are transferred to traditional schools. Some will be bored. Others may not understand why everyone in the class has to do the same thing at the same time. But most adapt to their new setting fairly quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school.
There will naturally be trade-offs if a Montessori child transfers to a traditional school. The curriculum in Montessori schools is often more enriched than that taught in other schools in the United States. The values and attitudes of the children and teachers may also be quite different. Learning will often be focused more on adult-assigned tasks done more by rote than with enthusiasm and understanding.
There is an old saying that if something is working, don’t fix it. This leads many families to continue their children in Montessori at least through the sixth grade. As more Montessori High Schools are opened in the United States and abroad, it is likely that this trend will continue.
Is Montessori Opposed to Competition?
Montessori is not opposed to competition; Dr. Montessori simply observed that competition is an ineffective tool to motivate children to learn and to work hard in school.
Traditionally, schools challenge students to compete with one another for grades, class rankings, and special awards. For example, in many schools tests are graded on a curve and are measured against the performance of their classmates rather than considered for their individual progress.
In Montessori schools, students learn to collaborate with each other rather than mindlessly compete. Students discover their own innate abilities and develop a strong sense of independence, self-confidence, and self-discipline. In an atmosphere in which children learn at their own pace and compete only against themselves, they learn not to be afraid of making mistakes. They quickly find that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear of embarrassment. Dr. Montessori argued that for an education to touch children’s hearts and minds profoundly, students must be learning because they are curious and interested, not simply to earn the highest grade in the class.
Montessori children compete with each other every day, both in class and on the playground. Dr. Montessori, herself an extraordinary student and a very high achiever, was never opposed to competition on principle. Her objection was to using competition to create an artificial motivation to get students to achieve.
Montessori schools allow competition to evolve naturally among children, without adult interference unless the children begin to show poor sportsmanship. The key is the child’s voluntary decision to compete rather than having it imposed on him by the school.
Is It True that Montessori Children Never Play?
All children play! They explore new things playfully. They watch something of interest with a fresh open mind. They enjoy the company of treasured adults and other children. They make up stories. They dream. They imagine. This impression stems from parents who don’t know what to make of the incredible concentration, order, and self-discipline that we commonly see among Montessori children.
Montessori students also tend to take the things they do in school quite seriously. It is common for them to respond, “This is my work,” when adults ask what they are doing. They work hard and expect their parents to treat them and their work with respect. But it is joyful, playful, and anything but drudgery.
Is Montessori Opposed to Fantasy and Creativity?
Fantasy and creativity are important aspects of a Montessori child's experience. Montessori classrooms incorporate art, music, dance, and creative drama throughout the curriculum. Imagination plays a central role, as children explore how the natural world works, visualize other cultures and ancient civilizations, and search for creative solutions to real-life problems. In Montessori schools, the Arts are normally integrated into the rest of the curriculum.
Why Does Montessori Put So Much Stress On Freedom And Independence?
Children touch and manipulate everything in their environment. In a sense, the human mind is handmade, because through movement and touch, the child explores, manipulates, and builds a storehouse of impressions about the physical world around her. Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation.
Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will. They may select any activity and work with it as long as they wish, so long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything, and as long as they put it back where it belongs when they are finished.
Many exercises, especially at the early childhood level, are designed to draw children’s attention to the sensory properties of objects within their environment: size, shape, color, texture, weight, smell, sound, etc. Gradually, they learn to pay attention, seeing more clearly small details in the things around them. They have begun to observe and appreciate their environment. This is a key in helping children discover how to learn.
Freedom is a second critical issue as children begin to explore. Our goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to help them to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm. Work assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest as does work that children freely choose for themselves.
The prepared environment of the Montessori class is a learning laboratory in which children are allowed to explore, discover, and select their own work. The independence that the children gain is not only empowering on a social and emotional basis, but it is also intrinsically involved with helping them become comfortable and confident in their ability to master the environment, ask questions, puzzle out the answer, and learn without needing to be “spoon-fed” by an adult.
What if a Child Doesn’t Feel Like Working?
While Montessori students are al-lowed considerable latitude to pursue topics that interest them, this freedom is not absolute. Within every society there are cultural norms; expectations for what a student should know and be able to do by a certain age.
Experienced Montessori teachers are conscious of these standards and provide as much structure and support as is necessary to ensure that students live up to them. If for some reason it appears that a child needs time and support until he or she is developmentally ready, Montessori teachers provide it non-judgmentally.
What about Children with Special Needs?
Every child has areas of special gifts, a unique learning style, and some areas that can be considered special challenges. Each child is unique. Montessori is designed to allow for differences. It allows students to learn at their own pace and is quite flexible in adapting for different learning styles.
In many cases, children with mild physical handicaps or learning disabilities may do very well in a Montessori classroom setting. On the other hand, some children do much better in a smaller, more structured classroom.
Each situation has to be evaluated individually to ensure that the program can successfully meet a given child’s needs and learning style.
Wasn’t Montessori’s Method First Developed for Children with Severe Developmental Delays?
The Montessori approach evolved over many years as the result of Dr. Montessori’s work with different populations and age groups. One of the earliest groups with which she worked was a population of children who had been placed in a residential-care setting because of severe developmental delays.
The Method is used today with a wide range of children, but it is most commonly found in educational programs designed for the typical range of students found in most classrooms.
Is Montessori Effective With the Very Highly Gifted Child?
Yes, in general, children who are highly gifted will find Montessori to be both intellectually challenging and flexible enough to respond to them as unique individuals.
Is Montessori Elitist?
No. Montessori is an educational philosophy and approach that can be found in all sorts of settings, from the most humble to large, well-equipped campuses. In general, Montessori schools consciously strive to create and maintain a diverse student body, welcoming
families of every ethnic background and religion, and using scholarships and financial aid to keep their school accessible to deserving families. Montessori is also found in the public sector as magnet public school programs, Head Start centers, and as charter schools.
Does Montessori Teach Religion?
Except for those schools that are associated with a particular religious community, Montessori does not teach religion. Many Montessori schools celebrate holidays, such as Christmas, Hannukah, and Chinese New Year, which are religious in origin, but which can be experienced on a cultural level as special days of family feasting, merriment, and wonder.
The young child rarely catches more than a glimmer of the religious meaning behind the celebration. Our goal is to focus on how children would normally experience each festival within their culture: the special foods, songs, dances, games, stories, presents — a potpourri of experiences aimed at all the senses of a young child.
On the other hand, one of our fundamental aims is the inspiration of the child’s heart. While Montessori does not teach religion, we do present the great moral and spiritual themes, such as love, kindness, joy, and confidence in the fundamental goodness of life in simple ways that encourage the child to begin the journey toward being fully alive and fully human. Everything is intended to nurture within the child a sense of joy and appreciation of life.
Bringing Montessori Home
By K.T. Korngold
Recently, at a neighborhood mother's group, another mother asked me what was it about my house that made it "Montessori." I thought about it for a moment, and realized that while I had taken for granted how Montessori philosophy can be applied to creating home environments, other parents might be curious about how they can make their home more compatible with their children's Montessori experience.
When I think of what Montessori has to say to me as a parent that is most meaningful, it is the understanding that even at a very young age children are capable and are eager to act independently. This they can do most simply in the routines and rituals of everyday life. By setting up a home environment that enables children to take care of their own self-care throughout the day, the home environment can help the child develop independence and a strong sense of self. We can support our children to be able to say: "I can do it!" and "I did it myself!"
When we design an environment for them that helps facilitate self-care, we encourage our children to be independent at an early age, and we even make our jobs a little easier in both the short and long run!
When you come into my home, the first thing you might notice is the rows of shoes. We are a no-shoe inside house. This tradition started when my oldest child, Sarah, was born, when we lived in New York City. By taking our shoes off when we came home, we reduced the dirt and germs we brought into the home of the newborn baby. The house stayed cleaner this way, and as Sarah grew and began crawling, then scooting on the floor, and also putting nearly everything in her mouth, we appreciated knowing that the street grime stayed outside.
Next to the shoe tray is a long low bench. Emma sits here, often for 20 minutes at a time, trying on the various shoes: her sandals, her sister's sneakers, Daddy's flip-flops, Mommy's slides. She loves to open and close the Velcro, untie the laces, and best of all parade around the mudroom. There is a low mirror, and a set of hooks for hats. Even at 16 months, Emma understood that she needed her shoes to go outside, and that shoes come off when we come inside. "Shoes" was one of her first words.
Like Goldilocks from the Brother's Grimm tale, she is learning a lot about her world from the daily shoe explorations. She learns about size: small, medium, large; about classification: sandals, sneakers, shoes, boots; she learns about fit: just right, too big, way too big; she learns about opening and closing. She learns about dressing and undressing herself.
Next to the low bench, we have a hand-washing stand (designed by Montessori Hand Made in Vermont.) Sarah, the oldest, still loves to follow the many-stepped procedure with its natural beginning, middle, and end. First, she gets water in the pitcher, then pours the water into the basin; then using plenty of soap to make lots of bubbles and lather, she washes her hands. Next comes the rinsing, and then the drying of her hands on the towel (neatly hung on a little hook). Finally, she pours the water out of the basin, and then, lastly wipes out the bowl so it is ready for the next time. She washes her hands first thing when she comes in from the camp bus or school, or from playing outside in the garden. Emma, who doesn't exactly follow the entire "process," adores washing and lathering her hands. She delights in seeing her reflection in the small mirror hanging above the wash stand. I observe her from a distance as she pours the water into the basin and then soaps her hands. We are going through bar after bar of soap. But again, she is learning more from this hand washing experience than any electronic toy from Toys R Us could ever teach her.
In our kitchen, where I choose to spend a lot time, I have set up various areas so that Emma can be with me while I'm cooking or planning a meal. In the pantry--where I store dry goods and oversized platters, baskets, pot and pans, and bottled water┬‚ I have set aside the lower shelves for the children. At the very bottom, juice boxes, applesauce in cups, and raisin boxes are neatly arranged in small baskets. Emma is free to wander in at any time, and choose a snack or juice from the shelves. A few shelves higher (at Sarah's level), there are crackers, dried fruit, cereal┬‚ all neatly arranged in clear glass canisters with easy open lids. To the cry: "I'm hungry!" I simply reply, "Please fix yourself a snack from the pantry." Low and behold, they do!
Also in the pantry: napkins folded in a box, paper towels separated and stacked for easy clean up, child-size aprons on low hooks, and a small dust pan and hand broom for clean up. Even from an early age, Emma wore an apron rather that a bib. And now, she toddles into the pantry, grabs her apron, and wraps it around her.
When cooking, we are three cooks in the kitchen -- humming with activity (dicing, slicing, peeling, pouring, sifting) and proudly wearing our "cooking uniforms." I think the aprons send a message to the children that being messy is an appropriate part of the process of cooking (just as it is with art and gardening), but it is important to protect our clothes from being ruined in the process and it is important to tidy up afterwards.
Like her sister did when she was young, Emma has a low table for eating. We recently bought a new one, also designed by the talented team at Montessori Hand Made in Vermont. The table has beautiful chairs, one with arms, one without. The chairs are sturdy enough for me to sit on, but lightweight enough to be carried by a little one. (How they do like to move their furniture around!)
Emma also has a Learning Tower, (designed by a Montessori teacher/mother and available from Little Partners) which is placed in the center of the kitchen against our center island. Emma often eats her breakfast here, standing at counter top height. I can move the Tower against the sink for water play. Emma will spend an hour at the sink, doing "experiments" with water: pouring, ladeling, wisking. I find that water play is an excellent after meal activity as she gets cleaned up as I clean up. She's finding out about temperature (hot, cold, warm) and volume (liquid, mass). She is giggling and laughing and having fun┬‚ and I get to enjoy every minute of her laughter.
The Learning Tower enables a child to reach the counter top level in a safe way. In a Montessori school environment the counters, tables, sinks, etc. would be at child level. While I do have one lower counter in the house (for rolling out pasty and bread) the other counters are all standard height. The Tower enables Emma to stand safely and brings the counter to her. Unlike a step stool, she can't slip off of it.
Emma is learning about feeding herself. She uses a fork and a spoon. She is beginning to be interested in spreading with a knife. She loves pouring water or juice into a glass. (As is done in a Montessori classroom, I pre-measure the juice into the small pitcher so while she may spill, she will not overflow). And then there is the trip to the pantry to get a paper towel square to wipe up. Next the trip to the garbage to throw it away. Then back up to the table to do it again. Pouring is a fun activity for her: it has many steps, it requires moving around the kitchen. It teaches her hand-eye coordination. It is an extremely useful skill (every college kid needs to know how to pour her own milk). And it is entirely self-correcting. I don't have to tell her when she does it correctly. The glass is simply full.
One of Emma's favorite activities is table setting. I have outlined on a cloth placemat the shapes of a small fork, plate, knife, spoon and cup. This place mat is rolled up and placed along with the actual silverware and plate in a basket on a low shelf. Emma gets the basket, carefully carries it with two hands to the table. Slowly she begins the task of setting her place. The place mat is unrolled. The plate goes down, then the fork. Each piece in it's own place. I don't need to talk to her or correct her as she works. The outlines let her know when she is correct and when she needs to move or replace something.
By having the material be the "teacher" rather than the adult, the child can own their work and satisfaction with the job done. She doesn't need to turn to me (or an another person for that matter) for outside validation. She is beginning to create her own internal guide. She can do it and she can know when she does. She will set the table again and again and again, over and over and over. I do not interrupt her. I do not interfere with her or distract her. I let her complete her "work cycle" and take as long as she needs to do it. There is nothing more important to me than giving her this time to do this important work. Is she merely setting the table? I think she is setting something up within her that will be there for a lifetime.
The playroom is set up with different areas. We don't have a toy box. Everything is in its place. In the art area there is a caulk board with chalk in a neat little basket and a sponge for washing off the board. Other art supplies are neatly arranged in baskets and boxes. For make-believe we have a small wooden kitchen as well as a few baby dolls and dolls representing various countries of the world. Costumes are hung at child's eye level on hangers across a clothing rack. There is a child-size full-length mirror. Both older children and younger seem to take great pleasure from the dress up area. A favorite attraction is our collection of pastel colored scarves, which become headdresses, skirts, hiding places, doll accessories, and what ever else they might imagine. I avoid using costumes of a predetermined
character. I am interested in nurturing my children┤s developing imagination, not in supporting Disney stock.
There is a quiet comfy area with a low bed, low bookshelf with small books, and fluffy pillows. Sarah has shelves and shelves of books ranging from fiction to history to picture books, dictionaries, and poetry. The only thing more wonderful in our home than a visit to the local bookstore is to revisit an old favorite book, and reread the dog-eared pages. Emma has a smaller collection of smaller books┬‚ easy for her to hold and turn the pages. We have plenty of books with photographs of the real world: parts of the body, things in the kitchen, flowers, pictures of children from around the world, plants, and animals. DK is a great source for this type of book.
In the music area we have an attractive basket that overflows with an array of international instruments, such as drums, whistles, bells, and shakers. There is a CD player, and a small music box. The girls can use the CD player themselves, and I put out one CD at a time for Emma. We will play the same CD for a week or so before I change it. The repetition and pattern give her a sense of order and adds to her pleasure in the musical experience. She begins to know what song she will hear next. She thinks, "that song that is coming next," and then it does. She is thinking, she is predicting, she is beginning to understand and make sense of her world.
None of us watch TV, although we do watch selective videos. Sarah and Emma really enjoy the music videos of Frank Leto and Raffi, and quiet videos such as Linnea in Monet┤s Garden. They both adore watching themselves and request to see the old videos from "years ago." We limit video watching and computer time, and for the most part the girls seldom ask for it. Very rarely we'll see a movie. At age six Sarah is just beginning to be introduced to that commercial world and worldview. I know Emma will be exposed sooner than her sister was, but for now the kids are still enthralled with their own creations.
When she was a year old, we took her to a musical for children, based on the early reader series "Frog and Toad." Both children loved the show, and so naturally we bought the CD, which we played at home and in the car incessantly. One song has the Toad singing "Fro-aaaaa-a-og" and then Frog says "Blah!" What a surprise when 14 month old Emma showed how well she had been listening and following along. Although she could barely talk, she sang the words she could pronounce: "aaaaa-a" and then, quite dramatically, right on cue: "Blah!"
On low shelves with attractive activities in trays or small baskets, materials are beautifully set out. There are animal pictures and corresponding animal miniatures; there are fruit picture cards and corresponding plastic fruit; there are posting materials, such as clothes pins to place on a wooden shaker box or colorful soft fabric balls to press into the opening of a decorative tissue box holder. These materials are set out with the movement of the work going from the left side of the tray to the right side, to begin to train her eye to move from left to right, as it will need to when it scans across the page when reading. There is a set of insects in a golden gossamer bag. Emma enjoys reaching her hand in and then discovering what she has found. "Ladybug," I say " Ladybug." She reaches her hands above her head and wiggles her fingers in the motion we use for the ladybug song. "The lady bug she creeps along and as she creeps she sings her song, la la la la." The neurons in her brain have made a connection: the ladybug in the bag is the same as the ladybug in the song we sing. She has connected the object to the word to the song. Wow. That eighteen-month old brain is capable of so much. As Emma likes to say, "Oh my!"
At the end of the day, when my husband comes home, he says, "what did you and Emma do today?"
I say: "We walked Sarah to the bus. We put on our shoes and we took them off. We poured juice. We cleaned up the spills. We made lunch, we ate lunch, and we washed our dishes. Emma took a nap. We played in the sand. We played in the tub. We made animal sounds. We read a few stories. We sang a few songs. We learned about the world. We spent time together."
For me, being a Mom isn't about buying a lot of electronic toys or decorating my daughter's room as a fantasy castle. It isn't even about having exciting adventures, or giving my kids the opportunity to take every possible after-school activity or sport that today's culture seems to offer. What it is mostly about is time. Time being present with my children. Time to let Emma take her own time: to put on and pull off her shoes twenty times if she wants; time to figure out how to get her arm in the sleeve; time to scoop her own cereal. Time to let her set her own table, again and again and again. Time to cuddle with her on the low bed and read her favorite book over and over and over. It is a quiet way of spending time and letting her grow guided by an environment where she is safe to explore and learn about her world.
"It was perfectly ordinary home time," I would like to say to him "and it is simply extraordinary."
This article appeared in the Back to School 2003 issue of Tomorrow's Child
Copyright K.T. Korngold, 2003
Parenting Literature and Articles
The Montessori Way is a lovely, clear, and fully illustrated overview of Montessori education from infant-toddler programs through the secondary level. This book is only available from the Montessori Foundation Publications Center. If you are a parent, teacher, or university educator looking to gain a clear understanding of the Montessori approach, this book will be a delightful addition to your library. Order online.
Tomorrow's Child is the magazine for Montessori families around the world. Each issue is filled with articles that address the questions parents most often ask about Montessori schools and Montessori in the home. subscribe online
Tomorrow's Child OnLine: A Free Benefit for Standing Bulk Order & Electronic Subscribers Tomorrow's Child OnLine: Our parent resource center provides you with many other free articles and video presentations on effective parenting and how to incorporate a Montessori way of life into your daily family routines. Hosted by the Foundation's Parent Education Director, Lorna McGrath, there are many short video clips on critical issues of parenting. This added benefit is available to bulk subscribers and electronic subscribers.
The Montessori Approach to Discipline
by Mary Conroy and Kitty Williams Bravo
This article was first published in Tomorrow?s Child magazine
Upon visiting a Montessori classroom for the first time, one might wonder what magic spell has been cast upon these young children making them so calm and self directed. Another person might look at that same class and be confused by the children?s independence, wondering where┬?s the discipline, these children just do as they please. Visitors commonly issue such comments as, "I?ve heard Montessori is too free and chaotic? or ?I?ve heard Montessori is too structured.? It does not seem possible that these two extreme opposites can both be true. Montessori is, however, all in the eyes of the beholder. This method or philosophy of education varies in interpretation from school to school, teacher to teacher, and parent to parent. There are certainly some Montessori classrooms that are very rigid and adult controlled, and there are also classroom that are disorderly and anything goes. Montessori when done well, however, is a beautiful blend and perfect balance of freedom and structure. The best Montessori teachers or facilitators understand that maintaining the delicate balance is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of their job. It is on that foundation of freedom and structure that the child builds discipline.
Freedom is not a word that is traditionally associated with discipline. Parents are often concerned that the Montessori child?s freedom to choose activities presupposes that discipline is something alien to our classrooms. Does freedom mean license to act as he or she chooses or does freedom of choice carry with it certain responsibilities in the classroom community? Are we, as some would claim, a place where children can do what they like or, as a young Montessori student once told a visitor, a place where children like what the do?
To have any meaningful discussion of these questions, it would seem that our first priority should be to define this thing called discipline. Montessori herself held that discipline is ?not ...a fact but a way.? True discipline comes more from within than without and is the result of steadily developing inner growth. Just as the very young child must first learn to stand before she can walk, she must develop an inward order through work before she is able to choose and carry out her own acts. Surprisingly enough, Montessori found that it was through the very liberty inherent in her classrooms that the children were given the means to reveal their inner or self-discipline. Independence did not diminish respect for authority but rather deepened it. One of the things that aroused her greatest interest was that order and discipline seemed to be so closely united that they resulted in freedom.
But, many people assume that discipline is something that is imposed from without by an authority figure who should be obeyed without question. Discipline in the Montessori environment is not something that is done to the child; nor is it a technique for controlling behavior. Our concern is with the development of the internal locus of control, which enables an individual to choose the right behavior because it is right for him or herself and right for the community.
If discipline comes from within, then what is the job of the teacher? Inner discipline is something, which evolves. It is not something that is automatically present within the child and it can not be taught. The role of the teacher, then, is to be a model and a guide while supporting the child as he develops to the point where he is able to choose to accept and to follow the ?rules? of the classroom community. This level of obedience is the point where true inner discipline has been reached. One knows this level of discipline has been reached when children are able to make appropriate behavioral choices even when we are not present.
Discipline presupposes a certain degree of obedience. Before the age of three a child is truly unable to obey unless what is asked of her happens to correspond with one of her vital urges. At this stage, her personality hasn┬?t formed to the level where she is capable of making a choice to obey. It is this level which Montessori termed the first level of obedience. A toddler can obey, but not always. The second level of obedience is reached when the child is capable of understanding another person?s wishes and can express them in her own behavior. When this second level of obedience is reached, most parents and teachers would think they had reached their goal. Most adults ask only that children obey. The goals of Montessori reach beyond this, however, to the third level which Montessori called ?joyful obedience?. At this stage the child has internalized obedience, or we might say, had developed self-discipline where he sees clearly the value of what is being offered to him by authority and rushes to obey. This is not blind obedience at all, but is a fully informed choice by a personality which has grown in freedom and developed to its fullest potential. This is what we want for our children. With this level of obedience or self-discipline comes a degree of self-respect in which a child cannot help but respect the rights and needs of others alongside her own. She is then able to learn and grow freely in the security of a community of respectful individuals.
This of course, is a wonderful philosophy, but can Montessori truly deliver these results? Montessori can only benefit children when it moves beyond philosophy and takes a practical application. This involves the careful preparation of the teacher and the classroom environment.
The teacher should be a specialist, trained in child development, as well as Montessori Philosophy and methodology for the age group with whom he or she will be working. Equally important, these adults will need to possess robust enthusiasm for learning, a deep respect for all life, kindness, and the patience of a saint.
The classroom should be beautiful, orderly, and so inviting that the child cannot resist exploring. It should be steeped with a sense of wonder. Within this environment the child will be free to explore, but with this freedom comes responsibility. One of the secrets to success in the Montessori classroom is freedom within the limits of very clear ground rules. Every school?s ground rules will vary but the essence is generally the same. 1) Take care of all people and living things in our environment, and 2) Take care of all of the material things in our environment. If you think about it, every ?do? or ?don?t? one could wish to implore fits in these two rules, or could be narrowed even further to this one simple rule, ?be respectful of everyone and everything.?
The rules are kept simple, yet they are explored in great detail. It should never be assumed that the child understands what it means to be kind or respectful. A great amount of time and energy must be focused on teaching lessons that demonstrate socially acceptable behavior. Children don?t just automatically know how to be a friend, express anger, or how to solve problems. As a matter of fact, many adults are still learning how to cope with these issues. Yet, we often forget to teach children the everyday skills necessary for getting along with others. These special skills are taught with the Grace and Courtesy lessons. These lessons are presented through demonstration and then practiced through role-playing, and modeled by teachers and older students. They are the foundation of the classroom, as they set a tone of respect and kindness. The child learns such important skills as, how to shake hands and greet a friend, how to properly interrupt someone who is busy, and how to tell someone to please move out of my way. The children love these lessons. They are always eager to take a turn playing the roles, and they are thrilled to know a better way to handle personal situations.
Another important consideration, is that children have the same range and depth of emotions as adults, but they don?t have the maturity or experience to put these feelings in perspective. The goal of Grace and Courtesy lessons and conflict resolution techniques is to validate these feelings and give children the tools to successfully tackle them. Children learn what to do when someone is unkind or unfair and how to discuss conflicts when they occur. Teachers and children act as mediators, coaching children in conflict through a process of expressing their feelings and finding a way to fix their mistakes. In one such incident, a five-year-old acted as the peacemaker for two children engaged in an escalating disagreement. She linked the hands of the angry children and rubbed their backs as she encouraged their negotiations. In time, with modeling and consistency, children become proficient at handling social difficulties. In fact, parents have reported incidents in which children have encouraged peaceful negotiations between mom and dad, as well as settling problems with siblings and neighborhood friends.
In addition to lessons, which teach social graces, there is a lot of emphasis placed on developing practical life skills. What we commonly refer to as misbehavior is often the side effect when children feel insecure, and disempowered. Children who are happily engaged in self-satisfying activities with a clear purpose experience a great sense of accomplishment and power. When the child can do things for herself, she will feel confident and in control. These everyday living skills such as pouring, scrubbing tables, dish washing, and polishing, also help the child learn to focus his attention and complete a task. These lessons require the child to follow an orderly step by step process, which will further develop both self discipline and logical thinking, thus laying a foundation for the more abstract academic activities offered within the other areas of the classroom.
The magical spell that enables the Montessori Child to become disciplined is his love for meaningful activity. When the environment provides consistency, nurturing adults and stimulating work, the child can go about his most important work, creating the adult he will become. Montessori offers him valuable tools for this great task: independence, order, coordination, cooperation and confidence.
Montessori, however, is only one component in the child?s life. A child?s home environment and parents? love are the most critical factors in his development. Unfortunately, our children are not born with an owner┬?s manual. Parents generally rely on the wisdom of grandparents and doctors educators, as well as their own instincts to determine the right parenting style for their family. Parents should be able to find within their Montessori school, a family friendly environment that is ready to offer support. When schools and families develop a partnership there is greater opportunity for consistency and continuity.
How can parents bring this type of discipline home from the classroom? A democratic parenting style is recommended, rather than the authoritarian style with which most of us grew up. We learn to be obedient ?or else.? Discipline was imposed from without rather than allowed to grow from within. Threats, bribes or withdrawal of privileges were expected to make us comply with our parents' wishes. To be consistent with the ?discipline? used in the classroom the parenting style at home should emphasize respect for the child?s feelings, choices within acceptable limits, encouragement, conflict resolution, and natural and logical consequences for behavior.
There are many parenting courses, which encourage this style of parenting. Such courses as Redirecting Children?s Behavior, Active Parenting, or STEP, dove tail the Montessori approach to discipline. These courses are based on theories of psychologists, Rudolf Dreikurs and Alfred Adler. Adler was a contemporary and a colleague of Dr. Montessori and they shared many ideas about children?s behavior. Parenting courses and parent support networks are a wonderful way to create bridges between the classroom and family environments.
Whether in the home or the classroom it is important to keep in mind the ultimate goal of discipline. Too often we discipline for the moment, hastily solving the present problem, but possibly creating future ones. Disciplining with the long-range goal means keeping in mind the independent adult you want your child to become.
The goal of the Montessori classroom whether it is a prepared environment for infants and toddlers, preschoolers, elementary, or secondary students, is first and foremost the development of skills necessary for a productive and fulfilling life. The best of the academic curriculums are useless if the child does not develop inner discipline, integrity, and respect for others and oneself. In today?s world of moral degeneracy, these goals may seem out of reach, but they are more important than ever before. The young person who faces the world of tomorrow armed with self-confidence and self - discipline is far more likely to achieve success and happiness. They will be prepared to meet any challenges that the ?real world? may present, and will hopefully bring to that world a bit of the peace and joy they experienced in the Montessori environment.
by Sara Wenger Shenk
1. Children deserve parents who make sure that they find the support and nurture that they need so they can wholeheartedly love them.
2. Children deserve parents who love one another and treat each other with kindness and respect even if the marriage doesn┬'t last.
3. Children deserve parents who like themselves and who have creative work that they enjoy in addition to their employment.
4. Children deserve parents who like their work and want their children to know about it and why it's important.
5. Children deserve parents who remember that when children spill the milk that they used to spill it too.
6. Children deserve parents who will rock them to sleep with a lullaby and tuck them into bed with a story and kiss.
7. Children deserve parents who will take them for a walk through the fall leaves rather than buying them another toy.
8. Children deserve parents who take them to the library regularly and come home with arm loads of books about people who dream great dreams and overcome immense difficulties.
9. Children deserve parents who are willing to slow down from the rat race long enough to enter into the wonder of discovery with them.
10. Children deserve parents who allow them to work alongside, at their own pace, and with appropriate jobs so that each can feel a sense of accomplishment on completion.
11. Children deserve parents who are very selective about television watching, who study the program guide to know what quality programs exist and who will spend time reading or playing games instead of lazily flicking on the switch.
12. Children deserve parents who have an extended family network of support and back-up nurture.
Avoiding Power Struggles with Children
by Kathryn J. Kvols
Mom is in the kitchen preparing dinner. Ten-year-old Ryan comes in and asks for a candy bar.
Mom says, absently, "Not right now. Dinner will be ready in an hour."
"Why not? I'm hungry now," Ryan insists.
"You know we don't eat candy right before dinner, Ryan!" Mom says irritatedly.
"Yeah, but I'm starving. Come on, just one little candy bar."
Mom stops what she's doing and turns angrily at Ryan. "I told you no candy before dinner and that's all there is to it!"
"But I'm hungry. Why can't I have something to eat when I'm hungry?"
"You are not going to eat a candy bar before dinner. You know the rules in this house. And if you keep this up, you'll go to your room and skip dinner entirely!"
"Is this really about the candy bar?"
Is this a power struggle or just a typical dialogue between a parent and child? And, is this really about the candy bar?
A power struggle is when a person holds one position and another person holds a different position and both are unwilling to change their positions. Then it becomes a struggle for power. It is rarely about the issue at hand. It is about feeling powerless and wanting to feel more power within the situation.
Let's look at the difference between "authentic power" and "coercive power." Coercive power arises from judging children and situations as "bad" or "wrong" and whose ultimate outcome is separation from our children. Force is used to manipulate our child to do what we, as the parent, want them to do. Force includes the use of guilt, threats, punishment, spanking, sarcasm, criticism, intimidations, humiliation, withdrawal of love, yelling, nagging, or any other attempt to control or force our child to do something against her will. Coercive power motivates through fear instead of love and teaches children to be externally motivated rather than driven by their own set of rules or consciences. This allows children to look for outside sources to blame for their mistakes or for others to be responsible for their happiness.
On the other hand, authentic power does not judge a child as "wrong" or "bad," but works to solve problems in ways that will unite or bond with our children through understanding and loving unconditionally. Its intention is to build positive self-concepts and to make sure that everyone wins. It is the ability to empower others to become motivated through paying attention to their own internal feelings, wants and desires, and to listen quietly for inner guidance. Authentic power teaches children that they are their own source of happiness. The end result is closeness, respect, responsibility, cooperation and a sense of joy and aliveness.
Unfortunately, coercive power is very seductive because it often works in the short-term and it is how most of us were parented so we are comfortable with it. It is very easy to use, but it seldom brings lasting results and it definitely creates strains in our relationships. So, how do we stop using it?
The first step in using authentic power is to realize that your child is not bad. That, in fact, your child is "being" just like you when you don't get one of your needs met.
Secondly, admit that coercive behavior is not getting you the results you want, i.e., more closeness and cooperation with your child.
The third step involves using a combination of the 17 ways to avoid power struggles in this article.
The fourth step is experimenting with the alternatives and acknowledging yourself if you were successful. If you weren't, ask yourself how you will do it differently next time. Gently encourage yourself.
The last step is to choose a method of personal growth for yourself that will unblock your ability to unconditionally love yourself, your child, your spouse, and others in your life. This could be books, personal growth courses, or private counseling, but it will help you help yourself.
The following alternatives are 17 ways to avoid power struggles. These are wonderful ways to use authentic power in your relationships with your children and it promotes positive self-concepts and cooperation. Use any or all of these suggestions and see what a difference it makes!
1. Use friendly action. Oftentimes we nag and nag our children about what they should be doing. Or we talk so much that our children become "parent deaf." Use friendly action instead. For example, you ask your child to pick up his toy from the living room floor. He says, "In just a minute." A minute goes by and the toy still isn't picked up. Put a friendly smile on your face, bring your child over to the toy on the floor and walk away. If he says, "What?" just continue smiling and walk away. The minute you start answering questions or talking, you leave the door open to engage in a verbal struggle.
2. Use one word suggestions. We make over 2,000 compliance requests daily to our children, "pick up your toys," "brush your teeth," "eat your cereal," etc. That kind of communication gets old and children just begin to tune it out. Instead, use one word, like "toys" or "teeth" or "cereal." Make sure it is in a friendly voice and with a smile. Tell your children ahead of time that you are going to stop nagging so much and that you will be using just one word from now on to say what needs to be done.
3. No is a complete sentence. Children are programmed from birth to push and resist against rules. Saying no is just a boundary and if you feel guilty or bad for saying no, you are training your children to have the belief that life should go their way and if it doesn't, it's your fault as their parent! Say no, just once, and if she throws a tantrum, walk out of the room and let her anger be her problem.
4. Teach your children to say no to you in a respectful way. How many of us were allowed to say no growing up? If we weren't allowed to, we did say no in a number of other ways. Like rebelling, or doing a job half-way. Teach your children to say respectfully, "No, I'm not willing to do the dishes, but I will sweep the floors and clear the table." This creates an atmosphere of cooperation and support.
Let your children know
how valuable they are to you.
5. Give your child choices. We all like to feel powerful and influential and our children are no different. Let them make as many choices as they can that will give them control over what happens to them. For instance, "Do you want to wear your red pajamas or your blue ones?" or "Do you want to take your bath before I read you a story or after?"
6. Let your children know how valuable they are to you. The more they feel valuable to us, the less likely they are to misbehave. Ask their advice on buying clothes, or how to decorate your home. Have them teach you a game or a fun activity.
7. Use win-win negotiation to resolve conflict. Most of us were not taught the concept of win-win negotiation. We most likely experienced situations that were win-lose or lose-lose. In a power struggle the most effective negotiations are when both sides win and are happy with the end results. It can be challenging since you must listen intently to what the other person wants while staying committed to what you want. Ask your child, "I see how you can win and that's great, because I want you to win. How can I win, too?" When children see that you are just as interested in seeing them win as yourself, they are more than willing to help figure out ways that you both can win.
8. Brainstorm solutions to the struggle. The idea is to get wild and crazy and to never discount someone else's idea. Write all the suggestions down and then hand the list to your child first. She will go through them and cross off the ones that she doesn't like. Then you get the paper and the opportunity to cross off the ones you don't like. Usually there will be two or three suggestions left that the two of you can come to an agreement about. This is a wonderful problem-solving method and with enough practice, it can be done without writing anything down.
9. Give your child appropriate ways to be powerful. We all want to feel powerful and if we don't have opportunities to do it appropriately, we will create ways to feel powerful that are inappropriate--like power struggles or picking on siblings. In the middle of a battle with your child, stop and ask yourself, "How can I give my child more power in this particular situation?" It might be as simple as asking him for his help or giving him a particular job to do that he is totally in charge of.
10. Use signals. Sometimes when a parent and child are working on resolving recurring power struggles, it is helpful to have a signal that alerts both of them to this pattern of behavior. Use signals that you both have agreed upon and feel comfortable using. Remember the more power and control you give your child, the more likely he will be to cooperate. Signals that are funny are also a light way of reminding each other about your patterns.
11. Make learning fun and enjoyable. Many of us approach disciplining our children with a serious, no-fun-allowed attitude. But think about how much more you learn when you are enjoying yourself. For example, try singing "no" instead of speaking in your usual admonishing tone of voice. Or use a gibberish language to ask your child to pick up his socks from the living room floor. That's a lot better than getting tense and angry and having the power struggles escalate. Some people believe they don't have time to think of unique ways to teach their children or that they aren't creative enough to come up with ideas. Those are just self-limiting thoughts and you would be better served throwing them out of your brain. What is the real cost of handling the struggles in negative ways and what is the lesson that you are really teaching your children? A great skill for them to have as adults is to think of fun ways to handle difficult situations. You might be able to immediately win a power struggle by forcing your child to do something, but in the long run, you both lose.
12. GEMS. In a University of Iowa study, it was found that the average child gets 432 negative comments per day versus 32 positive comments. This is why it is so important to offer your child Genuine Encounter Moments (GEMS) to help them feel important, cared for and valuable. The more supported your child feels, the less she will want to engage you in power struggles to get a sense of importance. The investment of giving your full attention and curiosity to your child for a few minutes several times a day will pay big dividends by making your child feel special, unique and loved.
13. Use self-quieting. This is a method you or your child can do instead of reacting negatively to a situation. Take a break to get into a peaceful state of mind, to work through your emotions and find alternative solutions to the problem. It is a way to get calm instead of reacting in an angry or hurtful way. Try counting to ten or go to a special space you have created for yourself that is peaceful. Ask yourself the following questions: (1) What is the problem? (2) What is my part in the problem? (3) What is one thing I can do to improve the situation?
14. Understand that misbehavior is a form of communication. If we hold the belief that misbehaving children are "bad," then we get drawn into trying to fix the bad child and make them "good." That type of thinking sets up the power struggle system. Instead, understand that your misbehaving child is trying to communicate something to you and it is your job to "hear" that message. A more positive way to communicate to your child about their misbehavior is to ask them if their behavior is effective, are they getting the results they wanted. That way the judgment is taken out of the situation. You could say, "That doesn't look like it worked because it made you really mad. What else could you do?" or show curiosity about their behavior, "Honey, I'm curious, why did you do that?" You will probably get an honest answer and have a better understanding about what is going on with your child.
15. Don't major in the minors. The average American child receives approximately 13 minutes a day in actual communication with his parents. The parents spend 9 minutes of that time correcting, criticizing or arguing with their child. That only leaves 4 minutes with anything positive happening. So, carefully choose the major issues to work on with your child, don't hassle them with a lot of minor problems. Working on too many issues at once can be overwhelming.
16. Detach. Sometimes we create patterns of reactive behavior with our children. They do something we don't like, we react to it, they do something else, we react to that, and pretty soon, we are reacting to each other. The problems escalate and we begin to control or force our children to do things they don't want. We aren't solving the problem and our reactions are hurting our child and ourselves. The first step in detaching is to understand that reaction and control will not work. The next step is to self-quiet, get peaceful and balanced. Out of that peaceful calm, a solution or an intuitive thought will emerge that will effectively resolve the problem.
17. Take care of yourself. Have you ever noticed that when you are tired, overworked and overscheduled that you become irritable and controlling of your children? Probably the most important thing you can do for your children is to take care of yourself. To be effective and loving parents we need a lot of energy and encouragement. Make time for you whether it is a bubble bath, a workout at the gym, or meditation. Knowing your early warning signs of burnout is also helpful. It might be feeling overwhelmed, or your shoulders getting tight, or just a sense of being grumpy. These are symptoms of not taking enough time for you and if you don't take that time, you'll begin resenting the time others demand from you.
Everyone wants to feel powerful. Our children are not exempt from these feelings so the more we can do to give them appropriate ways to feel powerful, the less power STRUGGLES we will have with them. If a child feels valued, loved and respected, he will still create power struggles because he is human. But if parents consistently keep in mind why their child does this, the struggles can be effectively handled and many times avoided altogether.
Kathryn Kvols, a national speaker, is the author of the book, "Redirecting Children's Behavior" and the president of the International Network for Children and Families. She can be reached at 1-800-257-9002.
101 Things Parents Can Do to Help Children
by Barbara Hacker
1. Read about Montessori education and philosophy and how it applies to your child.
2. Purchase a copy of The Michael Olaf Catalog(s). These wonderful publications are a clear introduction to Montessori for parents as well as a source book of ideal toys, materials, books, etc. for the home. (http://www.michaelolaf.com)
3. Take the time to stand back and observe your child carefully and note the characteristics he/she is displaying.
4. Analyze your child's wardrobe and build a wardrobe aimed at freedom of movement, independence, and freedom from distraction.
5. Make sure your child gets sufficient sleep.
6. Make both going to bed and getting up a calm and pleasant ritual.
7. Teach grace and courtesy in the home. Model it. Use courtesy with your child and help your child to demonstrate it.
8. Refrain from physical punishment and learn ways of positive discipline.
9. Have a special shelf where your child's books are kept and replaced after careful use.
10. Make regular trips to the public library, and become familiar with the librarians and how the library works and enjoy books together. Borrow books and help your child learn the responsibility for caring for them and returning them.
11. Read together daily. With younger children stick to books with realistic themes.
12. See that your child gets to school on time.
13. Allow sufficient time for your child to dress himself/herself.
14. Allow your child to collaborate with food preparation and encourage your Extended Day child to take at least some responsibility for preparing his or her own lunch.
15. If possible allow your child a plot of land or at least a flower pot in which to experience growing things.
16. Take walks together at the child's pace, pausing to notice things and talk about them.
17. Help your child be in a calm and prepared mood to begin school rather than over-stimulated and carrying toys or food.
18. Eliminate or strictly limit TV watching and replace with activity oriented things which involve the child rather than his/her being a passive observer. When the child does watch TV, watch it with him/her and discuss what is being seen.
19. From the earliest age give your child the responsibility to pick up after himself/herself, i.e., return toys to place, put dirty clothes in laundry basket, clear dishes to appropriate place, clean off sink after use, etc. This necessitates preparing the environment so children know where things go.
20. Hug regularly but don't impose affection. Recognize the difference.
21. Assign regular household tasks that need to be done to maintain the household to your child as age appropriate. (Perhaps setting silverware and napkins on the table, sorting, recycling. dusting, watering plants, etc.)
22. Attend school parent education functions.
23. Arrange time for both parents to attend parent-teacher conferences. Speak together in preparation for the conference and write down questions to ask.
24. Talk to your child clearly without talking down. Communicate with respect and give the child the gift of language, new words and expressions.
25. When talking to your child, physically get on his/her level, be still, and make eye contact.
26. Sing! Voice quality does not matter. Sing together regularly. Build a repertoire of family favorites.
27. Refrain from over-structuring your child's time with formal classes and activities. Leave time to "just be," to play, explore, create.
28. Teach your child safety precautions. (Deal with matches, plugs, chemicals, stairs, the street, how to dial 911, etc.)
29. Teach your child his/her address, phone number, and parents' names.
30. Count. Utilize natural opportunities that arise.
31. Tell and re-tell family based stories. For example, "On the day you were born..."
32. Look at family pictures together. Help your child be aware of his/her extended family, names, and relationships.
33. Construct your child's biography, the story of his/her life. A notebook is ideal so that it can be added to each year. Sharing one's story can become a much loved ritual. It can be shared with the child's class at birthday time.
34. Assist your child to be aware of his/her feelings, to have vocabulary for emotions and be able to express them.
35. Play games together. Through much repetition children learn to take turns, to win and lose.
36. Together, do things to help others. For example, take food to an invalid neighbor, contribute blankets to a homeless shelter, give toys to those who have none, etc.
37. Speak the language of the virtues. Talk about patience, cooperativeness, courage, ingenuity, cheerfulness, helpfulness, kindness, etc. and point out those virtues when you see them demonstrated. (Virtues Project resource information available in the school office.)
38. Refrain from giving your child too much "stuff." If there is already too much, give some away or store and rotate.
39. Memorize poetry and teach it to your child and recite it together.
40. Put up a bird feeder. Let your child have responsibility for filling it. Together learn to be good watchers and learn about the birds you see.
41. Whenever you go somewhere with your child, prepare him/her for what is going to happen and what will be expected of him/her at the store, restaurant, doctor's office, etc.
42. Express appreciation to your child and others and help your child to do the same. Send thank you notes for gifts. Young children can dictate or send a picture. Older children can write their own. What is key is learning the importance of expressing appreciation.
43. Help your child to learn to like healthful foods. Never force a child to eat something he/she does not like, but also don't offer unlimited alternatives! Make trying new things fun. Talk about foods and how they look or describe the taste. Introduce the word "savor" and teach how to do it. Engage children in food preparation.
44. When food shopping, talk to your child about what you see -- from kumquats to lobsters. Talk about where food items come from. Talk about the people who help us by growing, picking, transporting, and displaying food.
45. Provide your child with appropriate sized furniture: his/her own table and chair to work at; perhaps a rocker in the living room to be with you; a bed that can easily be made by a child; a stool for climbing up to sink or counter.
46. While driving, point things out and discuss -- construction work, interesting buildings, vehicles, bridges, animals.
47. Teach the language of courtesy. Don't let your child interrupt. Teach how to wait after saying, "Excuse me, please."
48. Analyze any annoying behavior of your child and teach from the positive. For example: door slamming -- teach how to close a door; running in the house -- teach how to walk; runny nose -- teach how to use a tissue.
49. Spend quality time with people of different ages.
50. Teach your child about your religion and make them feel a part of it.
51. Help your child to have positive connections with people of diverse ethnicities, language, and beliefs.
52. Laugh a lot. Play with words. Tell jokes. Help your child to develop a sense of humor.
53. Share your profession or occupation with your child. Have him/her visit at work and have some appreciation of work done in the world.
54. See that your child learns to swim -- the younger the better.
55. Have a globe or atlas in the house, and whenever names of places come up locate them with the child.
56. Make sure your child has the tools he/she needs -- child size broom, mop, dust pan, whisk broom, duster, etc., to help maintain the cleanliness of the household.
57. Learn to say, "No," without anger, and with firmness and conviction. Not everything children want is appropriate.
58. Arrange environments and options so that you end up saying yes more than no.
59. Refrain from laughing at your child.
60. Alert children to upcoming events so they can mentally prepare, e.g., "In ten minutes, it will be time for bed."
61. Help children to maintain a calendar, becoming familiar with days and months, or counting down to special events. Talk about it regularly.
62. Get a pet and guide your child to take responsibility for its care.
63. Refrain from replacing everything that gets broken. Help children to learn the value of money, and, the consequences of actions.
64. Take a nighttime walk -- listen to sounds, observe the moon, smell the air.
65. Take a rain walk. Wear coats and boots to be protected, but then fully enjoy the rain.
66. Allow your Primary-aged child to use his/her whole body and mind for active doing. Save computers for the Elementary years and later when they become a useful tool of the conscious mind.
67. If you must travel without your child, leave notes behind for him/her to open each day you are gone.
68. Expose your child to all sorts of music.
69. Talk about art, visit statue gardens, and make short visits to museums and look at a couple of pictures. Make it meaningful and enjoyable. Don't overdue.
70. Help them learn to sort: the laundry, silverware, etc.
71. Help them become aware of sounds in words. Play games: what starts with "mmmm?" "What ends with 't'?"
72. Organize the child's things in appropriate containers and on low shelves.
73. Aid the child in absorbing a sense of beauty: expose him/her to flowers, woods, and natural materials, and avoid plastic.
74. Help your child start a collection of something interesting.
75. Talk about the colors (don't forget shades), textures, and shapes you see around you.
76. Provide art materials, paper, appropriate aprons, and mats to define the work space. Provide tools for cleaning up.
77. Evaluate each of your child's toys.
Does it help him/her learn something?
Does the child use it?
Does it "work," and are all pieces present?
Is it safe?
78. Refrain from doing for a child what he/she can do for himself/herself.
79. Provide opportunities for physical activity -- running, hopping, skipping, climbing. Teach them how. Go to a playground if necessary.
80. Teach children how to be still and make "silence." Do it together. Children love to be in a meditative space if given the opportunity.
81. Teach your child his/her birthday.
82. Read the notes that are sent home from school.
83. Alert the teacher to anything that may be affecting your child -- lack of sleep, exposure to a fight, moving, relative visiting in home, parent out of town, etc.
84. Provide a place to just dig. Allow your child to get totally dirty sometimes without inhibitions.
85. Refrain from offering material rewards or even excessive praise. Let the experience of accomplishment be its own reward.
86. Don't speak for your child to others. Give the space for the child to speak for himself/herself, and if he/she doesn't it's okay.
87. Apologize to your child when you've made a mistake.
88. Understand what Montessori meant by sensitive periods. Know when your child is in one and utilize it.
89. Learn to wait. Some things people want to give their children or do with them are more appropriate at a later age. Be patient, the optimal time will come. Stay focused on where they are right now.
90. Play ball together: moms and dads, boys and girls.
91. Tell them what you value in them. Let them hear you express what you value in others.
92. Always tell the truth.
93. Go to the beach and play in the sand.
94. Ride the bus; take a train -- at least once.
95. Watch a sunrise. Watch a sunset.
96. Share appropriate "news" from the newspaper: new dinosaur was discovered; a baby elephant born at the zoo; a child honored for bravery; the weather forecast.
97. Evaluate your child's hairstyle. Is it neat and not a distraction or is it always in the child's eyes, falling out of headbands, etc?
98. Let your child help you wash the car and learn the vocabulary of the parts of the car. With this and other tasks take time to focus on the process for the child more than the end product.
99. Talk about right, left, straight, turn, north, south, east, west, in a natural way so your child develops a sense of direction and the means to talk about it.
100. Place a small pitcher of water or juice on a low refrigerator shelf and a glass in a low place so your child can be independent in getting a drink.
101. If your child is attached to things like pacifiers, start a weaning process.
Enjoy life together!
Barabara Hacker is an Early Childhood Montessori Guide at the Post Oak School in Belleaire, Texas.
by Kathryn Kvols
What are limits?
Limits tell your family under what condition you are willing or unwilling to do something. They tell your family where you "draw the line." They tell them what you will or will not tolerate. Their purpose is to take care of you. Limits are not designed to control or manipulate someone else' behavior. Here are three examples:
Example 1. A mother was playing basketball with her two teenage sons. The boys were getting competitive and soon the game wasn't fun. Mother announced, "It is not fun for me when you two fight. When you are ready to make it fun again, come and get me. I'd love to play again."
"Children need you to set limits so that they can recognize and respect other people's limits"
I was holding hands roller-skating with my daughter. She said in a very demanding tone of voice, "Skate faster!" This wasn't the first time I had noticed that she was being demanding so I said, "I am unwilling to have you talk like that to me. It makes me feel like not cooperating with you and if you continue, I will skate by myself."
Example 3. A daughter asked her mother to take her to the video store and rent her a movie. Her daughter had already spent her allowance that week. Mom said, "I'd be willing to take you to the video store but, I am unwilling to rent you a movie." Limits give others important information about you to help them know what they can or cannot expect from you. They are about you. Not about criticizing someone else's behavior or about trying to make them act in a certain way.
Why do children need limits?
* Children need you to set limits so that they can recognize and respect other people's limits.
* Limits provide a sense of security. When children don't know your limits they feel lost in an abyss. They feel confused and sometimes literally bounce around trying to find some.
* Limits make children feel like we care about them. Children who are raised without limits often feel abandoned.
* Children need limits to learn how to deal with conflict. What happens when someone tells me I have over stepped his or her limits? *What happens when someone disrespects mine?
* Children need limits to help them define themselves. They help them clarify their own limits because they have seen your model.
* Limits help them to learn what is socially acceptable and what is not.
* Children need to learn that if they go past a certain point, there will be consequences. Some of them may be serious.
What issues need limits?
You may want to set limits about the use of your belongings, TV watching, bedtime, your time, the use of profanity, mealtime, chores, care and feeding of pets. This is not a conclusive list. Make a list of important issues for you.
How do we know when our limits are being violated?
The best clue to determine whether or not you limits are being violated is by being in touch with your feelings. If any of the following feelings sound familiar you know your limits are being dishonored. Or that you are not being clear about them. Anger, resentment, impositioned, smothered, taken advantage of, abused, like you are pulling more than your fair share of the weight, unappreciated, like you are being divided between two people you love, taken for granted, a child taxi cab driver, wondering what about me?
Why do we have a difficult time setting limits?
Our ability to set and follow through with limit setting will be largely determined by how you were parented as a child. If you were in any of the following situations, setting limits may be difficult for you.
* Not having any limits as a child, being unsupervised
* Being told messages like, "Don't make waves," "Children are to be seen and not heard" "You are being selfish."
* If you were told it wasn't "nice" to assert yourself
* If there was abuse in home either mental, physical, emotional, sexual, drug and alcohol or work.
* If there was someone in your family that you had to give up your needs for because they were sick or disabled.
* If self-sacrifice was modeled and expected of you.
* If intimidation was used to motivate you.
* Sometimes we don't set limits because we don't feel we deserve them.
* Or we feel guilty about our own actions such as, working too much or getting a divorce.
What we do instead of setting limits?
We often choose one of the following behaviors rather than setting limits because we are afraid of creating conflict. We are afraid the other person will get angry or leave us, or reject us. We may even feel that what we say or do will not make a difference anyway. Instead directly setting limits we sometimes indirectly handle these situations by:
* Denial (Acting or pretending as though it didn't happen)
* Ignore it and hope it'll go away
* Talk yourself out of how you are feeling (I shouldn't feel that way because ... )
* Making excuses for the other person's behavior (He only said that because he was tired.)
* Ruminating about the issue (Going over and over the event in your mind, trying to make sense of it.)
* Blame someone else
* Blame yourself (if I had only done ... he wouldn't act this way.)
* Getting even
* Hiding behind righteousness (I'm above having those feelings.)
* Pretending that you don't care
* Withholding your love or your communication
What can we expect when we start setting limits?
When you first start setting limits, you can expect that your child's behavior will get worse. They will test you. They will try everything in their power to get you to go back to the way you used to be. So, make sure your seat belt is fastened. You may be going for a ride!
Steps for setting limits
1. Honor your feelings. Remember feelings are neither right or wrong. They just are.
2. Get clear about what you want. What you are and are not willing to do.
3. Present the information to your family member using an "I" statement. For example, "I am unwilling to wash clothes that are not in the hamper." There should be no blame, shame, guilt, exaggerations or complaining. Do this step as soon as possible to prevent an unnecessary build up of resentment
4. Be ready to "stick to your guns." Be consistent and follow through.
Kathryn Kvols, a national speaker, is the author of the book, "Redirecting Children's Behavior" and the president of the International Network for Children and Families. She can be reached at 1-800-257-9002.
9 Things to Do Instead of Spanking
by Kathryn Kvols
Research confirms what many parents instinctively feel when they don't like to spank their children, but they dont know what else to do. The latest research from Dr. Murray Straus at the Family Research Laboratory affirms that spanking teaches children to use acts of aggression and violence to solve their problems. It only teaches and perpetuates more violence, the very thing that our society is so concerned about. This research further shows that children who have been spanked are more prone to low self-esteem, depression and accept lower paying jobs as adults. So, what do you do instead?
(1) Get Calm
First, if you feel angry and out of control and you want to spank or slap your child, leave the situation if you can. Calm down and get quiet. In that quiet time you will often find an alternative or solution to the problem. Sometimes parents lose it because they are under a lot of stress. Dinner is boiling over, the kids are fighting, the phone is ringing and your child drops the can of peas you lose it. If you cant leave the situation, then mentally step back and count to ten.
(2) Take Time for Yourself
Parents are more prone to use spanking when they haven't had any time to themselves and they feel depleted and hurried. So, it is important for parents to take some time for themselves to exercise, read, take a walk or pray.
(3) Be Kind but Firm.
Another frustrating situation where parents tend to spank is when your child hasn't listened to your repeated requests to behave. Finally, you spank to get your child to act appropriately. Another solution in these situations is to get down on your child level, make eye contact, touch him gently and tell him, in a short, kind but firm phrase, what it is you want him to do. For example, "I want you to play quietly."
(4) Give Choices
Giving your child a choice is an effective alternative to spanking. If she is playing with her food at the table, ask, "Would you like to stop playing with your food, or would you like to leave the table?" If the child continues to play with her food, you use kind but firm action by helping her down from the table. Then tell her that she can return to the table when she is ready to eat her food without playing in it.
(5) Use Logical Consequences
Consequences that are logically related to the behavior help teach children responsibility. For example, your child breaks a neighbors window and you punish him by spanking him. What does he learn about the situation? He may learn to never do that again, but he also learns that he needs to hide his mistakes, blame it on someone else, lie, or simply not get caught. He may decide that he is bad or he feels anger and revenge toward the parent who spanked him. When you spank a child, he may behave because he is afraid to get hit again. However, do you want your child to behave because he is afraid of you or because he respects you?
Compare that situation to a child who breaks a neighbors window and his parent says, "I see you've broken the window, what will you do to repair it?" using a kind, but firm tone of voice. The child decides to mow the neighbors lawn and wash his car several times to repay the cost of repairing the window. What does the child learn in this situation? That mistakes are an inevitable part of life and it isn't so important that he made the mistake, but that he take responsibility to repair the mistake. The focus is taken off the mistake and put on taking responsibility for repairing it. The child feels no anger or revenge toward his parent. And, most importantly, the child's self-esteem is not damaged.
(6) Do Make-ups
When children break agreements, parents tend to want to punish them. An alternative is to have your child do a make-up. A make-up is something that people do to put themselves back into integrity with the person that they broke the agreement with. For example, several boys were at a sleep-over at Larrys home. His father requested that they not leave the house after midnight. The boys broke their agreement. The father was angry and punished them by telling them that they couldn't have a sleep-over for two months. Larry and his friends became angry, sullen and uncooperative as the result of the punishment. The father realized what he had done. He apologized for punishing them and told them how betrayed he felt and discussed with the boys the importance of keeping their word. He then asked the boys for a make-up. They decided to cut the lumber that the father needed to have cut in the backyard. The boys became excited and enthusiastic about the project and later kept their word on future sleep-overs.
(7) Withdraw from Conflict
Children who sass parents may provoke a parent to slap. In this situation, it is best if you withdraw from the situation immediately. Do not leave the room in anger or in defeat. Calmly say, "Ill be in the next room when you want to talk more respectfully."
(8) Use Kind but Firm Action
Instead of smacking an infants hand or bottom when she touches something she isn't supposed to, kindly but firmly pick her up and take her to the next room. Offer her a toy or another item to distract her and say, "You can try again later." You may have to take her out several times if she is persistent.
(9) Inform Children Ahead of Time
A child's temper tantrum can easily set a parent off. Children frequently throw tantrums when they feel uninformed or powerless in a situation. Instead of telling your child he has to leave his friends house at a moments notice, tell him that you will be leaving in five minutes. This allows the child to complete what he was in the process of doing.
Aggression is an obvious form of perpetuating violence in society. A more subtle form of this is spanking because it takes its toll on a child's self-esteem, dampening his enthusiasm and causing him to be rebellious and uncooperative. Consider for a moment the vision of a family that knows how to win cooperation and creatively solve their problems without using force or violence. The alternatives are limitless and the results are calmer parents who feel more supported.
Kathryn Kvols, a national speaker, is the author of the book, "Redirecting Children's Behavior" and the president of the International Network for Children and Families. She can be reached at 1-800-257-9002.
The Importance of Montessori Education
A Message from Dr. Riane Eisler
Author of Tomorrow’s Children & The Chalice and the Blade
Photo of Dr. Riane Eisler
Much of my life has been devoted to an effort to understand and come to grips with the great questions that I raise in my book, Tomorrow’s Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century:
• What is the meaning of our journey on this Earth?
• What about us connects us with, and distinguishes us from, the rest of nature?
• Why are some people violent and cruel? Why do some of us feel the need to hurt and kill? Is it simply human nature? Is that why violence seems to be infecting so many children? If so, why are some people caring and peaceful? What pushes us in one direction or another?
• What are our ethical and moral responsibilities as human beings? What impels us to wonder about such things?
Since time immemorial, people have sought answers to these kinds of questions through religion, philosophy, and the empirical method of investigation we call science.
In my earlier book, The Chalice and the Blade, I attempted to show through specific evidence what Montessori educators know through their experience with children: that people are not inherently greedy, violent, or competitive, and that we are capable of living together in relative peace. I attempted to document that human beings actually did live in partnership and relative peace for tens of thousands of years.
As did Maria Montessori, I also came to the inevitable conclusion that in order to create a peaceful world, we must lay the foundation in our children, beginning when they are very young.
Unfortunately, in many schools, children often feel powerless to change the course of their lives, much less the course of the world around them. Many become immersed in the materialism and self-centeredness that permeates mass culture, futilely seeking meaning and belonging in the latest fad or commercial offering.
Montessori schools around the world offer an alternative way to raise and educate young people that I call Partnership Education. It is designed not only to help them to better navigate through our difficult times, but also to help them create a future that is oriented more toward partnership, rather than the familiar form of interpersonal relationships that I call the dominator model.
In the dominator model, relationships tend to be based on patterns of domination and submission. Most of us have observed, and perhaps experienced, the pain, fear, and tension of people who use coercion, jockey for control, or who try to manipulate and cajole when they are unable to express their real feelings. We can find this going on every day in the relationships within some families, classrooms, workplaces, and among nations or fanatical groups of ideologues.
Thankfully, most of us have also experienced another way of being, one where we feel safe and seen for who we truly are, where our essential humanity and that of others shines through, perhaps only for a little while, lifting our hearts and spirits, enfolding us in a sense that the world can after all be right, that we are valued and valuable. Relationships like these are based on mutual respect, nonviolence, and a desire to work things out in a reasonable and equitable manner if at all possible.
Although we may not use these terms (partnership and dominator), they do accurately describe the two extremes of the ways that people tend to organize their relationships, from the level of our families to our businesses, and even relationships among nations. While in real life things are rarely black or white, but rather shades of gray, we are all familiar with these two models from our own lives.
The partnership and dominator models not only describe individual relationships. They also describe systems of belief and social structures that either nurture and support – or inhibit and undermine – equitable, democratic, nonviolent, and caring relations. Once we understand the partnership and dominator cultural, social, and personal configurations, we can more effectively develop human institutions that foster a less violent, more equitable, democratic, and sustainable future.
Montessori schools are founded on the partnership model and encourage children to develop the ability to work together, think independently, and be empathetic and kind. As studies have shown, students in Montessori programs both tend to excel academically, they have exceptionally high levels of self-esteem and social and emotional maturity.
Teaching Children To Recognize Human Possibilities
Most schools give young people a false picture of what it means to be human. We tell them to be good and kind, nonviolent and giving. But on all sides they see and hear stories that portray us as bad, cruel, violent, and selfish. In the mass media, the focus of both action entertainment and news is on hurting and killing. Situation comedies make insensitivity, rudeness, and cruelty seem funny. Cartoons present violence as exciting, funny, and without real consequences.
This holds up a distorted mirror of themselves to our youth. And rather than correcting this false image of what it means to be human, some aspects of our education reinforce it.
In many schools, the history curriculum still emphasizes battles and wars. Western classics such as Homer’s Iliad and Shakespeare’s kings trilogy romanticize ‘heroic violence.’ Scientific stories tell children that we are the puppets of ‘selfish genes’ ruthlessly competing on the evolutionary stage.
Montessori schools deliver a different message, even from early childhood. Here children are seen as complete human beings, and are encouraged to discover their own talents and voices. They learn at their own pace, and are challenged to focus their attention and energy on self-mastery, rather than besting their classmates. The goal is still to produce very well educated people, but the means by which this is achieved are much more empowering and respectful.
One of the things that I admire about Montessori is that it offers children a much more balanced and positive view of history. Rather than glorify violence and conflict, Montessori schools help children to look at societies from the perspective of daily life, with an equal emphasis on the roles of women, who were, after all, anything but invisible and irrelevant, as well as the roles men played. Montessori students study the culture, cuisine, art, music, and great stories of past civilizations. Rather than pretend that bad things did not happen, they teach children to examine the evidence of celebration and kindness that did exist, along with the stories of not only warriors and kings, but of the people who made great contributions to social justice, scientific understanding, the arts and great literature, and the search for peace.
Montessori schools also bring to light civilizations, past and present day, that have often been ignored, where social life flourished on a basis of partnership and celebration of life. One of my favorite examples of this is the study of Minoan Crete, a glorious civilization which was ultimately destroyed not by invasion and conquest, but by a series of earthquakes and natural disasters.
It is interesting to consider why schools have continued to emphasize the themes of wars and domination in the history curriculum for so long. Not that they should be ignored, but why these experiences are often glorified seems illogical, if we all want peace on Earth.
But think about it from this perspective. If human beings are inherently violent, bad, and selfish, we have to be strictly controlled. This is why stories that claim this is ‘human nature’ are central to an education for a dominator or control system of relationships.
They are, however, inappropriate if young people are to learn to live in a democratic, peaceful, equitable, and Earth-honoring way: the partnership way urgently needed if today’s and tomorrow’s children are to have a better future – perhaps even a future at all.
Children are impoverished when their vision of the future comes out of a dominator world-view. This world-view is our heritage from earlier societies which were structured around rankings of people who considered themselves ‘superiors’ over their common and everyday ‘inferiors.’ In these societies, violence and abuse were required to maintain rigid rankings of domination – whether man over woman, man over man, nation over nation, race over race, or religion over religion.
Over the last several centuries we have seen many organized challenges to traditions of domination. These challenges are part of the movement toward a more equitable and caring partnership social structure worldwide. But at the same time, much in our education still reinforces what I call dominator socialization: a way of viewing the world and living in it that constricts young people’s perceptions of what is possible and even moral, keeping many of them locked into a perennial rebellion against what is without a real sense of what can be.
Montessori education is one of the few educational approaches that has been so highly successful in giving children both a sound grasp of core knowledge, and the big picture of human history and human possibilities.
The connections between my own ideas and Maria Montessori run deep. In my book, Tomorrow’s Children, I quote from Montessori’s works, and use the great themes in Montessori education, to illustrate many of the reforms that I have urged to transform the schools of today into the schools that we need for tomorrow’s children.
Montessori education is about to celebrate its first one hundred years, and has proven to be not only highly effective, but more relevant and important today than ever before. With the challenges that we face as human beings – social, environmental, and international – I am not aware of any other educational system that provides such a clearly defined overarching plan for preparing teachers to implement partnership education, along with the curriculum needed to support it.
I earnestly hope that as parents, you can appreciate the value of the education that you have chosen for them by sending them to a Montessori school. There they will absorb critical life skills and values that will serve them well down through the years.
Dr. Maria Montessori's Legacy
“It was January 6th (1907), when the first school was opened for small, normal children of between three and six years of age. I cannot say on my methods, for these did not yet exist. But in the school that was opened my method was shortly to come into being. On that day there was nothing to be seen but about fifty wretchedly poor children, rough and shy in manner, many of them crying, almost all the children of illiterate parents, who had been entrusted to my care. They were tearful, frightened children, so shy that it was impossible to get them to speak; their faces were expressionless, with bewildered eyes as though they had never seen anything in their lives.
It would be interesting to know the original circumstances that enabled these children to undergo such an extraordinary transformation, or rather, that brought about the appearance of new children, whose souls revealed themselves with such radiance as to spread a light through the whole world.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
Within the next year, news of Dr. Montessori’s work stirred interest around the world. Literally hundreds of people began to travel to Rome to see for themselves the school in which young children — children of the deepest poverty and ignorance — taught themselves how to read, write, do mathematics, and run their own schoolhouse with little or no adult supervision.
In her book about educational reform, The Schoolhome (Harvard University Press, 1992), Dr. Judith Rowland Martin writes that she was not very impressed when she first encountered Montessori education.
“I understood that Montessori schools placed children in multi-age classrooms and used manipulative learning materials, which may have been unusual during Dr. Montessori’s lifetime but has long since been incorporated into most early childhood and many elementary classrooms thanks to the Open Classroom movement of the 1960s.”
However, Dr. Rowland Martin’s understanding of the value of the Montessori approach was profoundly shaken when she came across a statement in one of the very first books written about Dr. Montessori’s work in the United States (A Montessori Mother, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1913). “The phrase, Casa dei Bambini, is being translated everywhere nowadays by English-speaking people as The Children’s House; however, its correct meaning, both linguistic and spiritual is The Children’s Home” (or Children’s Community, ed.). Canfield Fisher insisted upon this rendering, which she felt offered a much more accurate and complete insight into the character of the Montessori classroom.
Dr. Rowland Martin reflected: “This misreading of the Italian word casa as house has effectively cut off two generations of American educators from a new and intriguing vision of what school can and should be. If you translate the word casa as house, your attention will be drawn to the child-sized furniture, the Montessori materials, the exercises in Practical Life, the principal of self-education. But if you translate the word casa as home, you will begin to perceive a moral and social dimension that transforms your understanding of Montessori’s idea of a school. Once I realized that Dr. Montessori thought of school on the model of a home, the elements of her system took on a different configuration. Where before I had seen small children manipulating concrete learning materials, I now recognized a domestic scene with its own special form of social life and education.”
Rowland Martin realized that what Montessori had established was not simply a classroom in which children would be taught to read and write. The Casa dei Bambini represented a social and emotional environment, where children would be respected and empowered as individual human beings. It was an extended family, a community in which children truly belonged and really took care of one another. Montessori described this sense of belonging as “valorization of the personality,” a strong sense of self-respect and personal identity. Within this safe and empowering community, the young child learned at the deepest possible level to believe in herself. In an atmosphere of independence within community and personal empowerment, she never lost her sense of curiosity and innate ability to learn and discover. Confident in herself, she opened up to the world around her and found that mistakes were not something to be feared but rather the endless opportunity to learn from experience. This special relationship that is so common among Montessori children and their teachers and schools is unfortunately still very different from the experience most children have in school.
The Discovery of the Child
Montessori was absorbed with what she later called “The Discovery of the Child.” She did not see the core of her work as a method or curriculum, per se, as is commonly thought, but as a dramatic discovery that children around the world share common, or universal, characteristics and tendencies, even though each child is a unique human being, who deserves the same respect we would give an adult.
In response to the pleas of so many earnest admirers, Dr. Montessori arranged to give her first training course for teachers in 1909. Expecting only Italian educators, she was amazed to find that her first course, and all of the courses offered since, attracted teachers from all over the world who had heard of her discoveries and were moved to make great sacrifices to learn from her personally.
Many people have the impression that Montessori is a centrally controlled business, from which schools can buy a franchise and learn to replicate the model consistently. Nothing could be further from the truth. The name Montessori was never copyrighted or controlled by Montessori, and much to her dismay, many people attempted to profit from the familiarity and cachet of the “Montessori” name.
The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), the organization established by Montessori herself to oversee the integrity of her work, openly expresses its concern over the uncontrolled dissemination and loose interpretation of Montessori’s ideas on their website:
“Since the beginning, Montessori pedagogy has been appropriated, interpreted, misinterpreted, exploited, propagated, torn to shreds and the shreds magnified into systems, reconstituted, used, abused and disabused, gone into oblivion and undergone multiple renaissances.”
As teachers from many countries carried her ideas back to their homelands, national organizations were established, many of which evolved independently of a continued close association with Montessori and her closest circle of colleagues. The United States is a perfect example.
Montessori made two extended trips to America, the first in 1913 and the second in 1915. The reception that she received must have been gratifying. Montessori was greeted by attentive crowds wherever she spoke. Her first book about the work in Rome, The Montessori Method, was translated into English by her American sponsor, S. S. McClure, publisher of the enormously popular McClure’s Magazine. She was strongly encouraged to allow her work to be translated by the president and faculty of Harvard University, to whom she dedicated the first American edition.
Rather than simply translate the original title of Montessori’s book, which would have roughly translated as “Scientific Education in the Children’s Houses (Communities) of Rome,” Mr. McClure chose to give the book a title that was much more succinct, but quite different in perspective: The Montessori Method. The term has stuck for the last ninety-plus years in the United States and abroad. During her visit, the first formal Montessori society, the Montessori Educational Association, was founded by Alexander Graham Bell, among many other nationally prominent supporters.
When Montessori returned to America in 1915, she arranged to have an entire class work in a special “schoolhouse” made of glass at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. It attracted worldwide attention and publicity, as the children went about their tasks under the scrutiny of thousands of visitors from around the world.
Dr. Montessori also conducted a teacher training course in California and addressed the annual conventions of both the National Education Association and the International Kindergarten Union. That year a bill was introduced into the United States Congress to appropriate funds to establish several teacher education colleges across America to prepare educators to introduce the Montessori approach to American public schools.
The one condition was that Montessori make her home in the United States, an offer that she graciously declined, remarking that her findings could never belong to just one country but must be introduced around the world. Ultimately, her mother’s untimely death and the intensified disruption to normal travel caused by World War I, led Dr. Montessori to leave America for Europe. In addition, Professor William Heard Kilpatrick published a scathing critique of her ideas entitled, “The Montessori System Examined.” In it, he inaccurately accused her of being rigid and outdated in her psychological theories. Kilpatrick, a colleague of the highly popular American educational reformer, Dr. John Dewey of the University of Chicago, had a significant effect, leading many initially enthusiastic supporters back to the Progressive Education Movement led by Dewey.
Progressive Education, in turn, declined as America moved away from a child-centered perspective to a basic skills focus, during the hard years of the Depression and Second World War. Montessori was outraged at what she felt were false assertions made about her ideas by Dewey, Kilpatrick, and others. Whatever the true cause, over the next fifteen years, Montessori’s influence in America slowly ebbed from its peak in 1920, when there were more than one thousand Montessori schools in America to the period from 1930 to the late 1950s, when only a handful of Montessori schools quietly worked without openly using her name.
In 1960, Nancy McCormick Rambusch, an American mother who had spent two years in Europe studying Montessori education, was given the support of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) to organize a branch of the Association in the United States. The group that she founded was the American Montessori Society (AMS), which originally operated under the auspices of the AMI central office in Holland.
A teacher preparation program began at the Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut. Thanks to the untiring efforts of McCormick Rambusch, the American media became fascinated with the Montessori approach all over again. Determined to develop a specifically American interpretation of Montessori’s work, differences over practice and policy eventually led the two organizations (AMS and AMI) to separate. Montessori’s Later Years in Europe and India After Dr. Montessori left the United States, she eventually moved to Barcelona, Spain, where a liberal and enlightened provincial government was setting out the ideas that eventually blossomed into the Republic of Spain before the Spanish Civil War. She established an international training center and research institute in Barcelona in 1916.
In 1919, Montessori began a series of teacher-training courses in London. During the next three decades, she and her colleagues refined the Elementary Montessori program and began to open classes for older children across Europe. That same year, she was invited to give a series of lectures on the issue of education for the young adult (secondary). These talks, later published as the Erdkinder Essays, reflected a strong theoretical basis for her thoughts about the reform of secondary education; however, she was not to develop them herself during her lifetime. Others did pursue this path, and the first secondary schools following the Montessori approach opened in the Netherlands in the 1930s. Today, after many years of fits and starts, Montessori Secondary programs have begun to be established around the world.
In 1929, Dr. Montessori was invited by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to introduce her ideas throughout the Italian national school system. Having left Italy after her mother’s death to find a more liberal-thinking home abroad, Mussolini’s invitation was irresistible to the Italian-born, self-declared citizen of the world. Montessori arrived back in Rome with much fanfare in January of 1930 and re-established her teacher-training center. It is fascinating to consider what each of the two, liberal Maria Montessori and fascist Benito Mussolini, were thinking. He certainly sought to add Montessori’s worldwide acclaim to the glories of the modern Italy. We assume that she believed that she could quietly do her work without getting involved in politics. Ultimately, the two clashed publicly when Mussolini demanded that all students in Italy join the Young Fascists and wear a special student uniform. In 1934, she was forced into exile once again, returning to Barcelona, Spain.
The years leading to World War II were tumultuous for Maria Montessori, who was then sixty-six years old. In 1936, as the Spanish Civil War broke out across Spain, she escaped the fighting on a British cruiser sent to rescue British nationals. She traveled to the Netherlands, where she opened a new Montessori teacher education center and lab school. As war approached, many urged her to leave Europe, and in 1938 she accepted an invitation to conduct a series of teacher training courses in India. When India entered World War II as part of the British Empire, Montessori and her son, Mario, were interned as “enemy aliens.” She was, however, allowed to continue her work and over the next few years trained more than ten thousand teachers in India and Sri Lanka.
It was during this period that she wrote several of her most important works, including: The Absorbent Mind; Education and Peace; and To Educate the Human Potential. Having spent years educating teachers to grasp the “big picture” of the interdependency of all life on earth, she reflected on the global conflict and humankind’s ultimate place within the universe, distilling them into her Cosmic Curriculum: The Lessons in Science, History, and Human Culture that has offered generations of Montessori students a sense of wonder and inspiration. Returning to Europe after the end of the war, during her final years, Montessori became an even more passionate advocate of Peace Education. Maria Montessori died in 1952 at her home in the Netherlands. In her last years, she was honored with many awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950, and 1951.
Montessori was a brilliant student of child development, and the approach that has evolved out of her research has stood the test for nearly one hundred years in Montessori schools around the world. During her lifetime, Dr. Montessori was acknowledged as one of the world’s leading educators. Mainstream education, however, moved on, adapting only those elements of Montessori’s work that fit into existing theories and methods. Ironically, the Montessori approach is not designed to be implemented as a series of piecemeal reforms. It requires a complete restructuring of the school and the teacher’s role. Today there is a growing consensus among many psychologists and developmental educators that Montessori’s ideas were decades ahead of their time. Only recently, as our understanding of child development has grown, have we rediscovered how clear and sensible her insight was. As the movement gains support and begins to spread into the American public school sector, one can readily say that the “Montessori Way” is a remarkably modern approach.
Montessori: The Missing Voice in the Education Reform Debate
Over a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered through scientific observations of children that they are not empty vessels to be filled -- they are intrinsically motivated doers. She saw that providing a hands-on learning environment that valued choice, concentration, collaboration, community, curiosity, and real-world application produced lifelong learners who viewed "work" as something interesting and fulfilling instead of drudgery to be avoided. Now, research in psychology and neuroscience continually validates Dr. Montessori's conclusions about children and learning, and Montessori schools are flourishing -- not just preschools but, increasingly, elementary, middle and secondary schools. So as the education reform debate thunders on, with the many sides agreeing on little beyond the fact that our schools as they are currently designed are failing our children, I can't help but wonder: Where is the voice of the Montessori movement in the American school reform conversation?