I was introduced to the Montessori system of education four years ago, when I started the search for that unique preschool that I could entrust with my precious 3 year old. Over the years I have found many things to admire about the system and its approach. Here is my insight into the system based purely on my experience as a mother of two Montessori-educated kids.
Academically, the curriculum is constructed to introduce children to various aspects of the world they live in. The main subjects taught at Primary level (ages 3-6 years) include the following:
Practical life: This prepares children for life and helps them become independent. It may include lessons like putting on shoes and coats independently, or cleaning a work surface after artwork. Each activity also prepares them for future learning – for e.g. transferring objects from one bowl to another using tweezers develops their pincer group essential for writing.
Sensorial: These are exercises in the form of activities that can be felt, handled and manipulated. The practice of these improves the environmental awareness of children and better attunes them to perceive and interact with their surroundings.
Language: Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori, observed that the most sensitive period for language acquisition is from birth to six years old. The language curriculum includes a number of activities such as reading stories, discussions at circle time, classification of objects and more.
Math: Montessori materials teach math concepts using concrete materials. Many math activities are referred to as “games” and played in groups, making it fun and paving the way for socialization. Math lessons start with concrete materials gradually leading to the abstract. For e.g. a child will start learning addition by using marbles or some other toy and progress gradually to writing numbers and adding them on paper. This method works amazingly well – I found that my son understood the concepts of multiplication and division quite clearly by the time he entered first grade.
The curriculum also includes Geography and Cultural studies, a foreign language or a second language as well as Music and Movement to develop coordination, balance and enjoyment of rhythm and music.
Quite separate from curriculum and academics, here are some features of Montessori education, that I particularly applaud:
· Self-directed learning. The focus of Montessori is to bring out the best in each child through self-discovery, i.e. the child is primarily self-taught at his/her own pace. She can repeat a lesson as many times as she likes – a valuable concept in early childhood, because the young ones love repetition. Allowing a child to choose the lesson he wants to learn puts him in charge and ensures he’s completely interested in learning. It fosters a wonderful feeling of independence and self-confidence.
· The journey is more important. A lesson that my kids have absorbed with more ease than I have, is that the process is more valuable than the end result. This is such a key life lesson and it took me years to internalize it! My child learns it every day in the classroom, which is all about building one’s knowledge in an orderly step-by-step process, growing it in a natural progression.
· Mixed age classrooms. The Montessori classroom is a mixed-age classroom – a Primary class has kids between the ages of 3 to 6 years in a collaborative learning experience. What better simulation of a real-life work environment! Older kids practice leadership skills, helping younger ones with the lessons they learned a year or two ago and strengthen their own learning in the process. As younger ones grow up, they have a chance to give back by helping the newer students.
· A Child-sized world. Another unique feature of Montessori is the classroom environment. It is truly a world scaled down to your child – all furniture is child-sized, all learning materials are placed at the eye-level of the child, organized and arranged beautifully, all hooks and shelves at the height of the child. Most importantly, what struck me was the complete absence of clutter – less is truly more here and there is a conscious effort to not overwhelm or overstimulate the children.
· Nature-oriented learning. The world of the Montessori child is one of order and beauty, in tune with the natural world. Most Montessori materials, furniture, tools and utensils are made of natural materials and there is an emphasis on re-use and recycling. Their curriculum includes lessons on respect, peace, gardening, cooking, and experimentation – all ingredients for a harmonious and joyful life.
Even if my children don’t end up on the roster of famous Montessori alumni (Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Julia Child and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to name a few), I’m pretty confident they have a solid foundation with a joyful approach to living and learning!
Do you have any experience with Montessori or other systems of education that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you and so would our readers – please use the comments section!
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