April 6, 2009

Maria Montessori

So, it turns out that just about everybody has an opinion about how children learn. And how they think they learn affects how they think children should be taught. I guess that makes sense. I have a few myself. I think my children have a few ideas of their own as well. Joe's ideas appear to involve not wearing pants. Sigh.

There are a lot of educational philosophies based on one, or a combination of theories by different psychologists and educators. I thought I would start with a fun one: Maria Montessori. Montessori has always fascinated me, although, I have to confess, I do not think I have the discipline to follow it. Plus, I really like just playing and getting messy. I am pretty sure children do, too. At least mine sure seem to.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) started her school in Italy in 1907. I think of it as the "little adult" method. Yes, this is an extreme over simplification. Since I do not want to blog about just one method for pages and pages, I will summarize a bit, and maybe I will go into some things more later. In a Montessori classroom the teacher directs the activities which are divided into four big areas: daily-living skills, sensorial, academic, and cultural and artistic abilities. The goal of these activities is to build skills and to build the "inner construction of discipline, organization, independence, and self-esteem through concentration on a precise and complete cycle of activity" (Lillard 1972, p.71) Basically, the student chooses from several teacher selected activities that are self-correcting, completes the task, puts it back, selects another one. Obviously a little different depending on the catagory. For a different description of the Montessori method see Wondertime's description here.

I used to be fascinated my the Montessori method. However, it was not my favorite method. More of a "there are some very useful techniques and ideas that could easily be included" method. Don't get me wrong, the children in the classrooms I have visited seemed thrilled. I am just a big fan of opportunities to explore. Here are some things that I take away from Montessori:
  1. They can do it. Montessori preschools have child size everything so that children can do everything that they need to. Wash their hands, get and pour themselves a drink, get a toy, put away a toy. Yes, pour the drink. From a child-sized pitcher to a child-sized glass. When I student taught preschool we were encouraged to have the children do as much as they could to put on their own winter gear, for the same reasons I do now, I found that a challenging prospect. It is so much easier to throw a child into the gear myself. However, three children later, I am starting to catch on. It takes a ton of time to get three children ready to go. And just like those preschoolers, my children would prefer I do it as well. However, my same son who insists he is incapable of putting pants on at my request, often shows up wearing different pants when he decided the pants in his drawer were so much cooler than the ones he had on. Bottom line: they can do it. I may have to help with some things, but we can get there. And maybe we start a policy of they try it first. This is not only helpful for me, it is helpful for them. To succeed in a task is pretty thrilling. Just ask my husband how I feel when the kitchen is clean at any given point in the day. :)
  2. Do not be afraid to set higher standards. One of the things that fascinates me, is the children are happy. They are doing peaceful activities and they are happy. Not only that, they get out one project, complete it, put it away and find another. This is not like life at my house. Only in my wildest dreams. But I am working to accomplish my dreams. Maybe not that high, but all children are capable of a lot. And maybe when I spend all day seeing the shortcomings (aka sin) it is hard for me to remember that, especially when I miss one child's success because I am dealing with another child's sin, or poop. As a mommy, I am continually working to up the standards. I just occasionally need a little reminder that they can do so much more.
  3. There is a sequence in learning. Sounds obvious, right? Well, sometimes I forget. Why is Joe always wearing his underpants backwards? It could be becuase he likes to be able to see Buzz Lightyear, which he clearly cannot do if Buzz is on his butt, or it could be becuase mommy never taught him how to tell the front from the back. Given the number of times all of his clothing ends up backwards, there is a good chance I neglected this skill. We taught getting them on, but I forgot the last part-front and back. This is a poor example, but often I find myself getting frustrated trying to teach something, and realize I forgot a step. I need to back up and start from the beginning. As if they know nothing about folding laundry, much less how to fold a napkin correctly, because they probably do not. I need to teach how to flatten and fold before I can teach how to fold in half once, and then another time and then once more. Take a deep breath and back up.
  4. Did I mention they can do it? I think this is one of my favorites. I think I freaked my grandfather out when I let my 18 month son carry glasses to the dishwasher, but he so very much wanted to help, and I reminded him to be careful, and he was only to hand them to the person (his daddy) loading the dishwasher. With the reminder to be very careful, he did a great job!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your thoughts on different educational methods! I've discovered a few Montesorri blogs and have enjoyed the fun activity ideas I've gleaned from them.
Somehow your blog got deleted from my list of RSS feeds, so I've been missing your posts. But I'm back to reading them now!