I recently had the opportunity to be on an Alumni panel for my former Montessori training center, the Montessori Institute of San Diego. As MISD graduates we were asked to speak about our varied experiences with the Montessori training and life after the training… In effect, why Montessori?
The one takeaway that I returned to for prospective students time and time again was that Montessori is an amazing educational philosophy and practice, but most importantly is a way of life. You can’t be “Montessori” just with children in the classroom and not extend the philosophy to all other facets of your life.
The Assistant to Infancy (birth to 3 years) and Primary trainings (3-6 years) were truly life changing experiences for me. Learning about child development and the true capabilities of children was just a starting point in the journey of early childhood education. The real gift in both trainings was being allowed to see the world from a child’s perspective, as well as be a child again. Being a panelist reminded me of how thankful I am that I was a Montessori child and found the training (or the training found me) over seven years ago.
Feeling all this rejuvenated love, I wanted to share some aspects of Montessori that I adore. Each of these aspects deserves its own post, so think of this as a spread of my favorite Montessori flavors. My hope is that this post helps you understand the Montessori philosophy a little bit more whether your child attends a Montessori school, you are interested in the training or you would like to incorporate some of these aspects in your family life.
Independence & Self-Discipline
Over the years, I have been told on more than one occasion, “You’re a Montessori teacher? That’s the school where kids get to do whatever they want, right?” No my friend, that is not the case. Montessori is all about this beautiful balance of freedom within limits & boundaries. Children are given the freedom to do work that supports their physical, emotional and intellectual development. They are seen as being whole and capable.
In short, children have the freedom to chose work that they have already received a presentation in, but they cannot do whatever they want. There isn’t a bell that rings or a teacher that says it’s time to move onto the next activity, just as that child is starting to really enjoy the material and concentrate. If children need some quiet time, then the book corner will be their safe space. If they want to connect with nature or are craving sensorial experiences, they can tend to the garden. At the same time, kids aren’t allowed to run amok and disturb other children’s work.
Punishment, reward and external motivation are replaced with logical natural consequences and intrinsic motivation. It’s a fantastic way to foster children’s self-discipline which will then serve them for the rest of their lives. And yes, it can be messy and not always picture perfect, but it’s real life.
Concrete Materials & Experiential Learning
I will never forget the feeling I had sitting in the training center while receiving the first math presentations from our professor. It was like I was coming home to something I had always known (which makes sense since I’d been given these lessons as a child). The funny thing is, I remember wishing I had been taught math in this way and feeling so frustrated with the traditional system.
I moved schools in the 3rd grade and apparently my love of math and Montessori materials was replaced with memories of rote memorization and downright dread. I was nine years old and I remember loving the social interactions at my new school, but not enjoying the manner in which math was taught. I had learned addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all with the golden bead material; real, beautiful and tangible beads that represent the decimal system (a good intro to math here).
Math doesn’t have to be something we memorize. We can learn through materials that we can hold and explore. This doesn’t just apply to math. That’s a big difference I see in a Montessori education. Children learn through experiences. Montessori replaces passive learning with active learning.
Intentional Action, Mindfulness & Observation
One of my favorite aspects of Montessori and the teacher training is the actual “transformation” of a Montessori Guide. This may sound a little woo woo to you. What do you mean transformation? Working with, modeling to and guiding children has to be one of the most trying tasks and biggest responsibilities in the universe. It’s serious work. You have to be ready to put your ego in check, connect with your past demons and get creative.
A big part of the training is to start on this journey and that is done through a lot of observation, mindfulness and intentional action. It’s up to each individual to decide how seriously they want to take this personal work.
I can tell you from my experience that this was one of my greatest takeaways from the teacher training and it is a reason that a Montessori educator has the potential to be an amazing resource for a child and a family. It’s this transformation that supports the teacher (or guide as they are called in Montessori) in becoming the bridge between a child and a whole world of experiences and knowledge. It’s about viewing ourselves as that bridge and not the reason the child learns. We just help each child get there.
A Montessori classroom is honestly an amazing way to have one’s faith restored in human beings. I remember watching a young 2 year old rub the back of a fellow classmate and repeat, “You sad? It’s ok. Mama come back.” She said the words over and over with such empathy, kindness and concern for her classmate and friend. Then it hit me that she was repeating what my fellow Guide in the classroom did with the children.
It was a powerful example of how children are intrinsically kind and caring beings and also absorb what is modeled to them. A mixed age classroom that is guided into being a community is powerful stuff for young children.
They learn to be accountable for their actions and words, to speak kindly, clearly and respectfully, to know that all feelings are okay but all behaviors are not and to see the good in others. That’s just the start of some pretty magical stuff.
Follow & Trust in the Child
In the training we are taught to follow the child and trust in the child. We come to understand that children are unique individuals and work at their own pace. We replace worry, anxiety and fear with confidence & trust because children are capable and often just need a little help and guidance. In today’s world, children could use a lot more of this from us adults. It means that we take a step back and let them explore. We let them try, get frustrated and figure it out, without hovering over them. We give them the space to breathe and to be.
These are just some aspects that made me fall in love with the Montessori philosophy and the teacher training. These aspects also serve me in my work with families, as well as in my family’s life every single day.
Ultimately, Montessori is a life philosophy. And let me tell you, if you let it, it will positively change your family’s life forever.