The latest in Montessori — mainstream

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Why Montessori is for all children… 0

My son is currently 4, and is lucky enough to be attending a Montessori School here in Australia. It is a bit of a drive from our house, and with another baby on the way, it was a drive my husband and I were worried wouldn’t be viable next year.

I have been looking at different Education systems for the past three years for my work, however only this year have I had to look at it from personal circumstances with my own child. 

In Australia we have the Public School System, Catholic Education and Independent Schools, with Montessori schools falling under the latter.

I have visited schools in all of these categories, looked at our local options and been blown away at how little has changed in the 25 years since I started at school. Behaviour systems that endorse public shaming, very little concrete learning, and everything becoming digitalised. Interactive white boards, and ipads being spruiked like it’s the best thing in the world. In both situations I’ve left with my heart and head hurting at the thought of all these children missing out on the Montessori method of education. 

When researching Montessori at the start of your journey, you may read things like ‘Montessori is not for boys, ASD children can’t do Montessori, Montessori is too structured, Montessori is too free, and so on and so forth’. 

After three years of running classes, observing schools, managing centres and talking to parents, I strongly believe Montessori is for EVERY child. 

The prepared environment, the individual lessons and materials with isolated concepts, the way the Educators speaks to students, the structure of the work cycle; everything that happens in a Montessori school, happens because it’s proven to work. Science shows this is how children learn, this is what makes them happy.

And because this is how CHILDREN learn, whether they are auditory, visual or tactile learners, the equipment speaks to all of them and draws them into want to learn, inviting them to play.

As Maria Montessori stated ‘Play is the work of the Child’. Children play in a montessori environment, it is just not what society typically pictures play to look like. When we hear ‘play’ as adults, we envision children running around loudly, toys everywhere, dirt and no structure. This is a version of play, however so is the calmness and focus in a Montessori classroom. It is a version of play that children crave. Their developmental need for a sense of order, for repetition and freedom in choices. Their need for boundaries and for uninterrupted time.  All of this is in a Montessori setting, and for over a century, all over the world, it’s WORKED.

Boisterous boys who could never sit still, or created chaos wherever they went can sit for almost an hour straight building a tower out of ten pink cubes. Children who couldn’t focus on anything for more than a minute, sit there for hours, day after day, pouring water from cup to cup, spooning beans from bowl to bowl with a calmness and beaming face like you’ve never seen before.

I see children bouncing out of the car, running to class, bursting with excitement to start their day. I see children not wanting to leave the classroom at the end of the day because they want to keep playing. I hear children helping younger children, whilst two others are sitting at the Peace table sorting out their conflict better than many adults I know can.

Until you have really observed, really seen Montessori in action, I promise you, you won’t believe me. I also promise you, that the moment you see your child’s face light up and look towards you with pride and such happiness after completing work from one of the shelves, you won’t be able to look at Education the same way again.

I know globally, it is extremely hard for services to keep up with the demand for Montessori, which makes access to a school difficult, starting a centre difficult with a lack of trained teachers available. I know that in some countries it is extremely expensive to attend a Montessori School and then there are some centres that are just not Montessori.

As a parent, I feel the pain and I know how hard it is to make decisions about a future we cannot predict, amidst the busyness of our own lives that are over-scheduled, hectic and overwhelming. 

But as the world changes, and technology shifts the way we function, the way we work and live; as environmental impacts come to light, and the world seeks new solutions, there has never been a more important time for creative, innovative, motivated citizens than right now.

Dr Maria Montessori designed her method of education to ensure students would become contributing members of society. The only education method that provides this holistic opportunity is Montessori, and the world needs it more than ever.

Nothing is more important than education. With education, we can change the world. But the world has moved on, and the system remains the same. 

Its time for change; it’s time for an education revolution.

Why Montessori is ruining the Australian child care industry... 2

All over the country, people in the ECEC sector are screaming and pulling their hair out asking "Why montessori?". There is conversations about how montessori is ruining intakes in mainstream centres and services, how every parent seems to be ceasing care to go to a montessori service.

Montessori is single handedly ruining Australia's ECEC sector... well ruining society's 'norm'.

Parents are choosing montessori services because the philosophy aligns with how they parent, with how they believe education should be for their child, because the method prepares them for a world we don't know about yet. Parents want what the normal sector can't give.

EYLF is heavily 'montessori aligned', but it's actually not the same. Just because you align to the EYLF does not mean you are basically the same.

Montessori is more than just child led learning and nature. Montessori is highly detailed and takes hours of preparation, months of in depth training to really understand how a classroom in a montessori service actually works. The amazing detail behind everything that is put into that environment.

It is not just about jumping on Pinterest, seeing something that has Montessori placed on it, making it up, putting it on your shelf and saying its montessori.

As an Educator in a montessori service, you are continually asking Why? What is the purpose? Where is the control of error? What is the isolated concept?

From the size and type of jug used in a pouring activity to the type of crayon chosen for an art tray. Every little detail is questioned and fine tuned so that it meets the complete need of the child.

Those children are observed with such a skill that only ongoing development and training can provide, and every tray and job on the shelves is created for the children in that class, at that time.

EYLF is a step in the right direction, but it's not montessori.

Three years ago I charted and predicted the montessori movement in Australia, and it has continually met every expectation I have had. I was just a parent with a twelve month old child, who saw what parents wanted, and noone in the ECEC sector was providing, fast enough.

The reason Montessori will ruin the ECEC sector as we know it, is because it's not just about the first six years of life, it's about life. It's a way of life, in and outside of the four walls we traditionally know as a classroom.

The movement was here before Prince George enrolled. The amount of Montessori Long Day Care centres with waitlists, the amount of new centres opening, and the huge Family Day Care movement proves that supply is coming for that demand and those who do not take the parents of today's children seriously will be left behind.

Out of all of the 'alternative' forms of education, Montessori has the strength to become mainstream due to its commonly recognised areas of Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language and Culture. Every parent gets to a point in their child's life where they can go with the grain of society, or go with their gut and choose what their heart believes is right. This difficult decision is easier when you investigate montessori and see the words 'maths' and 'language' as these two areas are drilled into us by society as being extremely important.

This is why Montessori, rather than Reggio or Steiner will become the philosophy parents choose. It is more comfortable to be able to see those areas in the curriculum, even though the holistic approach is the key.

Just wait and see what the sector looks like in 24 months... 

Montessori is the future of Education, and Maria Montessori saw that over a century ago...

The Power of “Down Time” 0

The idea of a child “day dreaming” has become a negative concept that is frowned upon in the mainstream education system. My Dad and I had a chat recently about how schooling has changed since he was a child. Dad pointed out that when he was young his schooling was very traditional. He remembered that the children were forced to sit up and pay attention all day. However, Dad also said; “but, at the end of the day we would go home, have afternoon tea and then play in the yard until dinner”. This seems to be the difference. When Dad was a child, children were given plenty of time to learn how to “use their own brain”. Playing in the yard, is not only playing, it is an opportunity for the child to experience complete freedom. When children are given down time without adults we give them the opportunity to think for themselves, be creative, imagine, examine, explore, take risks and problem solve. If we do not allow children to learn how to think for themselves and be comfortable with their own thoughts, how can we expect them to grow up to be adults who are critical and creative thinkers?

In my experience, many children who find Mainstream education so difficult and present as “children with behaviour problems” may feel stressed to the max because they have been in environments where everything is programmed for them. For example, a little boy I worked with attended before school care each morning from 6am-9am, then school from 9-3, followed by after school care from 3-6pm. This was his schedule five days a week. The school schedule that demanded his constant high energy and attention was all too much and he often ran away from class (quite tellingly he went to sit on the oval by himself most times. He was just seeking some down time). 

Of course our society has changed so that more parents are required to return to work so that they can provide for their families. This is not something to be frowned on, each family has different needs, however perhaps it is time we looked at how we are teaching the young people in our schools? Have we adapted our teaching techniques to provide these children with a little more space and independence considering the fast paced environment they are living in? 

Montessori classrooms provide something that many children do not get to experience any more in todays fast paced world; the opportunity to experience peace and quiet. In Montessori classrooms children are given the time to pause and reflect and to self-monitor their emotions. They are given the space to think, to reinvigorate and refocus so that they remain happy and energised throughout the whole day. Often you will see children in Montessori classes completing seemingly “menial tasks” like sweeping, polishing or arranging flowers. However, when we observe these children over a period of time we see that these simple tasks are the child’s way of reenergising themselves to tackle the next challenging work. Space and time for contemplation and reflection is a unique feature of Montessori education.  

Already in our modern society, adults are finding it harder and harder to be self-reflective and happy following their own thoughts and interests. Sadly, our first instinct when we find ourselves with nothing to do is to grab our i-phone, i-pod or macbook or turn on the television or radio. Let us remember that the greatest thinkers in our history were philosophers. These people spent a lot of time contemplating, thinking and refining their ideas in peace and quiet. They took the time (and were given the time) to make use of their brain! 

Lets foster this ability in our children and provide them Montessori classrooms that foster deep concentration and most importantly provide them with opportunities to relax and reflect in between all that hard work. 

Answers to a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) 0

Where did the Montessori curriculum come from?

Dr Maria Montessori started the Montessori curriculum in her native, Italy. She was born in a small town called Chiaravalle in 1870 but later, in 1882, moved to Rome with her parents! After her schooling she went to medical school and was the first women ever granted a degree in Medicine in Italy. When she started working as a physician first she worked with the mentally deficient and this is where many of her findings and theories come from.

Montessori opened her first “Children’s House” in a poor area of Rome in 1907. Most of the children that attended the first Casa de Bambini were poor and some were also mentally deficient. Montessori used her finding from her work as a physician and created the materials based on scientific facts and through her observations of the children working with materials her curriculum was developed! Most of the equipment used in a Montessori classroom today has been tested and worked on by Dr Maria herself.

Montessori spread around Europe first and in 1915 she was brought her curriculum to America. She established the Montessori movement in India during the war and left India in 1946. She continued to work on her philosophy and studying theorists and philosophers until her death in 1952 in Holland at the age of 82.

Why are Montessori teachers called guides?

In a Montessori classroom the adults in the class are not teachers! They do not teach anything! They are guides or directresses. They do not teach the children anything because the children are capable of self-learning. The adults guide the children through the curriculum at the child’s pace and show the child how to use the material correctly.

Does Montessori curriculum benefit all children, including children with special need and extremely gifted children?

Yes! Children in the Montessori curriculum work at their own pace and to their own strengths and advantages! Montessori guides or directresses guide the children through the materials according to their own abilities. A child learns self-praise through the independence and self-confidence or completing tasks at their own pace and therefore neither feel like nor compare their achievements to the other children in their class.

What age do children have to be to attend a Montessori classroom? 

The Montessori Curriculum starts at birth and goes right up until 18 years old.

The class structure is a multi age grouping system. From 0-3 Years, 3-6 Years, 6-9 Years, 9-12 Years, 12-15 Years and 15-18 Years! At I AM Montessori our Family Day Care Educators run Montessori Family Day Care from 0-3 Years and our classes at Yeronga are from 0-3 Years, 0-6 Years and Drop Off Classes from 3-6 Years.

Why are classes multi aged?

Montessori’s observations in the early 20th century in Casa de Bambini recognised that children work better in a multi aged classrooms. She found that the older children take pride in setting good examples for the younger children, they like to show younger children how to use materials correctly and they act as guide themselves. The younger children then in turn learn from the older children and strive to be independent like older children.

Is Montessori too structured or strict for my child?

This is a common misconception about Montessori. The Montessori environment is actually a lot freer than other classrooms. The children experience ‘freedom within limits’ in our environment. The children are free to choose any activity that they have been guided through by the directress. They are free to choose activities that they have mastered as well as well as activities that they are still in the process of mastering!

How can I, as a parent, ensure that my child is learning the necessary skills to be ready for school or ready to move onto the next level of their education?

Although the children choose their own activities in the environment every Montessori Directress observes the children and their progress at their own rate. We work with the children at their own pace and we are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, using their strengths to build up and improve their weaknesses. Through the curriculum in 0-6 years the children learn through the practical life area, sensorial area (working through the senses), mathematics, language and culture. Everything they learn is in a concrete way and therefore the children learn it easier than trying to learn the abstract thought for each activity and lesson.

Mainstream Schooling and how it can benefit from montessori 0

Mainstream schooling has changed considerably over the past decade. Teachers are working harder than ever to try to help their students understand more and more content. The national curriculum that has been rolled out around Australia is packed with content and moves very quickly. Primary school teachers are left to highlight key concepts and skills and then find time to teach these thoroughly to their students. To briefly describe the situation, early childhood teachers are now given less time to focus on the basics and, at the same time, are expected to help their children achieve increasingly higher literacy and numeracy results. To make it more stressful for teachers, poor student results are often shown in the media to be a result of “poor teaching and poor teachers” (instead of questioning the curriculum and re-examining the process of delivering this curriculum).  

I believe children in mainstream schools would benefit incredibly  by having access to the full Montessori philosophy. Where this is not possible, I believe children would still benefit from being able to use the carefully designed Montessori materials. 

Teachers are required to follow the National Curriculum. In Queensland, many schools use the “Curriculum to Classroom” material. These documents are lesson and unit plans based on the National Curriculum that outline what teachers should be teaching each day. The documents are complete to the point of detailing which questions teachers should ask their class and videos they should show the children. Often teachers feel they have to use more worksheets in the classroom so that they have written “evidence” to support the “data” that many teachers are asked to produce at the end of each unit plan. Perhaps early childhood teachers need to become more creative in how they record evidence. Videos of children using concrete materials perhaps is a place to start? 

Many early childhood teachers still try to implement as many concrete learning experiences as they can for their students. Concrete materials are those that children can hold, manipulate and touch; real objects to help develop real concepts. Many teachers re-make these at home, in their own time each year or each term dependent on the needs of the children in their classes. I would have loved to have known about the Montessori maths and language materials earlier in my teaching career, as these would have benefited my students so much!  The control of error in each material promotes self-correcting and problem solving. The carefully built and designed materials are mathematically accurate and reinforce the base ten system. Children enjoy the sensorial, tactile experience of touching sandpaper, sand, chalk, wood and other interesting materials. 

Note from Rebecca: There is no reason why Montessori streams cannot be implemented into State Schools if the Principal and School Community want it. This direction has been given by the Head of Government in Queensland. If you would love to see your local school implement Montessori, contact your Principal or even us at I AM Montessori if you would like some help!

Why Montessori Maths just makes sense! 0

I would like to share with you a story that I remember from when I was teaching a year one class in a Brisbane primary school. I walked in to relieve a teacher who had some planning time.  

The lesson I was to complete teaching was a lesson on weight. Students were apparently learning the concepts of “heavy” and “light”. 

I walked over to a little boy who had been unengaged and asked him if I could help him. He looked at me with a very serious expression and said, “No you can’t. He asked me to circle the heaviest one but they are both the same”. As he said this he pointed to two drawings on a page. One was a drawing of an elephant and the other a drawing of a mouse. The boy continued, “They are the same on the page, it’s the same page and its the same pencil. That is not heavier”. 

As soon as this six year old had spoken I realised a few things; firstly, how clever he was, secondly, how correct he was and thirdly, what a stupid and abstract activity this was to give children who were meant to be learning a sensorial concept like weight!

Mathematics should begin as a concrete and physical experience. It is only when we have experienced with out senses concepts like heavy, light, full, empty, long, large, small, big etc, that we are able to remember the essence of these experiences and then solve abstract problems. 

Asking a six year old to decide if an elephant is heavier than a mouse based upon a drawing on a piece of paper is assuming a lot of information about this child. To get this seemingly simple question right, the child would have to; have already hefted heavy and light objects and remember the “feeling” and meaning of each of those words, know what an elephant is, know the true size of an elephant, know what a mouse is and how large it would be in real life and know how to “circle” a picture. Without knowing it, the teacher had bombarded the children with a poor abstract example, that actually presented many other challenges that the adult had not even thought of. 

The Montessori Mathematics curriculum is unique because it still acknowledges the fact that true understanding comes from initial concrete experiences. Children get to feel the number nine when they hold nine spindles in their hands. They get to feel how much longer and bigger the number ten feels as they carry the longest red rod across the room. Children get to experience tall when they build the pink tower. They get to feel and see the number 1000 when they carry a cube with one thousand beads or lay 1000 beads out in a long snake on the floor. The Montessori Maths curriculum is carefully designed to help children develop a true understanding of number and quantity, not just the ability to count by rote or recognise number symbols. 

Maria Montessori recognised that children learn through their senses. It is only when we give children the ability to have these sensorial number experiences that they will really internalise the mathematics they are learning. The greater their foundational understanding of mathematics is, the greater they will be able to abstract from this later and understand harder mathematical concepts.