I’m going to assume that your elementary education was similar to mine. Every August you pretended to dread going back to school but you got excited about having a new lunch box or a new bookbag and some new clothes. By October the thrill was gone! School, you realized, was anything but fun with recess being the only reason for going.
The rest of the school year was spent sitting in an uncomfortable chair reading a boring book and hoping against hope you didn’t get called on to read because actually you’ve been looking out the window and have no idea where the class is in the text. Once in a while you knew an answer and waved your hand madly to be called on – but the teacher never called on you when you were ready only when you had been looking out the window!!
Montessori is a whole different world for your child! In a Montessori classroom children are not expected to wave their hands they are expected to use their hands: to touch, to manipulate, and to learn! From their youngest days children handle materials that have been carefully designed to isolate concepts and provide a roadmap to learning. By pouring, sorting, matching, and manipulating real objects they learn and, most importantly, they remember what they have learned.
The rest of the world has changed since we were in school and yes, traditional classrooms are using hands on materials more than they did when we were there but the classroom is still entirely teacher directed with the teacher being the one to assign and provide activities.
“Isn’t the teacher the one who knows what a child needs to learn?” you ask very reasonably. The truth is that we now realize that no one really knows what facts children will need to know in the next 20 or 30 years as technology continues to change society. We do know that children will need to know HOW to learn and how to FIND information. They will need to be able to COMMUNICATE effectively and build NETWORKS among their peers. They will need CONFIDENCE in their own abilities and DRIVE to keep searching for the answers to questions that haven’t been asked yet. We know that these kinds of skills can’t be learned from a book.
One of my favorite “lessons” from a Montessori curriculum comes from a study of the “Basic Needs of People” game. The children begin, with hands-on materials, to understand that all people have three basic needs – food, clothing and shelter. They study history from this viewpoint and discover how, through the ages, various groups of people have met these needs.
Then something truly profound happens: the children discover that once basic needs are met ALL people turn their attention to other areas. They build beautiful buildings, they write incredible literature, they compose magnificent music, they invent machines to make life more pleasant, they explore ideas and seek cures for diseases, and they struggle with issues and seek ways to improve life for all people. I never learned that in school – I learned it as a Montessori teacher, but it is a lesson that can’t be forgotten.
A child who understands that his or her place in life is to join this incredible process of seeking solutions and contributing his or her talents to society is incredibly well prepared to face the future! Once a child understands this idea he or she also understands why it IS important to master math, language, science, history and all of the other subjects and such children work insatiably to learn more.
A Montessori classroom is an environment for learning that touches the child in a much more profound way than the classrooms that you and I grew up in. Scientists define intelligence as an ability to use tools. They are excited when they discover animals who seem to intentionally use sticks or rocks to accomplish a task. Using the hands to explore and to learn is what separates humans from less intelligent creatures. The hand is truly a pathway to the brain. Montessori children use their hands to learn and to explore not just to show what they have memorized!