When raising children there is much to consider, not the least of these considerations are decisions regarding your child's education. These decisions start early and they can be overwhelming. What age to begin? Public school, private school, or home school? A traditional education model, or maybe something a bit more unconventional?
The good news; there are many worthy educational philosophies and options for you to consider. The better news; you know your child better than anyone, which makes you well-equipped to make such choices.
Is your child an inquisitive and active learner? Does your child learn best through hands-on, concrete experiences and materials? Do you want to foster a sense of independence within your child? If so, perhaps the Montessori Method is right for your family. But what's the difference between a traditional teacher and a Montessori teacher?
What Is the Montessori Method?
The Montessori Method is an educational philosophy developed by Italian doctor and educator Maria Montessori around the turn of the twentieth century. It is a child-centered approach to education, holding the view that children are eager and capable learners, especially when provided with the appropriate materials and opportunities. Dr. Montessori believed that education should prepare a child for all aspects of life. This preparation is achieved through a variety of methods and experiences, including following the lead of the child with regard to educational interests and timelines, mixed age peer groupings, and intentional preparation, presentation and use of specific materials.
What Makes a Montessori Teacher Different from a Traditional Teacher?
One of the key components to the Montessori Method are the educators. Fully accredited Montessori teachers receive specialized training to fulfill the role of teacher as Maria Montessori envisioned. What is the difference between the role of a Montessori teacher and that of a traditional teacher?
1. Observer First, Educator Second
Envision a typical classroom experience; most teacher observation is limited to intermittent glances to ensure that students are keeping to their own work. Very little time is spent watching the student to gain awareness of their interests and their skill level. It is the role of the Montessori teacher to first observe the child and then plan around what they have observed. The preparation and organization of the environment and the lessons is heavily dependent on teacher observation. Through observation, the teacher is able to glean important information about a student. A teacher observes everything from skill level, to personal interests, to attention spans. It is also the role of the Montessori teacher to keep detailed records of observations on each student in many areas. These records could be checklists, continuums, and even quick, anecdotal notes. This information is then utilized to help guide the student down a very personalized path of knowledge and discovery.
In a traditional classroom the teacher takes on the role of lecturer and purveyor of all information. Knowledge is doled out to students as the teacher sees fit. The Montessori teacher observes, and intervenes less and less as the learning progresses. This method of instruction not only serves to educate in an effective manner, but also equips the student with a sense of creativity and empowerment.
2. Keeper of the Environment
Traditional classrooms are often packed full of outdated and unorganized curricula and materials. Funds may be in short supply, or allocated towards other expenses. Even if there are adequate supplies, it is rarely the aim of educators to present materials in an appealing matter. Firstly, they are not trained to do so. Because of this lack of training, they may not fully understand the importance of an orderly and appealing environment full of relevant materials. Secondly, there is little time to focus on this task when faced with all the other pressures of the classroom. Hands on materials may be pushed toward the background to concentrate on text books and digital materials.
It was the vision of Dr. Montessori to create educational materials perfectly suited to the needs of developing children. All Montessori materials are thoughtfully designed to meet the following objectives:
Control of Error: Materials are designed to enable a student to check his own work. If an error has been made, the materials make evident to the student what the error might be, and how to correct the mistake. This allows the student to, again, guide his own learning, while the teacher continues to act as an observer rather than a “corrector”.
An engaging snake puzzle teaches the learner to put the letters together in alphabetical order. If the learner puts the letters in the wrong order, the puzzle pieces will not fit. Once the learner determines the correct order, the snake puzzle is completed successfully.
Sensory Engagement: A learning experience is most beneficial when it engages a learner on all levels. There is a strong connection between the senses and learning. The more a material allows for sensory interaction, the more engaged a student will be. These higher levels of engagement lead to a more successful learning experience. Montessori materials allow for this engagement by providing opportunities to see, hear, and touch.
Varied and Diverse: Montessori environments are often compromised of materials designed to expose students to a variety of colors and textures. Wood, ceramic, and fabric, as well as natural materials, such as plants and twigs, are commonly found in Montessori environments. Students are encouraged to interact with durable materials, such as metal, as well as more fragile materials, such as glass. Learning the appropriate handling of materials helps to instill respect, responsibility, and value of the environment.
Practical and Familiar: Many Montessori materials are designed to grow as the student grows. For instance, Math Beads used to teach early counting skills in preschool will later be used to group numbers as a student learns to count by fives or tens. This practical use of materials allows for a sense of familiarity which promotes confidence and comfort when learning new concepts.
Not only are the actual materials of importance, but also how they are accessed and organized within the environment. Materials are typically arranged in an aesthetically appealing manner to promote a sense of peace and organization. All materials are easily accessible, and can be utilized as seen fit by the student throughout the learning process.
The Montessori-inspired Geo Rubber Band Board
Materials are truly the core of the Montessori Method. Montessori materials are time tested and intended to ignite a child's internal yearning for knowledge. Through the materials, children develop a love of learning.
3. Adaptor and Modifier
It is not uncommon for a traditional classroom teacher to plan lessons nine months in advance, often before even meeting the students. It is more important to stick to timelines and manuals than to follow the lead of the child, even if it is at the expense of a quality educational experience. Lesson plans are completed and reviewed weeks prior to delivery, making it difficult to modify based on the needs of the students in the moment.
It is the role of the Montessori educator to continuously observe the student, and provide flexibility and choice based on those observations. Rather than stick to staunch, highly regulated plans, a Montessori teacher views students as trusted and skilled individuals who are capable of making informed decisions regarding their own learning. It is okay if the plan for the day, or the week, or the month, changes.
Perhaps the teacher has planned to spend the afternoon observing and exploring leaf structures of different plants. If the teacher finds that the students are more interested in watering the plants, that path is followed. The teacher may guide a discussion on how and why we water plants, or encourage students to create watering systems. Because it is student led, the lesson is far more meaningful and interesting. If the students choose to explore leaf structures in the future, they will be encouraged to do so.
The Montessori teacher bends to meet the needs of the students, rather than the student bending to meet the needs of the teacher. This student-directed approach promotes independence and builds self-esteem.
4. Coordinator of Developmental Levels
All children learn at different rates and in different manners. It is precisely this sentiment that is at the forefront of the Montessori Method.
A traditional classroom setting groups students by age rather than developmental range. As an example, all children turning eight within a twelve-month period are grouped within the same class. Little consideration is made for where a child may fall developmentally. It would not be uncommon for a five-year-old and a seven-year-old to be on the same developmental level. A traditional teacher is rarely given the opportunity to account for such discrepancies in development. They are simply given a roster of students at the beginning of the school year and instructed to teach all students, all lessons in the same manner.
A Montessori teacher has the ability to observe and determine the most appropriate student groupings based on developmental levels, needs and interests. This could result in a five-year-old being grouped within the same setting as a seven-year-old. This might best meet the developmental needs of both students, as well as provide valuable social experiences, including opportunities for cooperation and leadership roles. The Montessori method encourages students to define and take in different roles throughout a learning experience. One child may be leading an activity, while another child in the same group offers varied solutions, while yet another records observations and findings. All of the roles should be child-determined and fluctuating. The students learn to function as a community rather than a classroom.
5. Intrinsic Motivator
A traditional teacher is charged with evaluating students and passing out grades based on performance. It is either the hope of a high mark or the threat of a poor grade that motivates a student to succeed. After a student's educational career is over, they are thrust into the real world, where there are no longer external motivators, such as letter grades, to push an individual to perform. All motivation must now come from the inside. It can be difficult to find internal motivation if it has never been an expectation in the past.
A Montessori teacher begins preparing students for this reality from the start by nurturing behavior that is driven by internal rewards. The desire to gain a new skill, work collaboratively with others, or perform at a higher level than peers can all be powerful intrinsic motivators. Even the materials utilized within the Montessori Method can be motivators. A student may feel a strong sense of accomplishment and pride as they memorize, and correctly recall, different colored pawns on a memory chess game.
The Montessori teacher, again, utilizes observation to determine what internal motivators might be most effective for individual students. The teacher then designs activities and experiences to help develop those specific motivators. It is the goal for the student to carry these intrinsic motivators throughout adulthood.
6. Activities Director
It was the observation of Dr. Montessori that movement enhances learning. It is the role of the Montessori teacher to prepare the environment in a way most conducive to movement. Whereas a traditional classroom might contain assigned seating at desks with limited movement, the students in a Montessori classroom are encouraged to move about. Flexible seating options, such as rugs and soft chairs are typically found within the Montessori classroom. There is no need for a student to ask permission to move. Again, a student is trusted to make decisions about where and when they move and work. Students make important discoveries about the environment around them by moving through it.
The Montessori methods closely links movement to learning. If a child is verbally learning about colors, it is beneficial to allow the student to kinesthetically explore color cards and tablets while to help experience the different hues. Exploring cognitive concepts through movement helps to solidly knowledge, as well as engage and motivate the learner.
Montessori material, Movement, Motivation and More
There are many components to the Montessori Method. It is a complex network of practices and materials, meticulously designed to reach each individual child at specific developmental levels in the most effective of manners. Though it is thoughtfully engineered, it is still a practical and accessible method for any child at any level. Highly engaging experiences and materials allow for exciting and valuable learning opportunities.
An alternative to the traditional education model, the Montessori Method replaces rigid agendas with fluid timelines, outdated grade levels with innovative peer groupings, and text books with interactive materials. At the true heart of the method are the skilled Montessori educators, trained to seamlessly incorporate all components, while fulfilling the roles of attentive observer, mild motivator, and gentle guide.