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Learning the Montessori Way

by Samantha Naughton and Misfa Farook

SPONSORED BY REDWOOD MONTESSORI NURSERY

The years between birth and age six are the most important part of a child’s development and form the basis of their character and personality. It is during these years that children learn empathy, morality, and decision-making skills, as well as how to express their thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

Children need to be given the right foundation and environment to instil these values and develop. They need to be allowed the freedom to explore and make choices throughout their days. The Montessori method does this by taking children’s education outside the classroom. It influences the way they interact with others and allows them to have more freedom at home. It teaches them to care for themselves, their environment, and others. In short, it teaches them how to be active participants in their learning and everyday environment. Montessori teaches a child how to discover the world by giving them the freedom to choose their path. And during that process, the role of the adults involved is to guide, not hinder.

Freedom in Montessori Settings

A Montessori classroom is a carefully planned and prepared environment. Everything is at the child’s level and therefore, easily accessible to them. It caters to each child’s personal interests using concrete materials that are presented individually or in small groups. Once the teacher presents the material to the child, the child has the opportunity to explore how to use it purposefully. Each material has a built-in control of error, allowing the child to self-correct without the assistance of an adult. When a child shows an interest in something, the teacher acts as a guide and does not hinder the process by over facilitating. The teacher is a directress who provides further extensions of materials and information so that the child can absorb the experience as much as possible.

Allowing the child to do for themselves what an adult would often do for them is also essential. Enter a Montessori pre-primary room, and you will see three-year-olds sweeping the floor with child-sized brooms. You will even spot them washing the dishes at sinks just their height or folding washcloths that are the right size for their hands. The pride you see in these children who can “do it themselves” without asking for help from an adult is incredible.

Additionally, as young children are not meant to sit for long periods, the Montessori classroom is equipped to allow them to move around and explore freely. Forcing a child to sit for extended periods hinders their creativity because it leaves them frustrated and takes away the joy of learning that they naturally have.

Conversely, giving children responsibility towards their learning instils inner discipline from an early age. Once a child is engrossed in an activity, adults do not interrupt them and allow them as much time as needed. These strategies help further develop children’s concentration and independence as well as teach them how to self-regulate their physical and emotional behaviours.

Socialisation and Emotional Development

During the early years, sometimes there is too much focus on whether a child knows numbers and letter sounds, or can hold a pencil or write. This can cause us to forget the importance of their social and emotional development. But in the Montessori philosophy, children are encouraged to express ideas and thoughts independently and think analytically. They are also given the support they need to gain confidence when speaking in a group and develop listening skills, respect for peers, concentration, and problem-solving skills. Without nurturing these abilities first, a future focus on academics will not be as beneficial for the child.

The Montessori Child and Teacher

The Montessori approach encourages socialising and learning with other students, providing what is called “freedom within limits”. So, how is this achieved? While children are free to explore and learn from a variety of activities, they are given parameters within which they can explore. Grace and courtesy are fostered in each child, and they are all encouraged to respect one another. Children learn to use “please” and “thank you” as they learn etiquette and how to socialise with others.

Montessori children are able to identify what they need and successfully communicate that information. The teacher knows and respects each child as an individual and not just another preschooler and, as a result, gains knowledge of their interests. For teachers to teach on an individual level, they must observe, mentor, and guide the child towards reaching their potential. Each child learns differently and at a different pace. Hence, Montessori’s recognition of sensitive periods in children’s development and teachers’ daily observations are both integral to the child’s learning and progress.

Teachers are also referred to as “directresses” because the Montessori philosophy recognises them as collaborative members of each child’s learning process. By taking this non-traditional role, teachers make room for students to manage their own classroom experience.

The philosophy also revolves around encouraging children not to be discouraged by mistakes, but rather to be galvanised into correcting them on their own, with gentle guidance from their directresses. It’s essential to communicate to children that mistakes do happen and that they can represent learning experiences. Teachers model desired behaviours by leading by example and often roleplaying. They also know that learning from mistakes can help them improve the classroom experience for children.

Moreover, when a child is enthusiastic about something, they are not nagged, nudged, or otherwise pressured to learn more about it because they don’t need to be. After all, creativity is the engine of innovation. So, Montessori teachers, based on sharp observation and daily record-keeping, maintain specialised, individual teaching plans and goals for each child in the classroom. These plans help move the children towards new academic, social, and developmental milestones. Montessori teachers won’t force progress. Instead, they use each child’s curiosity and innate, boundless creativity as the fuel to propel them beyond those milestones.

The Outdoors

The outdoor environment also has a significant impact on learning. Montessori children are encouraged to care for the environment through planting, watering flowers, washing windows, and taking care of the outdoors. They also engage in sensory experiences such as sand or water play, painting, and messy play.

These experiences create a space where children feel comfortable, safe, secure, and able to express themselves freely without judgement.

During the challenging recent months, children have spent more time at home than ever. But undoubtedly, parents have learnt how adaptable and resilient children are during this period, something that the Montessori method acknowledges and caters to. A proof of this is how quickly children adapted to the changes Montessori nurseries had to make when they reopened.

Evidence-based

Finally, it’s important to emphasise the fact that Montessori is not just an organic, holistic approach to education—it is scientifically proven to work. Research shows that it has academic advantages and that Montessori children have more advanced social and emotional development than children taught in traditional classrooms.

Samantha Naughton has worked in early years for over 16 years. She is qualified in primary and elementary Montessori and supervision in childcare. She is also passionate about creating a positive first years experience where children feel free and heard. Samantha is currently the manager of Tots Corner Nursery and is looking forward to opening Redwood Montessori Nursery.

Misfa Farook is a certified early childhood educator and teacher trainer. She is currently the deputy manager of Tots Corner Nursery. She also holds a Level 5 Qualification in Education and Training and is a certified Montessori teacher for infancy, primary, and elementary levels. For over ten years, Misfa has taught young children in different parts of the world and takes pleasure in bringing positive changes in children’s lives.

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