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What You Didn't Know About Montessori

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 Leave a Comment

Image courtesy of DIY Genius
The number of Montessori schools is growing. Why? Montessori studies tell us it is an effective method of education that provides students with a strong academic foundation, strong social intelligence, higher levels of executive function, and an understanding of the responsibilities that go along with the interdependence between oneself, the larger community, and our environment.

Sometimes families seek out Montessori for their children because they attended Montessori and recognize the deep and lasting impact a Montessori education had on their lives. Others seek it out because they had an experience in a different educational system that didn’t resonate for them. Regardless of why they are looking for a Montessori school, there are a few things that most parents and families are (pleasantly!) surprised to learn about Montessori. Perhaps you will be surprised as well.

1)  Montessori is not just for early childhood education.
Many of the most well-known, highly regarded public, charter, and private Montessori schools throughout our country span through elementary, middle school, and high school! So, why do so many people think that Montessori is just for early childhood? Maria Montessori, the pioneer of the Montessori Method, started her research with young children and developed the early childhood curriculum first. She discovered that the first six years of life were critical to the personality and attitudinal development of children, which is why so many Montessori schools in the U.S. started with early childhood—perpetuating the misunderstanding that Montessori is just for early childhood.

What you may not know is that Maria Montessori laid a foundational curriculum for all ages, and her work in higher education continued and continues to be developed by trained Montessorians over the last century. The beauty of the curriculum, which touches all ages of development, is that it adapts to meet the developmental challenges of students so they can successfully navigate and excel at the crucial tasks.

2) Montessori pioneered the “Sustainability” and “Environmental Education” concepts before they were trending subjects.
The Montessori “Practical Life” curriculum included care of the environment and nature study, gardening, and farming well before “Sustainability” was a household conversation. Young children are taught to care for themselves, others, and the environment as core tenants of the Montessori pedagogy. As these children grow older, they are taught to grow and prepare food for themselves, learn how various ecosystems are interrelated and interdependent, and how they are responsible for the health and well being of our planet. At the middle and high school level, students are taught how to create micro-economy businesses through the work of their hands, and they often run farms or manage urban gardens that they develop products from.

3) The Montessori curriculum goes beyond traditional subject matter.
Because the Montessori curriculum was developed based on Maria Montessori’s core tenant, “Follow the Child,” the curriculum is built to be highly individualized and responsive to the interests of each student in the classroom. In order to do this, it includes content that other curriculums often don’t include, such as practical living skills, all of the sciences, cultural studies, creative arts, music, event planning, economics, entrepreneurship, community service projects, sensorial refinement, and any other areas of interest for students.

If a student is passionate about art, for example, the teachers are trained to expand the art curriculum to directly respond to their interests. And, if students needs extra support in a certain subject area, the teacher can provide lessons to help them catch up to their peers.

4) Children are free to move throughout the classroom even in the older grades.
Maria Montessori made an amazing discovery that has been reinforced by recent brain research: learning is primarily a function of doing things with our minds and bodies working in tandem. That means we need ALL of our senses activated in order to be efficient learners. In fact, our auditory and visual senses (the ones targeted in more traditional educational models) are not the primary sources of learning at all: our hands are! Fortunately, Maria’s curriculum is designed so students interact with kinesthetic materials, which isolates concepts in core subject areas while engaging all of the senses.

Furthermore, freedom of movement in the classroom helps students develop an awareness of their bodily needs. Whether that means being free to use the bathroom or have a snack when their body signals that they need to, or taking a few minutes to do yoga in the middle of class, movement is not only permitted, it is encouraged as long as it is not disruptive to the work anyone else is doing. In short, the body is not separate from the mind, and Montessori teaches the children to use both!

5) Montessori curriculum is designed around three-year developmental stages in every child’s life.
Research has shown that our lives from birth to age 24 can be divided into four developmental planes, each of which spans six years and is made up of three-year sub-planes. Montessori curriculum and classroom age groupings are intentionally structured around these three-year sub-planes so students can reap the greatest academic and social returns from their classroom experience:

1st Plane of Development = Physical and Biological Independence (0-6 years old)
·  0-3 years old: Progression and Peak
·  3-6 years old: Assimilation, Refinement, and Acquisition of Skills (Mastery)

2nd Plane of Development = Mental Independence (6-12 years old)
·  6-9 years old: Progression and Peak
·  9-12 years old: Assimilation, Refinement, and Acquisition of Skills (Mastery)

3rd Plane of Development = Social Independence (12-18 years old)
·  12-15 years old: Progression and Peak
·  15-18 years old: Assimilation, Refinement, and Acquisition of Skills (Mastery)

4th Plane of Development = Spiritual and Moral Independence (18-24 years old)

The first year of each classroom’s cycle is the foundation year, the second year the year of exploration, and the third year the culmination/capstone year. Of these, the capstone year, a year of application and fruition, is the most important. Because the curriculum spirals upward, all of the concepts presented until that point have laid a foundation for this final year of learning. It is also a year of leadership, in which the older students have the opportunity to be role models and mentors, giving back to their community in a positive way while simultaneously cementing their own learning. By the end of the third year, students will have grown dramatically and will be ready to start in on the next stage of development.

6) Not all Montessori Schools are created equal.
The word “Montessori” is a generic term that refers to a teaching philosophy, curriculum, and pedagogy rather than a franchise or a brand. As such, there can be a wide variety of approaches to implementing Montessori, and some people use the term without keeping fidelity to the pedagogy and the philosophy, or worse yet, without following it at all. Be cautious of schools that call themselves “Montessori Inspired” or that don’t reflect the core tenants of the Montessori philosophy.

About the Author
Rachel Averch
Rachel Averch co-founded the Montessori Children’s House of Denver in 1991 and serves as the President and CEO. She is a founding member of the Colorado Montessori Association, currently serving on the Board of Directors and on the Executive Committee. She also sits on several review teams for school accreditations and speaks at local conferences as an education advocate. She holds a bachelors of arts in Education Administration and has the following certifications and credentials: AMS Primary Certification through the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies, CDHS Director’s Credential, and a Level IV Professional Credential.

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