As a mom and educator, I am always interested in different teaching methods. Montessori has been a mystery until recently when I had the opportunity to observe at the new Montessori Casa Dei Bambini in Thonotosassa. Sonia and Dean Slaven are bringing their passion to the children of this incredible “prepared environment”. Montessori was an option when looking for schools for my children. But, my perception was that it was too unstructured and kids could choose to work or not. My interview with Sonia, Directress, helped me understand the Montessori method debunking my myth and several others.
The first thing that I learned is that to be a Montessori Certified Directress or Director, the person receives two years of training and 1000 practical hours. This is an incredible level of training, in addition to any prior education. Also, to be a Montessori school, there must be at least one 3 hour uninterrupted work block each day. During work cycles, individual or group lessons may occur or students are directed to do their work.
1. Free to Choose
This was my myth that kids can choose to work or not. According to Sonia, children have “Freedom with Responsibility”. There are ground rules to follow that give basic guidelines for what work needs to be completed. Directresses can redirect students and recommend one or two choices within the ground rules. The children are guided to choose their work according to their sensitive periods (math and language), interests, and needs.
2. Too Structured
This never crossed my mind but Sonia mentioned that she has heard this myth before. The Montessori method creates “Areas of a Prepared Environment”. “Everything has its place,” she shared. Each area is organized in-sequence from the easiest to the hardest so students learn at their own pace. Concentration, coordination, independence and order are the driving factors behind a beautiful “prepared” environment that is aesthetically pleasing and promotes freedom with responsibility.
3. Too Unstructured
This is where I imagined kids just doing what they wanted rather than really learning. The first thing I noticed in entering the school is that it is very quiet. Kids were working on mats and cleaned up after themselves if they completed their work. These children are ages 3 to 6 and my tween still forgets to clean up after herself.
This is where the role of the Directress is critical. They model the behavior that they want to see from the students including a calm quiet tone of voice, how to walk, how to hold equipment, how to do the Montessori “quiet” clap, etc. Regarding work, the Directress emphasizes the ground rules and limits choices. They may redirect a student to a different choice depending upon that students individual needs.
4. Why Practical Life?
With the focus on concentration, coordination, independence and order, the practical life area helps kids develop fine motor skills and allows them to become self-sufficient. I was surprised to see an area dedicated to teaching daily skills in a school, but many tasks like holding a spoon lead to holding a pencil.
Recently, I asked my son to sweep out the garage. After a little while I went to check on him and it did not look like he made much progress. I asked what was he doing for the last 45 minutes and he said that he was working hard. When he showed me how he was sweeping, I realized that he needed a lesson on how to hold the broom correctly to efficiently sweep out the garage. I was surprised, but realized that using a Swiffer type cleaner in the house is a different motion.
Kids have to learn these skills at some point so they may as well start at an early age. There is also a big focus on sensorial learning and the practical life area of the prepared environment emphasizes the importance of learning through touch.
Every school is going to be different even within the Montessori community, but I was very impressed with the environment that Sonia and Dean created to truly embrace the best of the Montessori method for their students.
This simple quote from Dr. Montessori reminds us that we all want our children to succeed and be satisfied with their accomplishments.
“The satisfaction which they find in their work has given them a grace and ease like that which comes from music.” (Dr. Maria Montessori, ‘The Discovery of the Child’, Clio Press Ltd, 87)
The Montessori environment is geared towards that success encouraging independence and self-sufficiency through a gentle guiding touch. For more information about Montessori in the US visit the American Montessori Society at https://amshq.org.