I almost don't know how to write this. There were so many really beautiful insights I had while learning the Montessori philosophy (and you should know, this is the true Montessori philosophy, done right-- there are MANY institutions operating under the name "Montessori," but in reality are far from the true application Dr. Montessori intended. You have to find a school that is certified and accredited to get it done right), and there are so many things I want to share, but I can't decide how to organize all of my thoughts. Hopefully this doesn't just come out in a jumble.
Probably the key "lightbulb" moment for me came as we discussed the idea of nurturing a child's spirit in the classroom. This is a concept that resonates with me so strongly, and as we talked about it I became emotional just thinking about the beauty of truly seeking to meet a child's spiritual needs in the classroom. It is important to point out that this is NOT teaching a specific religion or doctrine. Spirituality, in this sense, is the notion of exemplifying the highest of human qualities, things that our "spirits" are born with, like love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, etc. In this sense, the Montessori philosophy seeks to foster spirituality through educational practice. I think that in traditional education we have had to so strictly separate church and state that we have neglected to teach spirituality in this broad sense. It is almost taboo to mention a child's "spiritual" development at school. The Montessori philosophy, however, teaches ..."what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual's total development lags behind?" That quote is from the book Nurturing the Spirit in Non-sectarian Classrooms, by Aline D. Wolf. I love that I was required to read a book called Nurturing the Spirit! I got my degree in Special Education at BYU, which is a religious university. But I honestly think I got more training in fostering spiritual growth in my students in my one week Montessori training than I did in two years at BYU. I love that the spirits of the students we teach are so important to the educational philosophy in a Montessori classroom! Of course spiritual growth would also be important to the teacher education department at BYU, but it wasn't something that was explicitly taught. I think it should be. I have never before been so motivated to teach to a child's spirit-- to teach ABCs and numbers, but to do it with the student's glorious potential in my mind. Another quote from the same book: "Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities." I love that, and how much better would we be as teachers if we saw each student as a spiritual being with incredible potential, not only to learn, but also to bring about much good in the world?
One of the things I LOVE about special education is that the teaching/learning are INDIVIDUALIZED based on the child's needs. I have always gotten a pit in my stomach when I think about how general educators teach a concept to the whole class, and then have to move on, regardless of if all the students have mastered that concept. In Montessori, children have very individualized learning-- they move at their own pace and they can practice a concept for as long as it takes them to fully understand it. All different learning styles are accomodated, and the teacher takes time to re-teach and re-teach (in a one-on-one setting) if necessary.
In that same vein, as each child moves at his own pace, choosing what to work on for that day, he becomes a self-directed learner. It is amazing to look into a classroom and see students staying on task, working hard, and not being forced to do it! And isn't that what they will ultimately have to do once they enter college and the work-force anyway? Why not start giving them that earned freedom to make choices while they are young? Of course this all has to be monitored because there are some students who will take advantage, but if it is done correctly, I really believe this is the best way for teaching and learning to happen.
During the work periods in a Montessori classroom there is freedom of movement. Children move around, choosing works as they please (obviously there are some ground rules here-- like they cannot distract others and cannot get too close to another student who is working without permission). Why on earth did it not occur to me sooner that this would be necessary?? What are we thinking when we expect little children to sit still in their desks for looong stretches of time? And then we want them to pay attention, too? We must be crazy. It just makes sense that kids would need to move around more than they are typically allowed in a general education setting.
Silence is taught and cultivated in the Montessori classroom. It is NOT used as a punishment (the way it is typically used in general education). Children are taught the concept of self-control, and silence is used to stretch their capacities. How beautiful is it to cultivate a health desire for quiet in our children?! I want my son to grow up with the ability to just be still with himself, and spend time pondering and focused. I love that that is taught in the Montessori classroom.
Children have sensitive periods for learning specific skills, and will gravitate toward whatever it is they are sensitive to learn at a particular time. That is one of the reasons that children are allowed to choose their own works in a Montessori classroom. I knew this before, but hadn't ever spent a lot of time thinking about it. And I have seen it in action with my Baby G over and over ever since I became more aware of it. He discovered stairs about a month ago, and one day at my parents' house he was desperately wanting to go up and down the stairs over and over again. I thought to myself "Ah! This must be a sensitive period for him with this!" So I followed him up and down those stairs dozens of times. Oh how I don't want to squelch his innate desire to learn and try new things, and if that means climbing up step after step behind him, I will do that. I am more committed to doing what is best for him, not what is convenient for me.
There are no rewards systems in a Montessori classroom. Kids are taught to work hard for the sake of working hard and for the feeling they get when they do a good job. The focus is on intrinsic motivation: doing the right things for the right reasons-- not because someone will see you and give you a reward, but because doing the right thing feels good. Kids are taught to pat themselves on the back, to recognize when they have done a good job, and find satisfaction in that-- they don't need to go show the teacher for praise, they can feel it for themselves. Again, this is a skill that is so vital for a child's healthy development, and I think it is getting left behind in most classrooms with rewards systems and token economies (special ed. is a whole different thing, friends, and sometimes--maybe even often-- rewards are necessary in that setting).
Oh, that was a lot. There are probably some other things I am forgetting at the moment, but I think I touched on most of the big lessons. Obviously, there are exceptions to everything, and to make this philosophy work in the special education setting we are going to be doing a lot of modifying. But I really love the general concepts. I honestly can say that I felt spiritual confirmations of the truthfulness of the basic philosophies (if done correctly), and they are all things that I plan to implement in my home with my children.
So tell me, what do you think?