Montessori Society AMI (UK)
My child is five and has been in a Montessori Children’s House since she was just over two. I have seen her blossom into a little girl with purpose and I am amazed on a daily basis by the way she thinks. I would really like this experience to continue for her and I am considering Montessori Primary for her but I have one concern: with so much choice what will happen if she simply decides that she doesn’t want to do some core subject like maths for example - could she reach eleven without gaining the essentials skills that she requires?
You are right choice is still an essential element of the Montessori primary environment because we all learn more when we can choose what we want to know about. However, the primary aged child is not the same as the child under six. The young child has the kind of mind that simply soaks up information and his main task is to develop the parts of his personality, that is to acquire facility in his mother tongue, to gain control over his body and to learn about the world in which he lives so that he can learn how to live in his community, he does not decide what he wants to learn he learns it by simply living.
The older child, on the other hand, has a mind that can reason about what he learns - he can choose to study dinosaurs or amphibians because he finds them interesting. So for this child we can set objectives and he can understand that it is important that he tries to achieve these things. In Montessori Primary he will be given some things that he has to do every week - and these will mainly be maths and language activities. The difference between this and the traditional system is that the objectives are set according to his individual needs and also he can decide when he does them. The only thing he cannot do is decide not to do them, he is expected to take responsibility for his learning.
For the rest of the time he can follow what ever interests him and his projects and research will be based on this. Stimulus for his imagination is given through the ‘great stories’ and his exploration is always inter-disciplinary because the stories help to weave together subjects such as history, geography and science - so that a child who is interested in animals might find himself embroiled in an investigation of habitat which inevitably takes him into physical geography and an investigation of size which takes him into maths - and of course all of this is written so he is also doing language work without even knowing it.
If you would like to know more about the Montessori Primary programme you can purchase the NAMTA publication ‘What is Montessori Elementary?’ from the Montessori Society
Recent reports in the press that children of working mother’s do not do as well as those whose mothers stay at home and look after them has prompted me to reflect on the Montessori approach to childcare. I know that there is a course for studying specifically about the child between the ages of zero and three and that this includes the idea of putting the baby in an ‘infant community.’ How does Montessori practice reconcile itself with the fact that the baby will not be with his mother?
Montessori put great emphasis on the relationship between the mother and child during the first six weeks. At this time the baby has just emerged from the safe environment of the mother’s womb into a new and strange world. He needs to get used to this new world and understand how things work in it. When he first detaches from the mother his only familiar points of reference are his own body, particularly his hands and his mouth and his mother. He needs to adapt to the different atmosphere outside of the womb. The light, the sounds, the temperature - everything is different. He needs to get used to a new routine where there are times and places to feed, times and places to look after hygiene, times and places to feed.
The mother is the one constant thing for him in the these first six weeks and only she can be his guide. He needs her for food and he needs her for security. Maria Montessori referred to this period of time as the symbiotic period since, at this time, the mother also needs the child. The suckling at the breast helps the mother’s body to return to normal after the birth. So, at this time in particular, Montessori does not advocate that the mother and child are separated at all. Montessori said that the first three years of life are the most important in a human beings life. It is at this time that the child’s character is being formed. By the time the child has reached three he has laid all the foundations of his personality. He has taken in many impressions of the world and he has used this to form a language, which he now speaks. He has taken on the characteristics of his culture and has some idea of how to be in the world. He has developed the ability to be able to control his hands and his body and he is starting to be able to make decisions and act for himself.
The little human being is formed and now all these things can be refined and expanded. These first three years are vitally important. Montessori suggests that the child should be with the mother at this time but also suggests that a very special kind of expertise is required if we are going to help and not thwart development. The Assistants to Infancy course was originally devised to do exactly this - train people to help the mother with the first three years of life. Some people who have done this course do in fact work in the home with mothers. However, with the growth in the need for a ‘creche’ where working mother’s can send their babies when they go to work the Montessori approach has been adapted to provide this help in a setting where the mother can leave the baby. This is usually called an ‘Infant Community’ but in fact it is divided into two areas - one for the non- walking babies and one for the walkers. In this community the adults are trained to facilitate the natural development of the child and everything is geared towards the development of the child’s independence.
In the process of looking for a nursery school for my child I have visited a number of different types of nursery school. I have been struck by the atmosphere I find in the Montessori Schools. I can imagine how the order of the environment might encourage the natural development of the child and how it caters for independence. I am interested to know if the same attention is given to the preparation of the outside environment or is there a more ‘free play’ approach outside?
We read a lot these days about the importance of nature in children’s lives and psychologists have described the phenomenon of ‘nature deficit disorder’. Interestingly enough Montessori also emphasized how important it is for children to be exposed to nature. For this reason she advocated that the outside environment should be planned with the same care as the inside environment. She suggested that there should be an inside environment, an inside-outside environment and an outside environment.
The inside-outside environment should be a sheltered area where the children could start to venture outside and could take some of their activities with them. The outside environment should have some different areas. A cultivated garden area where the children could plant and tend to vegetables, fruit and flowers and a more wild area where they could just experience the sheer joy of discovery of the natural world.
There should be lots for the children to do outside and these activities should be offered to them in the same way as they are inside. They should be arranged in an orderly way so that everything is clear for the child to see and choose and they should be shown how to do these things in exactly the same way as they would be shown how to scrub a table or build the Pink Tower inside.
I quite agree with the Montessori viewpoint that children under six do not need to learn how to use computers but I understand that the EYFS says that children must have access to computers. My child’s Montessori nursery refuses to have computers in the classroom for children of this age. Are they in contravention of government rules?
The EYFS states that children should ‘find out about and learn how to use appropriate information technology such as computers and programmable toys that support their learning.’ This has been misinterpreted to mean that it is compulsory to have computers in the classroom at this age. However, this is a myth. In fact, as the DCSF document, ‘EYFS - Everything you need to know’ says ‘There is no requirement in the EYFS to use computers or any specific form of technology.
The EYFS says that most children should have the chance to play and find out about the everyday technology through their natural curiosity. This might be through exploring how a light switch works, for example, but ultimately it is up to those who are actually working directly with the children, which activities they choose to encourage and which toys or facilities they provide.’ It is also important to understand that, contrary to current understanding, the EYFS is not compulsory.
Recently Steiner schools have won the right to opt out because it clashes with their philosophy. One of their many objections was that they do not believe that we should introduce ‘electronic gadgetry’ to children before they are seven. This decision undoubtedly opens up the possibility for any school who believes that a set of goals for children of this age is inappropriate because they develop at different rates to opt out.
© Montessori Society AMI (UK)