By Rose Netherland
Since the birth of the Montessori Method over 100 years ago, Montessori education has continued to grow as a popular and effective method of education all over the world. Since I first dived into the journey of becoming a Montessori teacher I’ve had friends, family and parents asking me questions about this often misunderstood theory of education. One question that is almost always raised is,“What has Montessori done to update the method to fit the modern world, since it is well known for its antiquity?”
I find most people are often shocked and suspicious to find out that during teacher training I read the same books that were read by Montessori teachers a hundred years ago. And what about the materials in the classroom? It’s met with even more suspicion that we could be preparing the same lessons for children today as we prepared them back then. How could these ideas, lessons and materials actually meet the needs of the modern child?
I’m pleased to say that the ingenuity of Maria Montessori’s work has stood the test of modern child development and neuroscience. Current scientific and sociological studies prove time and time again that Montessori was correct in her interpretations of how children learn, and today the torch keeps burning! We can confidently carry Maria Montessori’s powerful principles on a child’s path to becoming a prosperous learner into our schools and homes.
Montessori developed her pedagogy using her skills as a doctor to make keen observations about the way children learn with her scientific mind and passionate heart. One of the key educational principles is the environment as key to unlock the gateway to learning. Dr. Montessori wrote: “The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.”
Here is what that looks like in the Montessori classroom:
- durable, child-sized materials that allow children to have active engagement
- children touch, explore and learn with their senses.
Everything in the room serves a purpose for the child without superfluous clutter which provides aesthetic beauty and order. There is space for the child to work with the materials independently to promote concentration, independence and repetition of activities. Today, we can scientifically verify that her methods are successful. In the 1990’s neuroscience made several significant conclusions in regards to early childhood development, including that the brain is significantly affected by the environment. It was reported that “The impact of the environment is dramatic and specific, not merely influencing the general direction of development, but actually affecting how the intricate circuitry of the human brain is ‘wired.’”
As parents in the modern age we are constantly grappling with raising children in a fast-paced world filled with technological advances. We toss and turn at night with the desire to give our children the best our world has to offer them, so that they may grow up as happy, successful adults. When we have so much in the way of modern advances, could it be true that the most potent upbringing we could give the next generation could be based on the simplicity? I would like to assert that the most crucial needs of the child have not changed over the centuries. What was true of human
development then, remains true today.
In our current world, we are constantly bombarded by advertisements about the effectiveness of educational programs and games from television, movies, ipads, and computers. However, despite their claims, science has already proven the lack of effectiveness of two-dimensional screens for the education of the immature human. And unfortunately, it’s been proven that overexposure to screens have both short and long-term negative effects on the young brain. Early screen-time exposure is associated with language and reading delays, as well as with impacting attention abilities, beyond the time the child spends in front of the screen. Screen time has also been proven to diminish imaginary play since it promotes a state of hyper-arousal, which impacts the nervous system and blocks the frontal lobe (the area of the brain most activated for learning and creativity.) Alternatively, creativity during play and concentration in the 3D world activates numerous areas of the entire brain, facilitating whole-brain integration. Montessori education can extend beyond the school building to enhance the home life of the child. As parents we can harvest the knowledge of the importance of a child’s active role in their environment by taking into account our own preparations of our homes. This is especially relevant in the places our children play, sleep and perform the task of daily living. Playspaces can focus on simplicity by reducing the amount of play things and rotating them out by keeping some stored in a closet or large shelf. Toys can focus more on beauty than flashy appearances and utility that allows the child to express their creativity, such as art supplies, building materials, toys that mimic the objects of the home such as toy kitchens with pots, pans, dishes and play food, dolls with doll clothes and beds, and dramatic play items. In our own kitchens, kids can be given access to a low table with a cutting board and simple food preparation items like an apple cutter, vegetable peeler, bowls and whisks. A child might be given 2 out of 10 carrots to prepare for the dinner salad and he may take as long to peel and chop them as his mom to cut three times as many, but the experience itself will reap rewards beyond the salad bowl. A child as young as four years old can do his own laundry when an area is prepared with his own laundry basket, stool to reach the washer, prepared cup of detergent and prior practice with a parent. When we allow our children to be active members of the household, even laundry can be a learning activity for the child that allows them to develop independence and confidence. And even though these things may take more preparation on our part and sometimes more work in the moment, the rewards of having a child who develops independence and confidence in his abilities will make our jobs as parents much easier in the long run.
As parents, we are lucky to have the knowledge that we can truly give our children the very best with very little. By simplifying our homes we can inspire creativity and raise children who have the ability to concentrate.
The neuroscience of early childhood development has now proven what Dr. Montessori knew over a century beforehand: interaction with the world in three-dimensional, hands-on activity improves cognitive function and attention in young learners. Maria Montessori explains her dream in this quote: “This is education, understood as a help to life; an education from birth, which feeds a peaceful revolution and unites all in a common aim, attracting them as to a single centre. Mothers, fathers, politicians: all must combine in their respect and help for this delicate work of formation, which the little child carries on in the depth of a profound psychological mystery, under the tutelage of an inner guide. This is the bright new hope for mankind.”