A good school environment is essential for the overall growth and development of a child. Put them in a bad environment, and their growth can be severely stunted. Yes, they can still excel, but you wouldn’t be putting your child in the best position possible to do so. Every child has the ability to succeed and contribute, and it is a school’s responsibility to help guide them towards that and give them the confidence to do so. One type of school in particular that has been excelling at this are Montessori Schools. Their unique approach to education based on self-directed activity and hands-on learning differs from the traditional schooling approach and has been proven to be an effective teaching philosophy for children.
WHAT IS MONTESSORI?
Anne Hewetson, the Dean of Programs and Student Life at Montessori School of Denver, shares, “As a parent, it does take a willingness to open the mind to a very different approach to education than the one that most of us grew up with. Rather than relying on grades (there are no grades in Montessori schools) and test scores for proof that their child is learning, parents must be able to rely on observing that their child is excited about learning, is developing their independence, and is learning how to be a positive member of a community. They must trust in the learning process for their child.”
Hewetson briefly explains some of the main pillars of a Montessori classroom. This includes things like: a classroom environment prepared for the child, hands-on learning, development of independence, multi-age classrooms, self-paced differentiated instruction, and a foundation of peace education.
In a Montessori classroom, things are more child-centered as opposed to grade-centered. That is made apparent in how a classroom is set up. As Hewetson explains, “Classrooms are designed to be child-centered, multi-age classrooms, where students move freely to select work, attend small group lessons, complete work, get a snack, use the restroom, etc. Different from a traditional classroom, where desks face the front of the room, so all eyes can be on the teacher, Montessori classrooms are designed for children to work at individual or group tables, or on the floor, depending on what they are working on.” With this, children are able to practice more hands-on learning. Concepts are always introduced with materials first. This hands-on learning approach was a key focus for Maria Montessori who pioneered this philosophy of education.
In regards to the multi-age classrooms, they help promote an environment where younger children have the chance to learn from older ones. Hewetson explains, “Within each multi-age grouping, children are growing up with other children who are at their same range of development. They are learning from older children within their plane of development, and older children have the opportunity to be leaders within their classroom community.”
One final major component of Montessori Schools is the foundation of peace. According to Hewetson, “There is a mutual respect between students and teachers and an expectation of respect between students in the classroom. Children learn to talk through conflict and find resolution so that peace may be restored. Additionally, ‘Social-Emotional Learning’ is woven into the fabric of the school day. The nature of a classroom where children move freely and interact constantly with children of different ages provides ample opportunity for experiencing social skills. Mistake-making and solving problems are a natural part of the school day, and children are given space to learn from these experiences.” A child should not be harshly rebuked or reprimanded for mistakes but instead given the opportunity to learn from them and find resolutions so that they won’t make that same mistake again.
IS MONTESSORI RIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD?
Molly Williams, Director at Montessori School of Baton Rouge, shares, “Montessori is a ‘whole child’ approach with social and emotional learning built into the classroom. Children are taught grace and courtesy lessons which include things like conflict resolution, self advocacy, and polite social norms, which create a calm, peaceful classroom.” According to Williams, this helps to do more than create a student who is good at retaining then regurgitating that same information. With this approach, schools are able to foster a love for learning and a sense of self-confidence. Both Williams and Hewetson state that they believed Montessori was right for most children.
Williams shares, “We find there are some children with high anxiety, trauma, or sensory issues who may need a smaller setting for a period of time to integrate their big feelings and learn to self regulate before entering a larger class.” It’s definitely not impossible, but it will require a bit more time and a larger adjustment period. At the end of the day, parents know their child best and should visit a variety of schools to determine which is the best fit. Williams also encourages parents to explore the various pieces of literature about the effectiveness of Montessori Schools and its immediate as well as long term benefits.
Hewetson advises, “The best way for parents to figure out if Montessori is something they want to explore for their children is by visiting a Montessori school and seeing a classroom in action. There is nothing that compares with seeing a group of 26 children working simultaneously and independently while the adults in the room are simply observing or working with a few students.” She also suggests that parents be especially careful when looking at different Montessori schools, as all are not equal. When it comes to determining the quality of a Montessori program, look for schools that are accredited or at least working towards their accreditation.
As far as the fit for the child, Hewetson believes that Montessori is the way children learn best, but states, “children who have high needs for specialized services can often be better served by schools who have a more robust learning support staff. Montessori classrooms are inherently suited for serving diverse needs and differentiating to support moderate accommodations in the classroom. However, if a student requires true one-on-one support, a Montessori classroom may not work for that child.”
WHAT CAN I DO AS A PARENT?
As a parent, it is important that you take your child’s education seriously. If you find that they aren’t necessarily enjoying school in their current setting, talk to them. Find out what is missing. Do they feel like things are too fast paced and monotonous? Do they want a more hands-on learning experience? Are they yearning for classroom qualities like the ones described in Montessori schools? Hewetson puts it best, stating, “today’s schools are working feverishly to embrace some of the principles of Montessori education, but fall short because it is far more than just adding in one element; it is a different system of education altogether. And the proof is in the pudding!”
If you find that your child is losing their love for learning, look into Montessori schools in your area. Call their admissions office, schedule a tour, and see for yourself what Montessori has to offer.