Jeff Bezos, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, Julia Child, Larry Page… What do these celebs have in common? They were all students of the Montessori program, a learning method that provides children a collaborative environment structured for self-directed learning. So what are the intricacies of Montessori? We’re sharing the 411 on the learning model and how it cultivates successful, curious and creative kids.
The Ins and Outs of the Montessori Method
Established in 1907 by Marie Montessori — Italy’s first female doctor and a pioneer of early childhood education — the Montessori method doesn’t involve a traditional classroom structure. Instead, students are encouraged to create, discover and ask questions with minimal interference from teachers.
Simply put, the Montessori method is about self-directed learning at a student’s own pace. It
discourages traditional measurements of academic success and competition, such as grades and tests, instead focusing on individual development and the measure of each child’s progress.
Louise Plourde, director of Manor Montessori in Toronto, Ontario, tells Parentology, “The skills we encourage have real world applications. Children are innately compassionate and empathetic. We don’t teach that, we protect it.”
Components of Self-Directed Learning
Maria Montessori viewed independence as the aim of education, and the role of the teacher as an observer who navigates or directs a child’s innate psychological development. Montessori allows children free choice in regards to materials, uninterrupted work and freedom of activities within the classroom setting.
How this plays out? Plourde says children in her school regularly exhibit concentration, attention and self-discipline. “Adults seek to regulate their environment,” Plourde says, “whereas our kids strive to regulate themselves.”
Self-direction is achieved in five basic blocks:
Younger students (under six years old) participate in three-hour, uninterrupted work periods every day. Older children create study groups with each other, only engaging the teacher if necessary. When working, everyone respects each other’s concentration and tries not to interrupt.
1. Mixed-Age Classrooms
Children are grouped in mixed ages and abilities in three to six year spans: 0-3, 3-6, etc. Mixing ages and experiences allows child-to-child teaching and problem-solving opportunities, as well as peer socialization. (Students of Montessori are typically between ages 0 to 14.)
Students are challenged according to their ability. “We don’t level-set the expectation that all kids learn the same way and therefore won’t all learn the same thing at the same time,” Plourde says. “That kind of homogeneous thinking leads some children to think they’ve failed at something, when really their interests lie somewhere else.”
2. Work Groups
The class environment is organized according to subject area, and children move around the room to each subject rather than staying at their desks. A student can work with materials for as long as they need. All subjects are studied at all levels throughout each day.
3. Teaching Method
Maria Montessori advocated instructors “teach by teaching, not by correcting.” There are no grades or tests, no papers turned in with letter grades and edits. The teacher observes her students and plans individual projects to help each child learn, solve and improve.
4. Teaching ratio
With the exception of toddlers, the general teaching ratio is one (trained) Montessori teacher and one assistant to approximately 30 children. However, the teacher works with one child at a time, while overseeing the whole group. She facilitates rather than “instructs,” guiding research and exploration based on the child’s excitement and interest in their work.
Does it work?
An article in The Guardian highlights the success, both academic and practical, of the Montessori program. Researchers concluded, “Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools.”
In Cincinnati, the Clark Montessori high school has provided the following stats based on a class of 88 students:
- 100% of the class of 2010 are expected to graduate
- 100% of the class of 2010 are going on to college
- 33% of current seniors are first generation in their families to go to college
Investigation, problem-solving and yes, even failure, all inform the way we interact with our world. The creators of Google and Amazon — themselves Montessori students — had no idea their work would lead to ground-breaking discoveries and successful businesses. the Montessori model taught them to be self-motivated, curious, make mistakes and to ask good questions.
Montessori has developed a program that focuses on each child’s abilities and interests, giving students a chance to discover the lesson rather than have it taught to them. Beyond academics, children learn to keep things in order, respect, as well as teach and learn from one another.
“One never stops learning,” Plourde says. “It’s a journey. We’re always learning. That’s the beauty of this type of program.”
The Montessori Model: How self-directed learning breeds success — Sources
Louise Plourde, director of Manor Montessori in Toronto, Ontario
Marie Montessori Wikipedia page
The Guardian: Research Shows Benefits of Montessori Education
Forbes: Is Montessori the Origin of Amazon and Google?
Concordia University: Is the Montessori Curriculum Model Effective?