Montessori in the 21st Century
A fascinating aspect of Montessori education’s success in the 21st Century is how it has been able to both adapt to a more technology-centric world, and yet still remain deeply rooted in the original teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori, which date back more than a century. Connect with local educators to learn more about the philosophy, and the important place a Montessori education could be for your child.
Montessori: An Education for Tomorrow
By Teri Linkov
When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, ‘I want to do it!’ But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say ‘Help me to do it alone.’ Dr. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood.
The Montessori Method of Education was developed by Maria Montessori, and has been in use all over the world for over 110 years. The child-centered educational approach, based on scientific observations of children, views the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning. It is as relevant today as it was when Dr. Montessori opened her first school in 1907. And it will continue to be an educational model far into the future.
With a Montessori education, growth starts early. Those formative years are a critical time to set a strong foundation in determining who a child will become, and the role she or he will play in the future. A Montessori education develops students who are capable, accountable and knowledgeable people who will be able to thrive in the real world.
Connecticut Parent Magazine (CPM) has teamed up with some local Montessori schools to give you a comprehensive, inside look into this “educational philosophy of the future.” CPM has broached several questions to Marci Martindale of the Children’s Tree Montessori School (CTM) in Old Saybrook; Andrea Boden of The Cobb School, Montessori (TCS) in Simsbury; and Chris Robertson and Gina Tryforos from Fraser Woods Montessori School (FWM) in Newtown.
CPM: How Does a Montessori program benefit children and prepare them for the future?
FWM: Montessori develops a child’s independence, ability to work effectively with others, the ability to think critically in a dynamic environment, and the ability to persevere through challenges. The Montessori methodology used at Fraser Woods Montessori allows each child to be challenged within a meticulously prepared learning environment; an environment that encourages children to take intellectual risks and learn from their mistakes. It is also an environment where children feel safe to make mistakes and develop a sense of self among supportive and caring classmates.
CTM: As students mature, the independence that they developed through practical life exercises extends to their academics; children are encouraged to follow their own interests and choose what work to engage in from the choices in their carefully prepared environment. Children who participate in Montessori programs become self-aware adults who recognize their own passions and persevere in pursuit of them. Montessori matters now more than ever, and a Montessori education is your child’s best preparation for realizing their dreams.
TCS: Montessori is an education for life. It prepares the whole child — academically, socially and emotionally. The program instills a love of learning, critical thinking, perseverance, hard work, kindness and compassion. The children are given the opportunity to meet their true potential and become global citizens.
CPM: What are some of the defining traits of a Montessori education?
CPM: Three is an important number in a Montessori education. Both Children’s Tree and Cobb School discuss the Three Hour Work Period, and Cobb School describes their Three Year Cycle.
TCS: The “Three Year Cycle” is a fundamental feature of Montessori education. Each developmental cycle provides the child with the consistency of the same classroom and community setting and often the same teacher for three consecutive years.
CTM: The “Three Hour Work Period”: Each morning, children are provided an extended period of time during which they can choose work from the prepared environment. Children are not rushed to complete assignments in order to move on to the next subject; rather, they develop the concentration needed to stick with a task until completion. While conventional wisdom suggests that children have short attention spans and need frequent breaks, Dr. Montessori observed that when provided the opportunity to choose meaningful work and enter deep concentration, children have the ability to work uninterrupted for extended periods of time.
FWM: In a Montessori school, children learn more than just academic subjects. They also learn responsibility, compassion for others and self-motivation. There are certain hallmarks found in all true Montessori schools, referred to as the Guiding Principles: Respect, Prepared Environment, Hands-on Learning, Discovery, A Montessori-trained Teacher, Imagination, Freedom of Choice and Independence.
CPM: How do you mix Maria Montessori’s methods with today’s high tech society?
CTM: Today’s world is characterized by rapid technological and social change. Given this reality, the foundation of a quality, 21st century education is for children to learn how to learn. The Children’s Tree Montessori School’s course of study encompasses the full substance of the traditional curriculum and goes beyond that to teach students how to concentrate on a task, work both independently and with others, think clearly, do their own research, express themselves well in writing and speech, and to put their knowledge to practical application.
In our toddler and primary programs, young children do not utilize technology; instead, they use beautiful, didactic, wooden materials. These manipulatives, which are used to support all areas of instruction, help children to access our entire curriculum with their hands. Children work with new ideas in a concrete, tangible way before they are expected to work abstractly with a pencil and paper or computer.
When our elementary students utilize laptops and iPads in the classroom, they see the use of technology as a tool to support their learning rather than as an end in-and-of itself. Montessori children have the ability to use technology wisely without being consumed by it.
TCS: The Cobb School is an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) school. We focus on sensorial avenues of exploration and learning by the children of all ages. We believe that children from birth-6, should have none or very limited screen/technology time and are not exposed to any in the classroom. As children move into the second plane of development (6-12 years), we treat digital/tech devices as “materials” in the classroom. They are tools in our 21st century society and our students leave school well-versed in their use.
FWM: At Fraser Woods Montessori, technology is viewed as a tool to enhance the academics and promote our Montessori philosophy. Furthermore, since toddlers and primary children need to develop a number of tactile skills, devices such as laptops, chrome books and iPads begin to be used in 1st grade. By Middle School, children have their own devices and they are used for educational purposes only. Even though Maria Montessori could never have imagined the technological advances being utilized in the classroom, her approach would have embraced the many ways technology can engage children and foster their growth.
CPM: What are the characteristics of your Montessori classroom — what will the parents and the children find when they arrive at your school, and what is a typical day like?
FWM: When children and parents arrive in a classroom at Fraser Woods Montessori School, they will see a community of multi-aged individuals working and playing in an inclusive nurturing atmosphere of respect. In order to learn, a child needs to feel safe first. An emotionally safe learning environment allows for exploration and discovery including the very important life experience of making mistakes. One of the best benefits of a Montessori education is that it’s individualized. A Montessori education allows children to understand “the how” and “the why” of different concepts. A typical day in a Fraser Woods Montessori classroom features a two to three hour period of uninterrupted work time. The teacher will be working with students one-on-one and in small groups. Student learning doesn’t just come from lectures or listening. Learning comes from “doing and experiencing” the world around them. In addition, Fraser Woods offers a variety of enrichment classes.
TCS: Each Montessori classroom is prepared for the specific age of the students at each level. The rooms are designed for small hands and bodies. The classrooms are full of light and open to our private playgrounds. A Montessori environment provides children [with] the opportunity and ability to choose work that most interests them. As a result they tend to remain focused and attentive while immersed in their work. Children feel satisfied, peaceful and joyful when they are deeply engaged. Developing concentration is an important skill for life-long learning.
CTM: When parents and children arrive at our school, they will find that they are promptly greeted by friendly staff who genuinely love and respect children. Students are escorted to their classrooms where they shake their teacher’s hand, unpack their belongings, change into their indoor shoes and begin their work day. Over the next three hours, children move freely around the classroom, choosing work from the many shelves that have been carefully prepared with materials to meet their learning needs. Children can be found sitting around the room, both at tables and on the rug. The teacher works with small groups of children, providing new lessons based on her observations of their previous work. After the work period, children help prepare the classroom for lunch. They then spend the afternoon developing their gross motor skills outdoors, engaging in additional lessons, and attending enrichment classes. When parents arrive to pick up their children at the end of the day, they often find that their children are reluctant to leave. Relationships grow strong, friendships run deep, and our students genuinely enjoy school.