Thursday, June 02, 2011

Exploring Montessori

I took a tour of a local Montessori school today since we’re interested in signing up our daughter for their program starting September.

The Montessori approach is a fascinating combination of structure and freedom. The whole environment is designed to help little people do things for themselves. In the toddler room, the sinks, toilets, chairs, tables, shelves, etc. were all at toddler height. Things were similarly scaled in the ‘casa’ program upstairs for 3-6 year olds. I saw a little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, lift a glass water jug and pour herself a glass of water. After drinking, she took the glass to the sink, swished it around in soapy water, rinsed it in clear water, then set it on the rack to dry. The whole environment is set up to encourage independence and practical skills.

Montessori schools are based upon the philosophy and work of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator. She opened her first school 100 years ago with the guiding philosophy that: "Knowledge can best be given when there is an eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child's mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into knowledge."

So there is a real focus on independent learning, on providing children with many opportunities for concrete exploration and development of practical skills.

While all this was easy to appreciate, I did find a little strange the absence of toys and the reference to ‘work periods’ in the toddler schedule. The clean, purposeful-focus of a Montessori classroom is polar opposite to many toddler play areas I’ve seen – and thankfully to the cluttered, commercialized environment of stores like Toys R Us.

I think M could do really well here. She’s a quiet kid who can get very involved and focused on her play/exploration (i.e. she’ll easily spend half an hour playing with dried beans). I like the program’s focus on independence, self-paced growth and social cooperation. I like that when I asked about discipline the director told me they control the environment, not the children.

But it will be an adjustment. My baby’s growing up.

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