My time in lockdown had me exploring for new ideas on how I can educate Mole and Frankie at home. As a former teacher with background research in pedagogy, i’m aware that different teaching practices work great for different personalities and activities. So there was no harm in stepping out of my comfort zone to try something new for my own children.
Pedagogy is theoretical part of education which helps teachers to know the objective, process, outcomes of the reaching process. Teaching is the practical part of education
One teaching method I found myself drawn to frequently: The Montessori Method.
Let’s explore it.
Where did Montessori come from?
The Montessori Method was based on the observations and discoveries of Maria Montessori. An Italian doctor, who was the first woman to graduate from Rome University medical school. Montessori had a passion for treating children that needed extra care and assistance in the classroom. Later Montessori went on to establish schools for students with working parents. Montessori looked at the schools with a scientific approach, compared to your traditional education setting. She spent time observing the students behaviour then began to implement ways to help the students progress. To put it simply; the classroom was her laboratory.
What I like about her experiment was that she spent hours simply observing the children in a number of different activities. That line spoke to me that, for once, everything is paused, analysed and an approach is made. Compared to going with the norm of society when it might not be as effective.
What did Maria Montessori find?
The Italian educator and doctor, Maria Montessori, found that if children work carefully in a prepared environment, they are more focused and controlled.
Montessori’s work began to spread all over the world and influence many teachers. She wrote numerous articles and showed success in the children she taught.
This had me thinking about the numerous activities, I had previously planned for Mole that had gone wrong. From what I assumed was due to her lack of concentration. Not the environment she was in or me interfering. I was keen to learn more.
The Montessori Approach
The Montessori approach believes that children have the best capacity to learn from birth to 6 years of age. You will find that most of the Montessori tasks have this age range in mind.
Montessori offers a more holistic approach to learning. Where everything is real play (no pretend play with Ikea kitchens, fantasy – reading books with princesses and dragons in is a no go and as for plastic toys – that is a big no). But, the good thing about today’s world, is that you can take what you want from Montessori without judgement.
Here are the principles of Montessori:
The Principles of Montessori
Principle 1: Respect
Respecting the child is the most important principle of Montessori. You wouldn’t actually think you wouldn’t have an issue with not respecting children but, in many teaching cases you will find this can be common. Ways to respect children whilst learning are: do not interrupt a child’s concentration whilst on a task, give children the freedom to do something for themselves and learn for themselves. The teacher must have peaceful conflict resolution and to not be judgemental.
How I have applied principle 1: Respect the child, to my parenting
- Mole’s toys (educational & fun) are at her level. She can grab any she pleases.
- I’m simply a guide. Before, if Mole was to make a mistake on a task, i’d immediately jump into help her. Now, I give her time to figure it out.
- Clothes. I let Mole choose her own outfits to wear now (as long as they are weather appropriate). This was quite hard for me to do as I love styling her, but, she wanted to get involved one day and I couldn’t refuse.
Principle 2: Learning through living
Montessori believe that children have an absorbent mind. They are constantly learning through just simply, living. Everything they see, touch, hear, taste, they are learning from.
How I have applied principle 2: Learning through living, to my parenting
- I know make a conscious effort to involve Mole in everyday tasks. Tasks that you would not necessarily think a toddler would enjoy or a toddler can do.
- Washing: Mole takes her dirty clothes to the washing basket, helps me colour sort items of clothing, fills the washing machine up and now that we are using natural soap, Mole adds the soap nuts.
- Cooking: Mole will help wash fruit and vegetables, pour pasta or rice into a pan. Chop up fruits. Her favourite is whisking with a hand held electric whisk. I’m careful to observe her in the kitchen and guide her. It is amazing what they can do if you give them the independence.
- Getting ready: Mole chooses her own outfit daytime and pyjamas. Again, if it is not weather appropriate or the outfit just looks absolutely crazy, I will guide her with different options.
- Cleaning: Using natural products, we take it in turns to either spray or do the polishing. Sometimes, I do have to go back over and do it again but she has so much fun doing it, its worth while.
Principle 3: Sensitive Periods
The Montessori pedagogy believes that children are ready to learn certain skills at different times. They call this sensitive periods.
Each sensitive period is a specific kind of inner compulsion. They motivate children to seek objects and relationships in the environment. Children use these to develop themselves. A young child, however, is neither consciously aware of, nor capable of directly communicating, his or her potentials.
The sensitive periods only last for as long as the child is ready to learn the certain skill. The skill could be reading or writing. It is important for the teacher to observe when the student is in their sensitive period for a skill to then prepare resources for the child to help them learn.
What happens in a Sensitive Period?
Montessori believes that during a sensitive period the child will behave differently towards a certain task. Here are the different behaviours.
- Behaving more sensible towards a task
- An overpowering force and interest in wanting to learn the skill.
- A commitment to learning the skill
- Instead of showing signs of boredom, the child shows persistent energy
- Never regained
- Wanting to do more creative activities
- When noticed by the child, the sensitive period ends.
What are the “Sensitive Periods?”
Montessori claim there are eleven sensitive periods in total. They occur from birth to to the age of six. They are:
- Order (Ages 2-4, developing a passionate love for routines)
- Movement (Ages 0-1, controlling random movements e.g. grasping or crawling)
- Small Objects (Ages 1-4, Interest in small objects and tiny details)
- Courtesy (Ages 2-6, Imitating polite behaviours to then make the polite behaviour part of their personality)
- Writing (Ages 3-4, children become passionate about letters and numbers and want to put pen to paper)
- Reading (Ages 3-4, children begin an interest in the symbolic representation of a sound)
- Senses (Ages 2-6, children become fascinated with their senses: touch, taste, smell, sound and weigh. They are eager to do sensory activities)
- Expressive languages (Ages 0-6, begin to use babble sounds to communicate then develop their sounds to meaningful words to communicate)
- Spatial Relationships (Ages 4-6, An understanding of common places and expanding this from their home to their wider surroundings)
- Mathematics (Ages 0-6, formation of the concept of quantity and operations)
- Music (Ages 2-6, an increased interest in rhythm, pitch and melody)
How I have applied principle 3: Sensitive Periods, to my parenting
- Honestly, this one I struggle to agree with. My personal opinion is that, if you make a task fun and engaging, then children will love to learn.
- But, I have noticed when Mole suddenly has an increased interest in things and I do follow her lead with thing. e.g. wanting to read more books.
Principle 4: The Prepared Environment
The environment has to be child focused. Children should be able to move freely and explore. Children must be able to reach for activities they want to do and teachers should prepare the environment in the best way for the child.
How I have applied principle 4: The Prepared Environment, to my parenting
- Mole’s toys are all within her reach. Nothing on high shelving.
- Puzzles are deconstructed with all the parts together on a wooden tray.
- Snacks are kept at her level for her to help herself (I choose what snacks are available and guide her on timings for eating them e.g. if she gets one too close to lunch then I guide her to choose differently)
- A footstep for her to reach onto high countertops.
- Aiming for as many real life items for her to use as possible. Real kitchen appliances, real tableware.
Principle 5: Self Education
Montessori believe children should be educating themselves. The role of the teacher is to provide the environment and encouragement to help the child self educate and develop.
How I have applied principle 5: Self Education, to my parenting
- Stepping back. Giving Mole the freedom to choose what she wants to do and letting her go about it in her own way.
- Mistakes. I’ve noticed how often I use to step in before a mistake would have been made or how quick I would help to make something right for her. I now let Mole make plenty of mistakes where she can learn from until I guide her.
- Trying something new. Your toddler will surprise you.They are so clever and independent. I let her do tasks that I never thought she could do, such as, using a blunt knife to chop vegetables or helping put clothes away.
The Montessori Classroom
The way a classroom is set up is very important for the Montessori method. They believe that the classroom has to be a specific way to encourage learning.
- Real plants (great activity for children to water them too)
- Minimising over stimulating toys or art work (neutral wall colours)
- Plenty of storage (everything should have a place where children can store items neatly e.g. coat peg at their level, toy storage is accessible)
- Peaceful, quite classroom with no clutter
- Plenty of open space for children to move freely
- No fantasy for children under 6 years old
- Sensory resources
- Natural and real life materials (wooden toys over plastic, playing in a real kitchen not a pretend one)
- Separated areas for different tasks.
I love the idea of increasing the amount of natural toys. This benefits the environment too. The toys Montessori recommends are like wooden blocks and puzzles. We have some wooden shapes where Mole loves to use her imagination and they can be anything from a person to a tree.
Personally, although Montessori recommends to use real experiences. Having Mole play in our real kitchen all day is not practical for us. Using her pretend kitchen, we have still been able to make it as real as possible for her and she has enjoyed it.
I want to explore the reason for no fantasy under the age of 6 too. To take on this method, it would have a huge impact on my parenting. We have so many books with fantasy characters, wooden fruit and princess dress up costumes.
Why no fantasy in Montessori?
Fantasy Vs Imagination
Montessori wants to encourage children to use their imagination over fantasy. Many people often get fantasy and imagination mistaken for one another.
Fantasy is the stories and ideas drawn from a world which does not exist (fairies, dragons, talking horses, etc.). Where as, imagination is the ability to conjure images or scenarios in one’s own mind, separate from present sensorial input.
An example of fantasy would be, giving a child a book to read with a talking cat. Rather than an informative book about cats.
giving a child wooden food to make a sandwich, rather than giving a child the real ingredients to make an edible sandwich.
An example of a child using their imagination would be, a child crawling on the floor barking pretending to be a dog, after seeing a real life dog.
A child pretending to be a mum, as they want to practice a role model they have seen in their family.
Montessori believes that imagination is where are creativity comes from. It is important to focus and develop children’s imagination to help with their creativity.
The reason for no fantasy is that Montessori believe children have a difficult time understanding what is real and what is fantasy whilst growing up. Thinking about it, Mole probably does think unicorns are real.
Not only is it confusing for children, Montessori conducted an experiment where she found children preferred to play with real life items and do real life experiences over pretend play. e.g. Children wanted to play with real food rather than toy food.
Having the science explained to me, it all makes sense.
Ways to to develop imagination in children
- Water real plants
- Make meals with real food
- Clean up real dirt
- Help to wash real clothes
- Read more non-fiction books
- Feed real animals (make bird food or feed your dog)
Whilst writing this blog post, I can say I have learned a lot. I’m still not complete with my understanding of Montessori as i’m sure there is still so much to explore. I may not agree with everything Montessori but, I will be taking aspects of the Montessori pedagogy into consideration with my parenting at home.