Wheaton Montessori News
From Christine Carrillo, Wheaton Montessori School
Maria Montessori focused her work and study of children on creating the child’s method of education. This method was developed through fifty years of scientific research, in which she studied how children develop and learn. Montessori was a medical doctor, the first in Italy, and was also an engineer and scientist. She used her scientific knowledge and observation skills to do something revolutionary: watch children without interfering in order to learn more about them. She provided them with materials, often smaller versions of what was at that time found in the home, and let them be in charge of their own schoolroom, which was really their second home. She called this schoolroom the “casa de bambini”, or children’s house.
It was the “Children’s House” because everything in the home was sized for the child, not the adult. By allowing children to choose work, have choice in the activities they did at school, providing specialized autodidactic materials, and minimizing the interaction or interference of the adult in the child’s work, she created an environment where children could learn to discipline themselves, work with each other peacefully, and regulate themselves through challenging and interesting work. She noticed that children who were aggressive, hyper, emotional, or otherwise “difficult”, when given the sort of classroom environment described above, became calm and contributing members of the classroom society. Noting that “the child makes the man” (meaning that our experiences at a child leave indelible impressions on the adult we are to become), she knew that peace could only truly be a part of the child when the child learns in a just, peaceful and equitable environment.
Montessori noted that traditional method of education set children up as adversaries to one another, and this is something I undoubtedly observed in my nearly two decades of traditional teaching at all grade levels: preschool through community college. When children are encouraged to compete and given a letter or number that publicly shows their superiority or inferiority, children are divided against each other. Children in conventional schools learn to be passive in their own education, and that leads to their being passive in other parts of their lives as well. They learn to cover their papers, be distrustful of one another, or to whisper to one another and be distrustful of their teacher. There is an “us versus them” or “me against them” feeling in every traditional classroom I have ever worked or observed in, no matter how dynamic the teacher. There is distrust and power struggle. Children learn to report on each other rather than working out their problems.
These dynamics make early impressions on children. They understand that someone else decides their fate – the teacher or the principal. They learn to link the idea of success with the ability to parrot back what they have been told by one person, whether aloud or on a test. They learn to limit their ideas to ones that are within the scope and understanding of their educator, because it is very difficult for a traditional educator to step outside her comfort zone. This I have witnessed over and over again. It is suspect if you are too slow, it is suspect if you are two quick. Either of those will get you a special “pull out” program, where everyone is aware that you are “different”. None of these things occur in a Montessori environment, where children are agents of their own education.
In a Montessori classroom, children are welcome to choose and decide what they do all day. They learn to resolve their conflicts using their words and interpersonal skills through ongoing role-play during grace and courtesy lessons. The teacher-student relationship in Montessori education is a peaceful one of mutual respect. The Montessori teacher is trained to speak and work with the child as a coworker, rather than a ward or charge. These differences lay the foundation for a peaceful child. And peaceful children become peaceful adults.
As the focus of traditional education becomes more and more limited to merely transmitting a limited supply of facts and figures, it steps away from the intangible elements of life that make us human. Those things that we cannot measure by a test get pushed aside, and children are left with yawning deficiencies in areas that are necessary for peaceful co-existence. If we want a peaceful world, we cannot start with the adults. We must start with the children. We must start today.