How were you introduced to Montessori education?
I attended Austin Montessori School (in Austin, Texas) when I was a child in the 1970's. I started when I was two and continued until I was eleven. As an adult I returned to the school and worked there as a classroom assistant and afterschool leader. After that I went to Cleveland, Ohio for my AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) children’s house training (3-6) with Joen Bettmann. Once trained, I returned to Austin Montessori School as a guide for the next ten years. We use the term guide instead of teacher. I left my classroom four years ago to be home with my daughter.
Can you give us a brief history of Montessori education?
To answer this question I’ll quote from the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA):
Montessori is a comprehensive educational approach from birth to adulthood based on the observation of children's needs in a variety of cultures all around the world.
Beginning her work almost a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori developed this educational approach based on her understanding of children's natural learning tendencies as they unfold in "prepared environments" for multi-age groups (0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and 12-14).
The Montessori environment contains specially designed, manipulative "materials for development" that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.
Today, Montessori schools are found worldwide, serving children from birth through adolescence. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and more than 200 public schools with Montessori-styled programs. The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), founded by Maria Montessori in 1929, maintains Montessori educational principles and disseminates Montessori education throughout the world.
How are you currently involved in Montessori education?
Currently I am working at the school in a part time capacity while I continue making Montessori Baby Toys and sell them through Etsy and Michael Olaf. Through the school I give a talk about social and emotional development to prospective parents, substitute in classrooms, make materials and help with a variety of projects that come up. My daughter is now almost five and in her third year in the Children's House level in my old classroom.
Can you explain a couple of key difference between Montessori and traditional education?
Again from NAMTA:
Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Montessori classes place children in three-year age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and so on), forming communities in which the older children spontaneously share their knowledge with the younger ones. Montessori represents an entirely different approach to education.
What are some ways that parents can use Montessori education in their home?
Dr. Montessori’s work supports the whole child, not just the child “in school.”
A well prepared home environment welcomes the child to be an active, engaged member of the household.
Dr. Montessori recognized education is an “aid to life.” So the home environment is prepared with the same care as a classroom. It is a true gift to our children to offer them a well prepared home, especially when the away-from-home world moves deeper into commercialization and media.
The home environment does not have the academic Montessori materials that she designed for math and language. Well chosen toys can offer a variety of other experiences with language and numbers.
There is an overlap, with Care of Environment materials such as brooms, clean up cloths, gardening tools, etc., as well as Care of Self materials such as a hair brush, hand washing, toilet needs, etc. These materials are from the Practical Life area of Montessori.
In our home we prepared an infant/toddler Montessori environment for our daughter with the help of friends who have their Montessori training for ages 0 to 3. Here is some of what she had available to her:
floor bed, twin sized futon
toys made from natural materials, not too many at once
time spent outside in nature
ring sling and Ergo carrier
consistent routines with plenty of sleep
breast milk and natural home-made foods
tiny glass cups for drinking water instead of sippy cups
access to a toilet, small one on the floor & platform around regular toilet
Stokke chair for family meals
Stools for general reaching
Small dresser for her own clothing
Now that our daughter is older her needs have changed. Our home environment is simple and we share it completely with her.
She does not watch TV, play with computers or our cell phones. She does know how to call her grandparents on the telephone though! I do not support the use of smart phones or phone apps as a means to experience Montessori materials. There are programs out there that aim their products at very young children rob them of the full sensory and full body experience that only concrete materials can offer. As a wise Montessori friend once told me, “you can do Montessori with rocks and sticks.” I believe this to be true because, obviously one can convey concepts of math or practice writing and reading with no traditional Montessori materials.
She participates with cleaning, cooking, gardening and organizing!
We read a lot of poems and books that are about animals, plants, true stories, history, science and more! We will stay away from fantastical stories until she turns about 6 years old. Children from age 0–6 are working hard to understand their world and so we give only true and possible information.
We do not have any of the math and language materials she uses in the classroom in our home. She has a doll house, stuffed animals, child appropriate instruments, blocks, baby dolls, animal replicas, puzzles, writing supplies, simple art supplies, sewing, etc. The toys do somehow accumulate so we have a Toy Cabinet so that we have only some of her toys out at a time. She knows that the toys in the cabinet are “out of rotation” and the toys on her shelf are “in rotation”. She lets us know if she has something she’d like to put away in exchange for something from the cabinet. This allows our environment to be simple and keeps it from becoming overwhelming. It’s hard to keep up with too many toys.
Music is a big part of our lives. My husband plays guitar and harmonica and sings songs. Even if you aren’t a musician, you can sing songs. Find music you love that has kind words, beautiful thoughts and rich language. We love Elizabeth Mitchell.
This list just touches on our Montessori lifestyle. We continue to observe, learn and improve along the way. There is always more to discover, implement and enjoy.
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