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Silent Journey

9 Mar

If your child is in a Montessori school, chances are you are curious about the kind of work she is doing.  And chances are, when you ask your child what she did today, the answer you consistently get is: “Nothing.”

In order to better understand and appreciate the developmental nature of the Montessori materials and how they can contribute to your child’s intellectual, emotional, moral, physical, and spiritual growth, many quality Montessori programs provide a Silent Journey once a year.  This is a unique opportunity for parents to put themselves in their children’s shoes and experience first-hand what their children did, are doing, and will do throughout their years in Montessori.

Click here to enjoy a beautiful photo essay by Matt Hillis, which clearly describes the usefulness and magic of the Silent Journey.  If your child’s school doesn’t do one, share the article with them and encourage them to set one up.

You will never look at your child – or at Montessori – the same way again. 🙂

Keeping It Real… Montessori-style!

16 Dec

Ever wonder why fantasy is not a part of the Montessori approach?  Read all about it in my new article in www.MariaMontessori.com!

 

 

Tomorrow’s Child Magazine

18 Oct

How does a Montessori teacher maintain order and harmony in the classroom without the use of rewards and punishments?  How do 25 or 30 young children manage to spend their days together in an environment of respect and community?  How can little tykes develop so much self-discipline and self-control at such a young age?

Find out by reading the November issue of Tomorrow’s Child magazine (published by The Montessori Foundation), where I write about all this and more!  You can subscribe to a digital version of the magazine or get the hard copy delivered in or outside the U.S. by going here!  It’s a great resource for home schooling parents, teachers, and anyone who’s curious about Montessori education and the role it can play in the lives of families.

Happy reading!

Leading Principles of the Montessori Approach, part I

28 Sep

Whew, blogging while getting the Elementary certification is a little like birthing a child while cooking a seven-course meal (or something like that…).  At any rate, I wanted to share these great principles that can help you make the right decision for your child or your students during your Montessori journey.  They’ll be posted in four parts for ease of reading.  I hope you enjoy them!

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When faced with an uncertain situation in the classroom, it is always advisable to go “back to the basics”.  What follows are reference points/yardsticks that will allow us to make decisions that are aligned with the Montessori approach and are in the best interest of the child’s development.

The True Purpose of the Materials
Dr. Montessori’s focus was not the teaching of subjects; she was intrigued by the child’s development and how he learns.  Therefore, the subject area should never become more important than the children.  She offered materials as a means of development, not as an end in themselves.

We should not offer a material – be it table washing or the stamp game – with the goal of getting the child to learn how to wash tables or to obtain the right result for an addition.  We should guide children towards materials that will provide them with the developmental opportunities they require at that precise time.   We can know what their needs are by observing them and educating ourselves regarding the different sensitivities children exhibit at different stages (that’s a post for another day).

A child who washes a table will be refining his movements and developing the ability to follow a sequence of steps, regardless of how clean he leaves the table.  Similarly, a child who works with the stamp game will come to understand the fundamental concepts of arithmetic operations, regardless of whether he gets the correct answer every time or is able to add in his head.

The characteristics of the materials must be such that they prepare the child for something in the future (indirect preparation), while allowing him to reach awareness in the present (direct preparation).  Only the adult can develop an idea of what happens in the future; the child is not conscious of the preparation that is going on while he works.

Reaching Abstraction
The repetitive use of the Montessori materials is what allows the child to reach abstractions.  Dr. Montessori deemed a material valid and useful if it was able to hold the child’s concentration and if it permitted him to pass from the material to the mental world (from the concrete to the abstract).

It’s important to remember that abstractions take time.  The child must use materials that will allow him to reach abstraction by himself on his own timetable; this is the real meaning of freedom, growth, and self-construction.  When a child reaches abstraction depends on the individual, but if it is to be meaningful it will be based on individual experiences and not on someone else’s knowledge.

Thirty hours of lectures per week, anyone?

20 Sep

Hello dear readers (if I have anyone left at this point, since I’ve been away for forever)… Elementary training has been beyond amazing, but has also taken a toll on the amount of time or energy I have for writing anything other than Montessori essays and presentations for school.  Today our trainer busted out the most amazing set of principles that all adults should keep in mind when guiding children (be it in school or at home).  My goal is to get them on this blog this week.  Baby steps towards writing this blog again on a regular basis…

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a beautiful experience I had the first few days in Italy.  I went to a concert atop a bell tower.  Inside the bell tower, a young man – probably not more than 14 years old – used a centuries-old tradition to play the bells… The actual church bells that sit atop the bell tower!!!  Notice his concentration… How often we under-estimate the abilities of our young!

Has the Bread Become Our Master?

15 Aug

An old Iranian proverb says: “Eat your bread in such a way that the bread does not become your master.”  In modern times, we’d be wise to say the same thing about our relationship with technology.

If you were born between the 1940’s and the 1970’s, you’ve experienced first-hand how important technology is for getting ahead in the workforce.  Those in our generation who obtained the necessary technology training to keep up with industry trends have been able to move ahead in the workforce, while others who were stumped by computers have been left behind.  We stand in awe of tech wizards who do with computers what most of us could only dream of (I should know, my husband is one of those brainiacs), and society rewards them handsomely for their abilities.

Not surprisingly, we believe that the secret to our children’s success lies in early exposure to technology.  After all, if we’d been born with a laptop in our hands, we wouldn’t have had to undergo the scary technology learning curve most of us experienced in high school, college, or worse: on the job!  I still remember being in my first year of college (1994) and opening a web browser for the first time.  I had no idea what to do or what to type after arriving at mtv.com (the only website I could think of!).  I also remember working in the corporate world with people only a few years older than me who had no clue how to use basic office technology.  “I’m about to get fired” was written all over their angst-ridden faces as they cringed before the monitor.  Relate those experiences to the current day, when four-year-olds are giving their parents lessons on how to use an iPhone, and it becomes clear why parents are so eager to encourage their pre-schoolers’ impressive computer skills!

However, we are doing young children a terrible disservice by exposing them to computers at an early age (even those computers with so-called educational software).  We are stealing from our children the short window of opportunity for developing CRUCIAL neurological and intellectual skills that ONLY come through real-world experiences.

Am I afraid of technology?  That’s like asking if I’m afraid of tools.  Both are marvelous inventions when used correctly!  Computers are a tool, and like every tool, they should be handled responsibly and used for the right purposes.  An electric drill is a very useful tool for hanging a painting, but it can have dire consequences if used incorrectly.  So can computers.

Here are (a few of) the facts:

  • Computers rob children of outdoor playtime.  Playing outdoors greatly benefits their physical health, encourages socialization, and develops problem-solving skills (read on to find out why computer software fails to provide truly useful problem-solving opportunities).  Physical activity also increases oxygen supply and balances chemical secretions in the brain.  Children with balanced brain chemistry are more capable of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression, and show an increased ability to learn and retain information.
  • Computers take time away from experiences with real-world items (be it toys, art supplies, or a basket full of laundry).  These physical experiences provide the child with important clues about how the world REALLY works (i.e. gravity, cause & effect, self-control), drive him to find out more, and allow him to control of his environment.  Computer programs decide what the child is going to learn; they don’t provide useful multi-sensory feedback (e.g. banging your finger with a hammer in real life is a lot more educational than the same experience in the virtual world); and they breed a passive learner who is dependent on machines to provide experiences and solutions.  Additionally, if a child is stumped on a computer problem, he can shut down the machine and walk away with no consequences.  Not so when he has to figure out how to load the dishwasher so all the plates will fit and the door will close!
  • Computers rob children of valuable child-adult interactions.  In a very large study, researchers found that interactions between children and adults were the primary determinants of children’s intelligence, academic success, and emotional stability. What did these interactions look like?  They were “relaxed explorations guided primarily by the child and supported by helpful and emotionally responsive but not overly intrusive adults.” (Healy, Failure to Connect)  Can computers be “helpful and emotionally responsive”?  No, but you sure can!
  • Computers discourage the type of problem-solving scenarios that create lasting intellectual growth.  When a child is stuck on a problem in real life, a subtle suggestion or question from an adult can be just what he needs to solve the problem himself.  Even the most sophisticated computer programs cannot do this, so children who work with computers learn that the only way to find out the right answer is by waiting for the computer to show them (if they’re patient and interested enough to wait that long).  Gone are the feelings of satisfaction and triumph that come from solving a problem, and gone too is the embodiment of that new knowledge through the experience of figuring it out.
  • Computers don’t provide clear “if-then” experiences, thereby impairing a child’s ability to judge situations.  Psychologists now know that children need physical experiences that they themselves can control (e.g. if I do x this way, then y will happen – What happens if I do x differently?).  This phenomenon is especially important between the ages of three and four, when the brain takes a giant leap in causal reasoning.  And this is exactly when many parents choose to introduce computers to their children – computers that are ripe with software that provides confusing and unnatural cause-effect relationships.  Not surprisingly, elementary and junior high school teachers report a growing number of older students who struggle with applying “if-then” concepts to math, science, and social relations.  Even my husband, who teaches at the college level, has noticed this growing trend among his undergraduate students.
  • Computers confuse children about what is fact and what is fiction.  While young children have a hard time telling the difference between fantasy and reality, by age seven most can tell the two concepts apart.  However, studies have shown that the more screen time children are exposed to when they’re young, the more they struggle with correctly identifying something as fact or fiction as they get older.

In summary: The tech geniuses and titans of industry of today did not achieve their success by sitting in front of a computer at age four.  Their impressive creative and entrepreneurial abilities come from the real-life experiences they had as young children.

Let a pile of laundry be your children’s software and the sandbox be their Silicon Valley.  Allow them to care for a real mouse and “byte” into carrots and radishes straight from the garden.  Invite them to connect with the world and behold the true genius that’s just waiting to burst out.

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For a fascinating look at how computers affect our children, as well as a more in-depth explanation of the specific points discussed here, refer to the wonderful book “Failure To Connect” by Dr. Jane Healy.  If you don’t have time to read the entire book, at least check out Chapter Seven – Cybertots: Technology and the Preschool Child.  Get a free preview through Google Books!

The Force of Dr. Montessori’s Thought

28 Jul

During the past few weeks, I’ve received a couple of invitations to check out an online store that creates Montessori-based applications for the iPad.  On their blog, the product makers (two AMI-trained individuals who obviously skipped all the theory lectures) claim to wholeheartedly support Montessori education.  They paint themselves as champions of children, on a mission to “expose a new generation to the force of [Dr. Montessori’s] thought”.

Their only mission, as far as I can tell, is to make money by using the Montessori name, all the while tricking parents into thinking their children are obtaining a quality educational experience, and robbing children of the opportunity to fulfill their potential through real-world encounters.  Making money?  Perfectly fine.  Conning parents and denying children the opportunity to interact with the real world?  NOT FINE.

Join me as I dissect and respond to the very blog post that claims their intentions are pure (sections in green are taken from their blog):

“We are trying to introduce new families to the Montessori approach to early childhood education. We hope to highlight the importance of Montessori by exposing a new generation to the force of her thought.”

Unless the applications you’re selling come with a full download of The Absorbent Mind and an opportunity to observe in a Montessori classroom, I highly doubt that the families that purchase the products will be ‘exposed to the force of Dr. Montessori’s thought‘ (although I give you points for poetic prowess).  They will only be exposed to the force of mass marketing and the convenience of appliances-as-babysitters, and will once again be falsely reassured by money-grubbing sell-0uts that a video game is a great substitute for actual, physical learning experiences.

“We have carefully and thoughtfully translated the Montessori materials into iPhone and iPad applications. They are adherent to the Montessori philosophy of education. These applications are kinesthetic and proprioceptive, and incite the audio, visual, and tactile senses of the child. They also address the vestibular sense of balance. Additionally, positive feedback systems are delicately put into place, and control of error offers the child an authentic Montessori experience.”

The only way a material can adhere to the Montessori philosophy of education is if it is a REAL material that can be touched, carried, weighed, dropped, stacked, taken off a shelf, explored, and carefully put away.  And who are you trying to fool with your big words, anyway?  These applications are anything BUT kinesthetic and proprioceptive!  They don’t require the child to lift a red rod and gauge its length, or walk between tables and around rugs without bumping into anything.

Perhaps most tragic, in my view, is your claim to ‘incite the audio, visual, and tactile senses of the child’ (it’s auditory, not audio, by the way).  How can you rob children of their RIGHT to have real physical experiences, which are so crucial for the appropriate development of the brain?

Let me quote Dr. Joseph Chilton Pierce, whose theories are based on Montessori’s discoveries: “The more extensive and complete the child’s interaction with the content of the world out there, the more extensive the resulting structure of knowledge within…  In our anxieties, we fail to allow the child a continual interaction with the phenomena of this earth on a full-dimensional level (which means with all five of his/her body senses); and at the same time, we rush the child into contact with phenomena not appropriate to his/her stage of biological development.”  Can this statement more clearly describe the cognitive devastation your products are supporting?!

Now, let’s talk about your so-called ‘control of error’ (which is how the child is able to check his own work with the real Montessori materials and learn from his mistakes).  In the Red Rods (a Montessori material and one of the apps that you sell), the control of error is in the child’s ability to discriminate the differences in length.  But did you know that in order for the child to truly develop this ability and apply his new knowledge in more abstract ways, he has to actually carry the rods and feel their difference in length?

Dr. Montessori, in The Advanced Montessori Method, explained that the value of the control of error is in its ability to allow the child to compare and judge his work.  However, the simple posing of the problem (in this case, putting the Red Rods in order of length) is not what drives the child.  What brings the child back to the material is the sensation of “acquiring a new power of perception” thanks to the control of error, but perception between the ages of zero to six can ONLY be gained through hands-on exploration of materials that are concrete and physical representations of abstract concepts. This makes the control of error in your apps useless as a true tool of cognitive development.

“If Maria Montessori were alive today, we think that she would be at the Apple store, playing with an iPad, thinking hard about these complicated issues… In our opinion, Maria Montessori would be trying to open up and discover new ways to think about how we learn.”

First of all, nothing ticks me off more than misguided Montessorians who justify their schemes by saying, “If Maria Montessori were alive, she’d agree with me”.  Let’s get this straight: If Maria Montessori were alive today, she might very well be at the Apple store, playing with an iPad; but she would NOT be making iPad applications because she understood how children really learn and develop!  Don’t believe me, read her books!  The materials and the method she created were not designed simply to show the children how to read, write, or sort color tablets… She was helping develop “the human spirit” and change the world by following the needs, interests, and drives of children!

“Education must be reconstructed and based on the law of nature and not on the preconceived notions and prejudices of adult society,” she reminded us tirelessly.   The law of nature has not changed in 100 years, although our willingness to accept and adhere to it has.  We adults think we know what’s best for the children, and we fill their lives with our “anxiety-conditioned view of the world,” as Chilton Pearce says.  We think abstractly, and thus force our children to follow suit.  Any person who claims to believe in and support Montessori must put aside their ego and their delusions of grandeur, take a seat, observe the children, and take their cue from them.  THAT is what Maria Montessori would do.

“Existing Montessori students will return to the classroom with a renewed sense of joy and wonder.”

NO.  THEY.  WON’T.  You people are obviously not experienced guides, or you would know that any Montessori student who has been forced, bribed, praised, or coerced into working with Montessori materials at home after school will hardly ever want to touch the materials in the classroom, because the thrill of free choice, uninterrupted exploration, and intrinsic reward is gone.  Even worse, by exposing Montessori children to the apps, you will have robbed them of the experience of  interacting physically with the actual material.  I can hear the children now: “No, I don’t want to work with the Red Rods.  I already played that game on my computer at home.”  Sadly, our children’s loss is EVERYONE’S loss, including yours.

“A parent summed it up best, ‘I look forward to this app since children 3 or 4 are VERY adept at using their PARENTS’ iPads and iPhones – especially during long car trips and long waits at busy restaurants, doctor’s clinics, and in airports and on airplanes…all of which we have experienced in the past weeks. Our iPad has been engaging, educational, and fun.’ “

Uh, whatever happened to keeping your children entertained the old-fashioned way: by interacting with them???  For long car trips, sing songs and play I Spy.  Waiting at a restaurant?  Tell a good story or bring a couple of books.  At a doctor’s clinic?  Bust out a shoelace and play Cat’s Cradle.  For airplanes, nothing beats a coloring book or paper dolls!  Good grief, parents… You complain you don’t get enough time with your children, and when you have the opportunity to interact with them, you plug them into a computer!

“As many of you can imagine, comments have ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other.”

Gee, I wonder what true Montessorians – men and women who have selflessly dedicated their LIVES to fighting for the developmental rights of children – think about all this?  Spend one day – heck, even one hour – in a Montessori classroom, and you’ll understand why we’re fighting so arduously against the computerization of Montessori.

“In our estimations, the relevance of Montessori no longer rests with Montessori. It rests with us.”

No, it doesn’t.  It rests with the children.  Respect their rights, observe their needs, and go make your money at the expense of a less vulnerable social group.  If you truly want to be relevant in the lives of children, then maybe YOU should spend a little more time being ‘exposed to the force of Dr. Montessori’s thought’.

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“To stimulate life,–leaving it then free to develop, to unfold,–herein lies the first task of the educator. In such a delicate task, a great art must suggest the moment, and limit the intervention, in order that we shall arouse no perturbation, cause no deviation, but rather that we shall help the soul which is coming into the fullness of life, and which shall live from its own forces.”

— Maria Montessori