Key Differences over Traditional Schooling Models
"It is through appropriate work and activities that the character of the child is transformed. Work influences his development in the same way that food revives the vigor of a starving man. We observe that a child occupied with matters that awaken his interest seems to blossom, to expand, evincing undreamed of character traits; his abilities give him great satisfaction, and he smiles with a sweet and joyous smile."
— Dr. Maria Montessori, MD
To begin, let us picture a classroom for young children. This is not the iconic, colour-drained classroom found so often in the popular culture, where we expect to find passive children seated in rows, books and pencils ready on their desks, while at the front a teacher, stereotypically kindly or stern, delivers the lesson from a book or a blackboard or a digital screen in modern times. Nor is it a contemporary early childhood classroom, with children playing in bright and highly colorful surroundings, where we expect to see finger paints, water play, modelling clay, pretend play, story-telling and solicitous adults competing for the children’s attention, alongside a multi-coloured kaleidoscope of toys and games spilling out of baskets and crates.
Instead, let us picture a classroom somewhat different from these familiar images. The design and learning approach in this setting follows principles proposed in early 20th century, by the Italian educator, Dr Maria Montessori. These principles were originally derived from Montessori’s experience working as a paediatrician and an educator in the slums of Rome and have now been practiced for over 100 years across the world making it one of the most popular pedagogy for early years learning.
The plain walls of the room are lined with open shelves. Displayed on the shelves, carefully ordered and each in its own place, is a collection of objects. Children are absorbed in using these objects, selecting the objects from the shelves, taking them to a mat or small table, and working with them as long as they wish before returning them to the shelf, adults unobtrusively demonstrating and intervening where needed. While working in this environment guided and mentored by capable educators, children develop levels of concentration, autonomy, self-discipline and agency over their learning unheard of in the traditional classrooms. The Montessori learning experience is truly transformative for a young child's developing brain. It is based on following key principles fully in sync with a child's developmental needs in early years:
Children get the "keys" to the real world by exploring and discovering concepts
Our Montessori environments are aesthetically pleasant and carefully organized with scientifically designed Montessori Materials which offer purposeful work to children. There is a logical order in the environment in terms of display and sequence of progression in Materials. Current research in psychology suggests that this order is very helpful to learning and development, and that Dr. Maria Montessori was right on target in creating very ordered environments in schools. While designing the classrooms certain features are kept in mind such as accessibility for children, using natural materials (wood, metal, cloth etc. instead of plastic), freedom of movement etc.
Every decision in the environment regarding the organization,and placement of materials is made intentionally, with an eye to the development of the children that environment serves.
The scientific work materials available on shelves were designed by Dr. Montessori and have been in use for generations across the world. Each activity is geared for helping the child acquire a specific concept.
Role of Educator
A Strong Role Model, A keen Observer, Always follows the child
The educator in our Montessori environments serves less as a “teacher” and more as a directress and facilitator. She closely observes each child’s progress, readiness to advance to new lessons, recognizing and interpreting each child's needs. She is mostly found giving one-on-one lessons to a child, rather than standing at the front of the room talking to the whole group.
Dr. Maria Montessori saw the role of the teacher as providing children with tools for learning, rather than pouring knowledge and facts into them. The teacher provides a link between the child and the prepared environment. The most important attribute of a Montessori teacher is the love and respect she holds for each child's total being.
Children learn at their pace and attain mastery in concepts
Children all over the world follow common laws of development yet every child is unique in terms of their learning trajectory and their skills and interests at any given time. Thus, children learn most effectively and effortlessly when their uniqueness is respected.
In Montessori, children are able to move through the curriculum at an individual rate and to forge their own unique pathways. At a given time, each child in the environment could be working with different work materials instead of being taught the same thing at the same time by a teacher. Each child makes daily work choices in different learning areas and works on it for long as they like individually or in a small group of 2-3 peers collaborating on a particular work. The directress is there to guide and give one-on-one presentations of appropriate work materials to the children instead of following a common daily work schedule.
Independence and Freedom within Limits
Allows children to become responsible and self-disciplined learners
Children are given tools to become responsible and self-disciplined - character qualities which manifest over time. These tools are independence and freedom within limits. From the beginning children practice and learn to become independent in daily activities such as changing clothes and shoes, eating by themselves, using the toilet, practical life exercises etc. This independence in turn allows them to exercise their will and freedom in deciding their work, working for as long as they need to and in social interactions but within balanced and reasonable limits.
This ability to decide frees the child from the need for others to decide for them, thus a new level of independence is achieved. By practicing decision making the child gains and develops a balance between impulse and restriction, which leads to self-discipline.
Self-discipline is manifested when the child controls their activity utilizing the developed will. Thus, discipline comes from within, not without. It manifests in an environment created in order to enable the child to choose, engage in, and concentrate upon a meaningful activity. Responsibility implies the ability not just to decide but to decide what is within expectations and limits. It requires a level of skill and knowledge that enables the child to carry out the task appropriately and effectively.
Working with a diverse group of peers enables children to develop growth mindset
In the real world we build communities - living and working with people from different age groups. Our Montessori environments emulate the real world preparing children for life.
Children from 2.5 - 6 years of age who are in the same plane of development form a community where peer learning and socializing is encouraged as the younger ones learn from observing their older friends and the older children solidify their knowledge, gain valuable leadership skills and become mentors while giving lessons on materials they have mastered to the younger children. This mixed-age diversity helps eliminate unhealthy competition between children and instead draws attention to the range of talents and abilities within the class.
Enables children to be become self-driven and creative individuals
All children are self-driven and intrinsically motivated by birth. They want to learn and succeed. Not because they get any external rewards for learning or escape any negative consequences but because learning satisfies their innate desires and makes them feel good.
At Sketches, we keep this intrinsic motivation alive in children by avoiding any gold stars, applause, praises for children’s work as well as any feeling of shame or fear. Instead we encourage them to reflect upon to how they felt about their work or a newly acquired skill, we ask them questions about their work and we remind them that they can do it if they feel frustrated and gently guide them towards success. We don’t give our opinions or pass judgements because those are not important, what really matters is their own opinions of their work.
Uninterrupted 3 hour Work Cycle
Children take charge of their learning and are not rushed into a curriculum
On a daily basis, children are engaged in working with Montessori materials in an uninterrupted three-hour work cycle. The children are free to work on any material that has been presented to them from any of the learning areas and they have time to work through various tasks and responsibilities at their own pace.
During the work cycle, the directress periodically observes children working and records anecdotal notes on their strengths and weaknesses to help drive their work plans according to a child's individual needs. This recognizes and respects individual variations in the learning process and is vitally important. This enables the building of coordination, concentration, independence and order, and the assimilation of information.
Movement and Cognition
Strong coordination of body and mind leads to deep engagement and interest
Montessori Environments are designed to allow movement to happen naturally and purposefully. Children work in a large open space instead of small classrooms and all the work materials are carefully displayed around them such that movement is involved in choosing their materials and in choosing the place they’ll work with a particular material (a table, a chowki or a floor work mat).
Montessori work materials involve multiple steps and a great deal of object manipulation giving children more opportunities for movement. That’s because movement is closely related to cognition and thinking is expressed by the hands before expressing using words. After all, our brains evolved in a world in which we move and do, not a world in which we sit at desks and consider abstractions.