Why would a parent send a child to a Montessori classroom? The answer to that question will be provided in this paper, because Montessori schools provide educational opportunities for children that are rarely if ever successfully offered elsewhere. The strategies employed by Montessori teachers are far more holistic than in traditional public school environments, and hence, Montessori has earned a sterling reputation therein. This paper provides the background of Montessori, the advantages of Montessori, and how a teacher would create a sense of joy within a child that has learned to read well.
Proven Educational Excellence
A study that scientifically tests the positive impact that Montessori has on students was published by Tunisia Riley for the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). This study claims to be the first to "scientifically test the impact on Montessori education, and the results show that Montessori schools can teach academic and social skills that are "equal or superior to those in certain other types of schools" (Riley, 2006, p. 1).
This research study (also published in the journal Science) was conducted by Angeline Lillard (University of Virginia) and Nicole Else-Quest (University of Wisconsin, Madison); the researchers studied two groups of children five and ten years of age in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The results of their study showed that by the time the children that were involved in the study got out of kindergarten, the Montessori children "performed better on reading and math tests" (Riley, p. 1). The researchers utilized the Woodcock-Johnson Test Battery for their evaluations; Woodcock-Johnson assesses "letter-word identification, word attack and applied math problems," Riley explains.
There were more positive results from the Montessori students in comparison with children from other schools in the study. For example, Montessori students were found to engage in "more positive interaction on the playground" and they also showed "more advanced social cognition and executive control" along with more interest in justice and fairness.
The 12-year-olds trained at Montessori schools were "more creative" and "more sophisticated" in their writing narratives; they also performed better when it came to social skills and showed a "stronger sense of community" while at school (Riley, p. 1). Lillard reported that the "Inner-city children" that had attended a "well-implemented Montessori program" were found to have "social outcomes that were superior to those of children attending traditional schools."
Lillard also said those kids from the inner city also had more positive outcomes when it came to academics -- "at least as good on all measures, and on several measures [they] were better" (Riley, p. 1).
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article (Richards, 2006) covering the same research -- showing that 12-year-olds at Montessori schools were more creative and sophisticated in their essay-writing than 12-year-olds in other schools, which teachers will tell you is the goal in most classrooms. The goal is to teach children to think, to solve problems, to be creative and not just memorize dates and names of important events and people in American and world history.
Richards visited Craig Montessori School in Milwaukee to see for herself what the educational environment was like. She entered the lower elementary classroom at Craig and saw 3, 4, and 5-year-olds in the same room, with potted plants all over the room and the "faint" smell of "whatever animal" happened to be house in the room at that time. Kids were playing as individuals or in small groups at different "areas." Those "areas" included the math area, the "practical life" area (where kids might be washing dishes), and the language area, whey they played with letter blocks (Richards, p. 2).
A teacher and an assistant moved easily through the room offering assistance to each student individually, Richards reported. When children progress to higher grades, the classroom called "responsible freedom" is left behind and there is "more textbook integration and some lectures" -- similar to any school classroom environment (Richards, p. 3).
The principal of Craig Montessori School in Milwaukee, Phillip Dosmann, proudly reported that the scientific research clearly "gives good ammunition to dispel some stereotypes of Montessori -- that children just have free choice all the time and nobody gets any grades" (Richards, p. 1).
Maria Montessori and Gerald Lee Gutek
The concept of classroom freedom that Maria Montessori imagined for her schools was quite far apart from the principal of Craig Montessori alludes to in the paragraph above. In the book The Montessori Method editor Gutek points out that Montessori's concept of children's freedom is not at all like the "permissive educators who consider children's freedom to be an end rather than a means" (Gutek, 2004, p. 57). The "overly permissive educators are often disciples of the wildly romantic Rousseau, or they are neo-Freudians" that tend to believe children should be totally free from "repressions" (Gutek, 57). Those overly permissive teachers and administrators (the editor calls them "child-centered progressives") may have experienced severe restrictions "they themselves felt in their own Victorian childhoods," Gutek continues.
However, "genuine freedom is a consequence of development, aided by education," Gutek explains, mirroring the philosophy of Maria Montessori. The key to the development of good habits and a moral framework comes not from "freedom" but rather from concentrating on a piece of work, the editor continues. Concentration does many things in a Montessori context, Gutek goes on. In particular, concentration helps the child develop the sense that "thought (the idea in mind) is related to action," and this leads to good motor coordination and also motivates the child to "stay with a task" and meet the challenge that has been presented (Gutek, 58).
Another big difference between "freedom" -- or overly restrictive didactic structures -- is that in Montessori, if the child fails to complete the exercise properly "he or she" would seem to fail but wait, the Montessori projects are designed to be "self-correcting" (Gutek, 59).
Lesley Britton -- Essence of the Montessori Method -- Holistic Approach
Britton explains that Maria Montessori acquired her ideas about how to educate children from observing them at various stages of their development. She even acted as an interpreter for children, explaining to parents what their children were saying and desiring. She closely observed children from many cultures in many geographic and socioeconomic settings, and came up with her basic formula for teaching children. This can be a very holistic environment if it is approached with care and professionalism.
Maria Montessori believed: a) children -- all children -- have "absorbent" minds; b) all children pass through "sensitive" periods; c) every child wants to learn; d) all children can learn through play and work; e) all children pass through several stages of development; and f) all children want to be independent (Britton, 1992, p. 12). What Montessori meant by the "absorbent mind" is simply that a child has the ability to "soak up information from the environment" around him or her; like a kind of sponge, the child rapidly absorbs information for the first six years of his or her life. Moreover, the impressions that are made in that child's mind over those first six years "actually shape and form" the mind and seriously, wonderfully impact future development opportunities for the child (Britton, 12).
The next phase of the child's development -- according to Montessori's theory -- is the "conscious mind" phase (between three to six years old) during which time the child seems to know what he (we will just use "he" for the purposed of brevity) wants, and has "no hesitation in trying to get his own way" (Britton, 12). In this period of time the mind is still absorbent, but more than that, the mind of this child cries out for knowledge. Moving along through the Montessori periods, the "sensitive periods" enter into the picture. There will be an almost "uncontrollable desire" on the part of the child to touch everything, and it is during this period that if too many "No's" and other restrictions are placed on the child, he "may throw tantrums to show you that he has an unsatisfied need to learn" (Britton, 13).
Next is the "sensitivity to order" (he needs some kind of structure; wants to be handled in the same way each time, by the same person, in the same familiar environment), followed by "sensitivity to language," which leads him to want to talk. As soon as that child is born, he wants to watch a parent's lips as he hears the voice, and putting it together in his own style he will, by the age of 6, "with almost no direct teaching," have acquired a "large vocabulary" with basic sentence patterns, using inflections and accents as well. Removing a child from language during the first six years will leave him "irrevocably damaged," Britton explains (14).
As the whole educational field knows by now, the Montessori way is to help children learn through play. Referring back to earlier in the paper, as Craig Montessori principal Phillip Dosmann pointed out, there are stereotypes and misunderstandings about Montessori. Britton (p. 19-20)…