Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Monitessori Method: Who, What, Why?

When we heard of our friends looking for play schools for their children, we kept hearing the "M" word quite often. That led Parth to buy us, "How to raise an amazing child: The Montessori Way" by Tim Seldin. It is a fascinating read more so because of its interesting origins and its liberal undertones.

Maria Montessori, born in Italy in 1870, became the first Italian woman to become a physician. In her work with free clinics, she came across many children of the poor. Through her work she became convinced that every child had an amazing potential and all they needed was the right stimulation and environment to bloom in. To prove her point, she took over management of a day care centre in one of Rome's worst slums. The children were rowdy, irresponsible and very difficult to deal with. She delegated various day care management tasks to the older children, like helping with the cleaning, serving meals etc. And her techniques made them independent, responsible and courteous. Her methods gained popularity across the world and soon schools modelling her approach mushroomed all over, and that is what we call the Montessori Method!

In his book, Seldin shares these principles in detail and provides tips for simple things we could do to apply this approach in our homes as well. I liked one of his opening lines a lot, "while not every teacher is a parent, every parent is a teacher."

Montessori's basic approach to babies was:
  • respect all babies as individual human beings
  • allow them as much freedom of movement as possible
  • help them become increasingly independent by creating a safe, child friendly environment that makes it easier for them to explore.
Therefore in Montessori schools, you often see children playing on their own. They choose what they want to play, sometimes with the guidance of the teacher. They are given a specific space to play in, like a work mat on the floor or a particular corner designated for that activity. They are expected to put things back in place when they done. The book describes many such activities which we can do at home with simple materials available in the house itself. (sorting buttons, a treasure box of different types of materials, sorting different sounds..)

Children feel a lot of frustration in an adult sized world.
So another element of the Montessori schools is that its designed for the world of children. The table and chair, the bathrooms, the cupboards and shelves and plenty of play areas on the ground. This is something we can try and do in our homes as well to some extent. For example, instead of having the child play only in the cot or play area, we can create a larger open floor space with a low bed with blockages where children cannot cross.

Children also respond to a calm and orderly environment in which everything has its place. The schools have smaller reachable shelves with all the materials in segregated baskets/ boxes. In our homes, we can create storage spaces in a way which are easy for children to use and put back in place. For example, having many smaller baskets and open storage units rather than one large toy box where everything is mixed up and is too large for the child to use and organise on her own.

They can also be taught to help around the house. Like arranging the table, clearing up their areas etc. The way to teach them is the way we teach any skill in any work training we do. First demonstrate how its done, let them practice on their own, make mistakes, provide constructive feedback until they are able to do it on their own. The way we teach them to use the taps, or pour liquids, carry breakable items, etc. Investing time in teaching them can go a long way in building their own self confidence in being able to do things on their own.

Montessori also found through her work that the years birth to six years are the most fertile ground for learning, senses, music, language, maths, grace and courtesy, writing, order, reading, spatial relationships. Therefore, allowing children to be as free as possible can allow them to explore and learn more. Cutting nails rather than placing mittens to cover hands; allowing them to play on the floor rather in just in a cot, playing with different textured materials and not just plastic, playing with manual toys rather than mechanical etc can help parents make most of this opportunity.

One thing that struck me as I was reading the book was how similar this approach was to the ideal liberal society Parth and I believe in. Regarding every person as an independent individual being with freedom to explore her potential with the government playing the role of providing a safe and facilitative environment with basic ground rules that apply equally to all!

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