Friday, January 30, 2015

Communicating Montessori: Food For Thought

As educators of the Montessori pedagogy we sometimes make assumptions about parents.   We assume that they think what we are saying is important to them.   Often times we communicate Montessori jargon because it makes so much sense to those of us that have been trained.   It has become second nature to communicate in a “Montessori way.”    What is really important to parents?   For one, we have to ask them, we have to listen, and we have to connect with them at the heart level.   They want to trust us as much if not more than we want to trust them.   Parents are hoping to entrust us with their most precious seed(s).   Ultimately, they want to know and see their seed(s) be in a nurturing environment where they will grow and flourish to their fullest potential.   What do we say and how do we show parents that a Montessori experience gives their seed(s) the best chance with the best conditions for them to grow to their fullest potential?   That is really a loaded question and each guide and administrator probably needs to figure that out for themselves while taking this journey.   However, I came across leaflet No. 1 from “A Parent’s Guide to the Montessori Classroom” by Aline D. Wolf.   This led me to want to share a few insights and practical information from this leaflet and my own experience.

In the first part of Aline’s leaflet entitled No. 1 The Purpose of Montessori Education, she states that “early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected curriculum, but rather to cultivate her own natural desire to learn.”   So we communicate to the parents and especially the unfamiliar parent that our classrooms are designed to cultivate your child’s innate natural desire to learn.   Just as a seed grows into what it is supposed to grow into when under the right conditions, your child too will grow into what he or she is supposed to grow into.   A true Montessori classroom and a nurturing, well executing guide will foster the innate characteristics and tendencies (can you link this to my article) of your child.   How?   First, this is done by giving the child the experience of “controlled” exploration to experience the excitement of learning.   The guide helps the child to master the tools being used to learn the given activities.   The materials are the physical expression utilized to fulfill both an immediate and long range purpose.   There can be many and it varies for each material.   However, for example think about how the knob cylinders are used both for their immediate purpose, but also to encourage a correct pencil grip.   That leads us to the section in the leaflet of How the Children Learn.

It states that “Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief educator of the child.   We now have research to prove that not only is that true for children, but also it is simply true for humans.   More can be learned about this from Dr. Steve Hughes, a board-certified pediatric neuropsychologist   What better experience to give our children then to be in an environment that incorporates hands on learning for every subject area?   What parent doesn't want to see their child become more independent at an earlier age?   We can talk to them about a couple of practical life experiences that can help bridge the gap between the home and school experience.   What about the parent that sincerely asks, “Why is this so important for my 3-6 year old, they are not even six?”

Well, this leads us to what we are all familiar with, the Sensitive Periods.   Parents may have noticed their child is beginning to have an intense fascination with things.   They may be simple, like putting parts of toys in order or doing an activity over and over again.   Aline states, “The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to her own periods of interest.”    In the classroom, they can put things in order all that they need too, they can learn other skills to practice such as pouring, slicing apples, washing a table.   All of these things foster a sense of order through their steps and meet the need of organizing through the experience of the whole activity.  

The last section of the leaflet is, At What Ages?   Essentially, Montessori pedagogy is crucial for all ages of the child.   It is not just for 3-6 year old children.   And it is certainly not another day care.   It is a true preparation for life.   Not to be confused with a preparation for life through a drudging and rote learning process.   Yet, it is a self-rewarding, self-fulfilling, interdependent and enthusiastic process.   This is not just true for the child, but parents would also like to know that the same is true for the guide.   That is a communication that is often left out.   It is something that many public and traditional private school teachers are not getting to experience with the children they are teaching.   Communicate when possible that Montessori education also happen before primary and after primary in an elementary program.   I am shocked by how many parents didn't even know that elementary even existed.   This reminds me to always keep an open mind, listen, ask questions and assume nothing.   The servant’s heart is necessary not only in working with the child, but also the adult.   Sometimes we forget that.

My hope is that this served as some food for thought.   Please share your thoughts, comments and food.   Thank you for taking the time to read.   


Sid said...

Thanks for the post.

I like that you have highlighted how we can be so used to communicating the Montessori pedagogy in language that comes with our training. I would even go on to say that some of those words Montessori used are quite outdated in our time and day, like normalization.

I like the sensitivity with which you "speak" of the parent and their feelings. Nicely explained

Matthew Simberg said...


Thank you for your feedback. I really appreciate it and I am glad you liked the post!

Lolly said...

Lovely post as always.

It is a difficult balance in preserving "Montessori-ness" and communicating with parents as sometimes things are lost in translation. Because of the holistic nature of our approach there is so much depth to what we do and know and many parents feel they are standing on the shore. We can never make assumptions about the child or the parent(s) and a part of building trust with both is being mindful and respectful.

Matthew Simberg said...

Lolly, thank you for your comment! I appreciate your observations and reflections about what I wrote. Also, I always try to keep in mind the four agreements from "The Four Agreements," which is not to assume anything. Thank you!