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  • Writer's pictureEmma

Montessori Myths ... True or False?

What do you think when you hear the term "MONTESSORI"?

When I decided, in 2015, to expand upon my Early Years teaching experience by training as a Montessori teacher, I have to admit, I wasn't convinced. During my undergraduate years, I studied a range of approaches to early learning; Reggio Emilia, Steiner Waldorf, Forest School, Montessori and more and at the time, the one approach I wasn't sure about was Montessori.

Studying the philosophy and visiting a Montessori nursery, I felt that it was so different from the mainstream approach I had been used to working in for the first twenty or so years of my teaching career (yes, I'm very old, haha! If you don't believe me, believe the words of one of my lovely little learners who asked me a few years ago "why have you got sparkles in your hair Mrs Page?"). However, I was open minded as I seized the opportunity for further studies when I was living in Ireland, where Montessori nurseries and schools are much more popular than in the UK, and I am so pleased I gave it a shot.

Like many of you, I suspect, I had some pretty strong ideas about Montessori. I thought it was an approach which was quite dated, formal and structured and well, just a bit weird! Given the luxury of time to immerse myself in the philosophy and see it in practice, my mind was completely changed. I observed children totally immersed in the natural joy of learning, I witnessed the natural impulse to develop being allowed to reign and I saw adult educators acting with the confidence to observe, take a step back and believe in the power of even the very youngest of children to educate themselves when provided with a facilitative learning environment.

So, let's take a look at a few Montessori 'myths' and see if they are true, false, or a bit of both ...

Montessorians don't reward/praise children...

Well yes, this is actually true! In Montessori education we don't believe that external praise for achievements is either necessary or beneficial. It is so, so hard as a parent or educator to not say "well done" (or "woo-hoo", "Yay", "good job" etc!) when your little learner does something amazing. However, these expressions come from us, as grown adults, wanting to express our pride in the people we care about and the more we do this, the more little ones in our care will believe that they should focus their efforts on pleasing others rather than satisfying themselves. Would't it be so much better if we teach our young to strive to achieve based on how it makes them feel, not on how it makes others feel? Within the Montessori philosophy, we believe that children have an innate will to learn and develop and therefore it makes sense that we should encourage a sense of self achievement and pride. So, instead of the tempting "whoops' and "well done"s, why not try commenting on efforts and successes with phrases like "I can see you're working hard on that tower", "Does that painting you did make you feel happy?" or "You tried really hard to put the toys in the box".

Montessori children get to do whatever they want ...

False! The Montessori philosophy definitely celebrates and encourages freedom of choice; Freedom to choose what children want explore and learn, freedom to select toys and activities and freedom to spend as long as they want on a particular activity (until they feel they have, on that occasion, got as far as they can manage). However, and it's a BIG however, this freedom of choice is always within the context of limits set by familiar adults who have observed and made judgements about what the child is interested in and what the child needs to move on to the next stage of developmental progress. In other words, as adults, we have a responsibility to set appropriate physical and environmental boundaries to ensure that the learning opportunities available to our little ones enable them to follow their inner drive to explore.

There is no imaginative play in Montessori education ...

Hmm, yes, sort of true .... Maria Montessori believed that the introduction of 'fantasy' (such as stories of dragons, fairies etc) should wait until children are around 6 years of age. Before that, real life experiences are key, anything ouside of their day to day experience is just confusing. So, rather than 'let's pretend' toys such as play kitchens etc, in Montessori learning we prefer to provide children with experiences and materials which facilitate opportunities for real experiences, such as knives that really cut, gadgets that are the right size for little hands to manage and experiences in which children can actually achieve in the same way adults can. Personally, I believe there is a place for both as recreating real, practical experiences through play is a crucial tool to reinforce hands on learning.

Children don't learn social skills in Montessori settings ...

Using 'Montessori' learning materials is often referred to as children's 'work' which sounds pretty harsh until you consider that, to young children, play is actually a child's work. The hours they spend exploring, striving and discovering is just the same as we, as adults, spend in our day to day working lives. Most of the time, Montessori learning is a pretty solitary occupation; a new challenge is presented to a child, one-to-one, by an adult, who will demonstrate what to do and then encourage the child to have a go themself. From then on, children are encouraged to revisit that learning material whenever they wish to and follow the demonstrated method repeatedly until they feel they have achieved the desired outcome. So, after the initial adult input, each learning experience with Montessori learning materials only involves the child. The reasoning behind this is that this enables the child to focus fully on the specifcic task in hand without distraction. Critics of this method may suggest that working on a task on their own dismisses the fact that co-working brings opportunities to learn from others; whereas suupporters of this approach recognise the fact that the brain is able to function more effectively without external distraction. Montessori educators in the present day, who are aware of the vital importance of social development in the context of holistic learning, recognise acutely that young children require a balance of both solitary and social learning. Therefore, alongside the presentation of new learning experiences on a one-to-one basis, we make a concerted effort to teach consideration of the opinion of others, how to listen to others and how to interact with others. This is done through a series of day to day modelling of behaviours known, in a rather charming yet old-fashioned way as "Grace and Courtesy" through somewahat overt demonstrations of kind, thoughtful and considerate behaviours such as taking turns in conversations, managing conflict repectfully and taking account of others' wishes.

Montessori children never hear the word "No" ....

This is true but with very good reason (and it's nothing at all to do with taking the easy way out!)

The reasoning behind avoiding saying a straight "No" to your little one is because just telling a child that they cannot do/have something they want only teaches them that this is something you,as an adult, do not like. Saying "No" clearly conveys your wishes to a child but what it does not do,is expalin WHY you think it's not OK. So, the next time they come across a similar situation, your litttle one will not be equipped with the knowledge to understand why they ought to react in a sociallly desired way , ..... 'I cant' do that because if I do, X will happen" As adults, we can support the development of their thought processes through language which offers them the opportunity to make judgements, choices and decisions. For example, instead of "don't pull tha cat's tail", try this alternative which conveys an alternative without portraying negativity and encourages empathy; "Can you stroke the cat gently on her back, that makes her feel happy"

Montessori isn't for families like us; it's expensive and exclusive ...

Genuine Montessori materials ARE expensive but that is because they are designed and manufactured to be used in educational settings (where they get a whole lot of wear and tear!). One of the best manufacturers of Montessori materials is Nienhuis; their products are BEAUTIFUL and of great quality. For example, the classic 'Pink Tower' which teaches the sensorial concept of shape and dimension and is made up of ten pink wooden cubes ranging from ten cubic centimetres down to one, retails at around £90.00. Yet, the very same concepts can be explored in the home with stacking cups, measuring spoons or even simple wooden puzzles. Following the basics of the Montessori philosophy at home doesn't have to cost a fortune; the way you introduce learning materials is of equal importance as the materials themselves.

Now, if only there was a small, online company that supplied Montessori aligned learning materials at an afordable price yet also provided guidance as to how to use them in line with Montessori learning .....

Yes ok, that was a shameless plug but honestly it's true! If you're interested in exploring how the Montessori philosophy could work at home with your litttle one, head over to our website; you might be surprised how easy it is to make tiny adjustments to the way you parent to encourage confident, independent little learners!

Emma xxx

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