Learning Empathy in the Montessori Classroom

Council Oak Montessori

A respect for empathy lies at the heart of the Montessori classroom. It all started more than 100 years ago in Rome with Maria Montessori’s inclusive and innovative approach to education. Her principles have been developed over the history of the teaching method, but the core idea is still the same: The understanding of others’ emotions is necessary for building and maintaining relationships.

To achieve the goal of life-long respect for others, the Montessori program focuses directly on emotional comprehension and communication. In and out of the classroom, we treat these as skills to treasure and develop. In fact, many of the concepts that define the program come from empathy. “Follow the child” is one example — a core idea that calls instructors to practice emotional awareness and active discussion as part of their teaching practice.

A Collaboration Between Teachers and Students

Theory and history are important, but equally so is the method by which children go about learning empathy in a Montessori classroom. Empathy is something our teachers both embody and attempt to foster in their students, leading to a collaborative environment in which emotional understanding is held in high regard. The transformation from self-absorption to compassion, facilitated by the example of older children and teachers alike, is often noticeable by the end of the very first stages of our program.

Our teachers look forward to guiding young ones from their starting points towards the time they can blossom into individuals who truly care about others. They do this through both a systematic approach, discussed later in this article, and through their handling of classroom events. Instructors, for example, take the time to recognize emotions that flare up during a group discussion, bring these feelings into focus, and guide children towards meaningful resolutions.

A Skill To Build: Parent-Child Relationships

Of course, parents are also invited to join in the student’s journey towards compassion and understanding. The process of approaching and developing empathy at home could very well be the same many teachers use in the classroom:

  1. Emotions are named, using words such as “sad” or “angry”.
  2. The named emotion is defined using observable behavior, such as talking about a child’s crying or screaming.
  3. A solution is offered or discussed, allowing the child to participate in processing their emotion.

These steps, when repeated, foster the revelation that other people notice and are affected by the internal feelings of individuals. The process opens up the huge, interconnected world in which we live and shows by example that there are compassionate way to deal with emotions. This compassion prepares children to form and maintain healthy relationships throughout their lives. It also provides another avenue through which to practice critical thinking,

An early and consistent focus on empathy is one of the most important distinguishing factors of this unique learning program. It helps students form stronger friendships and perform better in groups and as compassionate individuals. This careful study of caring was embodied through Montessori’s own academic activism and teaching program. Now, it forms the basis of creating a school-home environment through which children grow intellectually, explore socially and strengthen emotionally.

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