How Montessori Prepares Students to Adapt

Middle School students in a game of chess

Introduction

For this month’s blog I will take a break from The Secret of Childhood. For one, we have covered all, but the final 2 chapters of Part 1, marking a natural stopping point. However, the main reason for the shift is to write something topical. If you have read our alumni interviews, then you have seen that Montessori prepares students to adapt in their future education and careers. Today’s blog will explore that idea across the various age groups that you see in a high-fidelity Montessori school.

The importance of academic skills are widely understood. I would like to underscore that these are not sacrificed by education of the “whole child” in our classrooms. Instead, academic skills are bolstered by the less tangible aspects of Montessori education. Beginning with 3 and 4 year-olds in the Children’s House classroom, students develop the foundation for these skills. Spatial reasoning, fine motor skills, and the association of letter shapes with sounds, all begin at this age.

As students move to Lower Elementary (6-9 years old), then Upper Elementary and Middle School, they build on these foundations. Montessori students in Lower Elementary will work on division, binomials, parts of speech, and more. By Upper Elementary, they expand on these concepts with decimals and pre-algebra, by Middle School they work with geometry, exponents, and integers.

Mastery

One constant which remains through all this growth is a focus on mastery. The first way that Montessori education prepares students to adapt is by focusing on deep level understanding. Our students stick with a subject long enough that they can use it in various applications. Their mastery builds towards the next level of difficulty. Rather than taking tests, students demonstrate their mastery to teachers in holistic-assessments. The teacher watches for ease, understanding, and adaptability before presenting the next lesson.

In Children’s House, 3 year olds practice writing letters at the same time as they learn their sounds. Cards with color coded letters, create a distinction between consonants and vowels. Preliminary skills such as these prepare students to read confidently and make their transition into parts of speech easier. Through this foundational work, students become clear, and creative communicators.

Language mastery can eventually be applied to creative writing, interpersonal communication, and even scientific reports. This is just one example of the way mastery allows us to apply specific skills to multiple uses. Since Montessori classrooms work towards mastery in each concept that is presented, by the time students graduate to high school, they are prepared to use their current knowledge in new and creative ways.

Self-Direction

Along with a focus on mastery, the Montessori classroom encourages students to become self-starters. Among Montessori professionals, teachers are often referred to as classroom guides. This is because Maria Montessori believed that “Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”

Keeping that “light burning” has a purpose that becomes more profound the older the child becomes. As recent events have shown, the world around us can change unexpectedly. We either react with fear or cautious curiosity.

Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting, much in the same way puzzles are. Rather than using positive or negative reinforcement from grades, we encourage growth and mistakes. A self-correcting material allows students to practice working through mistakes with the promise of eventual success. That lesson sticks with students as they become adults.

3-Hour Work Cycles

The final way Montessori prepares students to adapt is through the use of 3 hour work cycles. During these work cycles students are free to organize their work schedule. They can choose the order and duration of each work that best fits their needs. Of course teachers provide guidance, but in general students have a high degree of freedom within the classroom.

With this freedom students begin to learn from a young age to organize their time. Starting at the age of 3, they learn how to use intrinsic motivation in order to keep working. They learn to focus for long periods of time, and they learn what their personal rhythm is in a work day.

All of these skills allow them to adapt later in life. By practicing intrinsic motivation they learn the perseverance needed to tackle difficult times. By learning to focus on one work at a time, they are learning how to isolate tasks in the face of a long list of “to-dos”. Lastly by learning how to work with their own rhythm, they know how to remain productive without burning out. (That last one is a lesson many people could use if the “self-care industry is indicative of anything.)

Montessori prepares students to adapt to whatever life throws at us. I would encourage you to do a little thought experiment. In what ways can we encourage this at home? How can we work through challenges with our children instead of solving things for them? How can we use our current knowledge in unique ways? Lastly, how can we be kind to ourselves without skirting our responsibilities? Adapting to change is difficult sometimes, but it’s rewards are essential. In the words of Maria Montessori, “development is a series of rebirths.” (The Absorbent Mind)

 

-Dave Power

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