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Online Teacher Training
UMA has some exciting news!
UMA is excited to announce we are now offering continued training classes. Contact us for more information!
Most children start Montessori at an early age. They quickly grow accustomed to the beautiful materials. They grow accustomed to being treated with respect.
What happens when a child who has never been in Montessori sees Montessori materials for the first time? What happens when a child who has never been in Montessori is treated with respect?
Recently I talked with a customer who is a teacher in the public school system. She is Montessori trained but her public school is not a Montessori school.
As often as possible, she tries to bring Montessori methods and materials into her classroom. Some may claim that this could do more harm than good, but I don’t think so.
Listen to her story:
“When I took the job teaching Social Studies to 6th graders in the public school, I told the principal that I was going to do things differently than she had ever seen before. She was okay with that, so I started teaching.
Every day I found ways to bring Montessori into the classroom – the children worked mostly independently, rather than me monitoring them closely. When I gave them assignments, I made them open-ended so the children could choose how and when to complete them. I tested as infrequently as possible and used the tests as a way to see where I had failed to make sure they understood the material.
The state curriculum told us that we should study South America. I bought the South America Continent Kit from you, Lori, and printed and laminated it. I cut the cards apart and put them in labeled envelopes. On the outside of each envelope, I wrote the number of pieces that belonged in it (pictures, labels, etc.)
In my Montessori training, one of my trainers had sat down at the rug with all of us in a circle. She was presenting something amazing – like the Geometric Solids – and she began by holding one of the solids in her cupped hands, stretching her hands towards us, and saying “I have a gift for you.” It made the work precious to us and even more interesting.
So I decided to do this with my class when I was introducing the South America materials. I stood at the front of the class and held the envelopes containing the nomenclature cards in my cupped hands. Stretching out my hands towards the students, I said, “I have a gift for you. I have made this for you.”
I showed them each envelope and told them what to do with the materials. I placed the envelopes around the room and let them choose which one to work on and for how long. I simply asked that when they were finished, they count the cards to make sure none were missing.
I watched as the children reverently, gently, opened the envelopes and worked with the materials. Some of them came to me with tears in their eyes, saying, “Miss Stacey, did you really make this for us?” One little boy said solemnly, “No one has ever made anything like this for me before.”
As they were working, if a piece was missing, every child fell to the floor to search for it until it was found. No pieces were ever bent or damaged even though the entire class worked with each set of cards several times. We also studied Asia the same way.
At the end of that year, the students came to me and told me how much they loved the projects we did, how much they appreciated having the freedom to make their own choices. For some children, it was the first time a teacher gave them a gift – not so much the gift of the materials themselves, but the gift of respect.”
What an amazing story! It makes me think of an email I once received – from a Montessori school director – who was asking me for tips on how to make the materials sturdier. The school used heavy laminate on the materials, but the children were so rough with them that they were always ruined by the end of the year. I’m not saying it’s like that at every Montessori school, but it may be more common than we realize.
How often do any of us take the time to really instill a reverence in the children for the materials and how they treat them? I think it’s something we could emphasize more. No child can resist being told “I have a gift for you.” The Montessori materials are a gift to children, just as the Montessori philosophy has been a gift for all of us.
The Montessori Method was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. It’s a specific child-centered method of education that involves child-led activities (referred to as “work”), classrooms with children of varying ages and teachers who encourage independence among their pupils.
Dr. Montessori believed that children learn better when they’re choosing what to learn, and that philosophy is present in Montessori classrooms today. A Montessori classroom likely looks different than what you’re used to. Things that make it unique include:
Like with any instructional method, some teachers and parents love the approach, while others aren’t as enamored. Read on to learn more about some of the potential pros and cons of Montessori education.
If you ever talk to a Montessori educator, you are likely to hear a cascade of praise for the Montessori Method. Systems of education tend to inspire a real passion in the teachers who use them. But what, specifically, are the pros of a Montessori education?
Montessori classrooms are somewhat famous for their beauty. Lots of natural light and space are common priorities in the classroom design. This is all done for a reason. “Creating a beautiful and accessible environment is of paramount importance, as children direct their own learning with the help of meticulously designed learning aids,” says Karen Ricks, who founded an international Montessori school in Japan.
“These materials lead young learners to the understanding of complex vocabulary and the discovery of abstract ideas through the hands-on use of concrete objects fashioned for just such a purpose,” Ricks explains.
“The best thing about a Montessori environment is that it allows for children to work, develop and learn at their own individual pace,” says Anitra Jackson, Montessori educator and writer of Chronicles of a Momtessorian. “Children are exposed to lessons, activities and materials that build upon their skill set—they progress in their development as an individual.”
What does this look like? Well, something like a giant playroom-meets-workshop. “My favorite aspect of a Montessori classroom lies within the sensory-based materials we use with our students, particularly the geometric solids, sandpaper letters and the colored bead stair used for arithmetic,” says Melissa Stepien, a teacher at Sunnyside Micro-School.
“These independently-used materials provide students with the opportunity to develop their concentration and coordination in addition to more traditional academic learning,” Stepien says.
Have you ever noticed the way children become fascinated by what other children are doing? Montessori capitalizes on that by grouping children of different ages together in the same learning environments. Stepien says most Montessori classrooms are mixed-age and intended to foster peer-to-peer learning. This arrangement can naturally lead to growth that might not occur in a more uniformly-aged classroom.
“These mixed-aged groups allow for children to learn from one another, teach one another and develop life skills such as inclusion and acceptance,” Jackson says.
“I valued the sense of confidence and creative freedom you develop,” says Lexi Montgomery, Montessori alum and owner at Darling Web Design. “I think a Montessori background is better for developing an entrepreneurial skillset.” Since much of the learning process is self-directed, children can gain a sense of independence and confidence in their abilities much faster than in a traditional school setting.
“Students who experience a Montessori classroom tend to be more able to manage themselves and think independently,” Stepien says.
This educational philosophy strives to encourage a love for learning. “I think the biggest long-term impact I have seen is that Montessorians remain perpetually curious about the people and the world around them, seeing learning as an enjoyable life-long process rather than a burden that ends when a school bell rings,” Ricks says.
This particular benefit can stay with children their entire lives and become a propelling force through secondary education, a career, job training—or even just in the experiences they have and the people they encounter.
“In my experience, they have a desire and an ability to connect with a variety of people and ideas in many different situations and contexts,” Ricks says.
Maria Montessori’s vision for education included children with special needs from the very beginning. Not only did she study intellectual and developmental disabilities, but she was the co-director of an institute for special education teachers. It was with this background that she started her first “Casa dei Bambini” (Children’s House) for disenfranchised children in Rome in 1907. Many of the tenets of Montessori education serve students with special needs well.
Because children are grouped with others of different ages and have the same teacher for three years at a time, students with special needs tend to have less pressure to keep up with their peers and more freedom to learn and grow at their own pace. The classroom continuity can also help students with special needs form close connections within their classroom, making for a safe and stable environment in which to learn.
Montessori’s “follow the child” philosophy allows for all children—not just those with special needs—to receive an individualized education. A Montessori instructor’s lesson plan may have each child’s name on it with different goals and ideas for their unique learning style. This especially helps students with special needs to learn at their own pace.
Of course, this is not to say that every experience in Montessori will be a good one. On one side, teachers, classmates and school administration can seriously impact your experience for the better. And on the other side, there are some aspects of the Montessori culture that can cause issues for some.
It is hard for Montessori schools to keep their prices low. “The acquisition of so many durable and high-quality learning materials, as well as the lengthy and in-depth training in the use of such items for young children is an expensive undertaking,” Ricks says. “Which is why most fully implemented Montessori programs are expensive.”
While organizations are attempting to combat the expense on behalf of students—such as the foundation created by Bezos—there aren’t many options for teachers in their continuing Montessori education or certification. Ricks says that she “would love to see a Montessori education that is accessible to all adults who wish to ‘follow the child’ and to all children, regardless of their parents’ financial status.”
For some, Montessori education has gone hand in hand with being white and privileged. While this is nowhere near Maria’s original vision for Montessori, it is unfortunately the norm. Because this education philosophy flips traditional public-school curriculum on its head, most Montessori programs are private, tuition-charging and admissions-regulating. This makes it disproportionably difficult for low-income, inner-city students of color to attend such schools.
There are, however, some Montessori charter schools that are more accessible. The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector reports that out of the 5,000 Montessori schools in the U.S., there are about 500 public programs.1 They are typically located in more diverse areas and federally-funded, removing the tuition barrier.
While “following the child” should not be interpreted as “let kids do whatever they want,”it is still a less-structured curriculum than what you might find in a more common approach.
It is up to the teacher and assistant to make sure children progress on pace. Ideally, this give and take can work well. But it can also create room for some subjects to fall by the wayside.
“I would change the looseness of the curriculum,” Montgomery says, looking back on her own experience. “I was very under-prepared for math and science classes and over-prepared for language and arts classes.”
Montessori is strong in fostering a sense of independence and self-guided work. But as Montgomery points out, employment situations aren’t always like that. The entrepreneurial mindset that can be so valuable can also make it hard for students to collaborate in teams and work under a rigid authority.
“Montessori school teaches you to think on your own terms, and the workforce is a more team-oriented environment,” Montgomery says.
“Students could use more support on how to collaborate,” Stepien says. “Collaboration is not a student practice that is addressed well in Montessori curriculum.” Since collaboration is such a prized skill in today’s world, some Montessori schools might definitely push their emphasis in this area.
Children tend to like routine and structure. Even the physical barriers of desks lined up in a row can be a comfort to certain students. Montessori classrooms are built to allow movement and change and the teachers tend to guide more than directly instruct.
While this is probably not an insurmountable obstacle, it’s definitely something to bear in mind. The hierarchy of traditional classrooms allows less freedom to the students, but it can also ensure a class environment that feels ordered, safe and routine.
If these pros and cons of Montessori education are really exciting you, you might want to look into becoming a Montessori teacher. But before you dive in, Ricks says it’s important to do your homework on the Montessori Method.
“There is no trademark on the name, and there are many schools calling themselves ‘Montessori’ that do not follow the true methods,” Ricks says.
“While I personally believe that Montessori is for every child, I also firmly believe it is not necessarily for every adult,” Ricks says. “In order to truly ‘follow the child,’ one must first have faith in the child and the child’s natural desire to learn.” Ricks advises every potential Montessori educator to examine themselves to see if these beliefs hold true.
If you decide you want to employ the Montessori Method, getting educated is your first step. After that, you can decide if you want to teach at an authentic Montessori school or if you just want to incorporate some Montessori principles in your teaching. Learn more about becoming a Montessori teacher or earning a Montessori credential on the American Montessori Society’s website.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to earning an Early Childhood Education (ECE) degree, take some time to learn more about the impact these professionals have on our society in our article, “5 Reasons Why the Importance of ECE Is Impossible to Ignore”
The Benefits of Outdoor Play For Children
BY MARIA MAGHER • MAY 24, 2015
Many parents today spent their childhood riding their bikes and playing games like baseball or dodgeball on side streets and in neighbors’ backyards. Many children today spend much of their time indoors, playing games on their tablets or watching television. The American Academy of Pediatrics says lots of unstructured outdoor play is critical to the health of children, though many have experienced a marked decline in the time they spend in free play.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says childhood obesity rates more than doubled from 1980 to 2010. One way to combat obesity is to allow children plenty of outdoor playtime. Outdoor play gives children the opportunity to run, jump, climb, swim, dance and more, all of which provide aerobic exercise and strength training. Outdoor physical activity also strengthens the immune system and improves vitamin D levels, which can provide protection from osteoporosis and health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that children get moderate to vigorous activity that adds up to at least an hour per day.
It may be hard to accept that children could experience stress or suffer from conditions like depression or anxiety, but these issues are becoming more common for today’s children, who have busy schedules with school and extracurricular activities. Physical activity in the form of outdoor play can help kids reduce their stress. The Children & Nature Network says contact with nature can help reduce stress levels and positively impact conditions such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The neurological benefits of unstructured outdoor play extend far beyond mental health. Encouraging children to get plenty of outdoor play can provide intellectual stimulation, as well. The AAP says outdoor play has been shown to help children focus better in a classroom setting and to enhance readiness for learning, easing the transition to school. Outdoor play also encourages learning and problem-solving skills, which can help children perform better in the classroom. Unstructured outdoor play also promotes creativity, which children can apply to their academic learning, helping them see the material in another way.
When children play with other children outdoors, it encourages their social development. Play gives children opportunities to learn how to work in groups, including learning how to share, how to negotiate and how to resolve conflicts, the AAP reports. Children who are allowed to explore through play can learn new skills and overcome challenges, which can promote self-confidence, resiliency and self-advocacy, all of which can help children learn how to develop healthy relationships and to become leaders.
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