Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Applying Montessori principles in our home, part 3

Chapter 7 of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline S. Lillard is about learning within meaningful contexts, which assists "learning by providing frameworks and motivation for the acquisition of new knowledge." (p. 256) Setting up learning experiences to be within meaningful contexts is part of Montessori's methods, but it can also be done in traditional schools. Obviously, it can be done very easily in a home setting: e.g., studying fractions while baking, researching botany for landscaping and gardening, learning civics and finance principles while doing the taxes, and composing letters to relatives that will actually be sent.

The next Montessori principle presented is the promotion of productive adult-child interaction styles. Studies suggest that child outcomes tend to be better where adults are sensitive to children's signals, interpret the signals correctly, and promptly respond to the signals in appropriate ways. The recommended parenting style is being "authoritative", a style characterized by high control (as opposed to permissiveness and neglect) in conjunction with high warmth (as opposed to being authoritarian or neglectful). The control should be tempered with an appropriate level of flexibility for older children and adolescents who can provide reasons for exceptions or changes to adults' rules. Montessori philosophy calls for giving children a great deal of freedom within certain limits, and Lillard presents this as consistent with an authoritative style. One of the most valuable insights I took away from this chapter is that adults need to be assiduous observers of children so they catch children's signals and respond promptly to them. It's a good thing our computer is in the room where our children usually play!

The last Montessori principle discussed in this book is order. In Montessori schools, the daily schedule is not ordered--the child has two three-hour blocks during which they are free to wander the classroom (or even over to another classroom) and choose what tasks they will engage in. However, each of the tasks is very ordered with specific steps to be accomplished in the dictated sequence. Montessori classrooms are intentionally clean, organized, and free of extraneous items, and the atmosphere is kept peaceful with just some quiet chatter or occasional classical music in the background. The Montessori curriculum is presented in a logical, coherent progression, an apparently unattainable goal in public schools in the USA which are always changing textbooks and dealing with students transferring in from all over the country. A lesson I learned in this chapter is that a flexible daily schedule is fine as long as I teach my daughter in an orderly fashion--no music with words or movies playing in the background while I am teaching her, a clean space at the table where we are working, an orderly and peaceful home, and adherence to a given curriculum for a decent length of time instead of being a curricula flibbertigibbet (of course, this means I have to do a lot of research before adopting a curriculum in order to be sure it's one we will want to stay with for a long time).

I recommend this book to parents and teachers looking for new insights in education and character development of children. Lillard doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but she is clearly very impressed with Montessori philosophy and practice and produces a great number of studies that support them. I am glad I read this book now as my children are still young enough for me to benefit from applying the insights I gained from it.

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