Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Responding Correctly to Inappropriate Behavior

Author's note: This is a response to a question, which I have included, from a homeschooler. The answer; however, can apply to any inappropriate behavior, at home, a playground, a restaurant, etc.

"Though I am not up on much of the theory yet, I have created a few works of pouring, spooning, sorting, etc and put them out for the kids. I did a presentation for each work, demonstrating how the work should be done. The first day went pretty good. They would get the work from the shelf and do fine with it. I did have to gently remind sometimes to put things away before getting something new, but they were pretty much on task.

Today was a different story. Today they wanted to test the boundaries of this new system. They tried to use the work items inappropriately. Pouring instead of spooning, spooning into the tray instead of the dish, etc. They would also run to get a work, get it all set up, do about two or three motions, and then declare themselves finished and want to put it up.

What is an appropriate response to these issues? Do I insist that they finish a work before putting it away? What is the Montessori approach to doing that to avoid a battle of wills (and in our house, a time out). What is the response when they don't use the materials as designed and presented?

In addition, my daughter wanted to take the sorting beads and lay them out in a pattern instead of sorting them? What would be the response to that? To me, she is doing something wonderful, but is not doing the work as presented."

There are several things that are important to be remembered here. You can of course choose to be more open ended with the works, but then you are not practicing Montessori. If you are not practicing it as fully as you can, you cannot expect the same outcomes (self-direction, self-control, normalization, concentration, independence, etc) that goes along with a Montessori education. I'm not saying that this is a good or bad thing for your family, every family must do what they feel is correct. This is just a a statement so you are aware of what to expect or not expect.

There are a few things that could be at work in your setting. The first day they may have worked properly because it was new and interesting. The second day, not as much. This could indicate that these activities are below/above their working levels. The works could also just not be interesting to them. The first month or so the key is to observe, observe, and then observe some more. This will help you to see their working levels, so you can keep appropriate materials out. They could also be testing out boundaries as you said, and if that if the case, you must make sure to keep your boundaries firm. Montessori is "freedom of choice with limits." They can choose any of the works available to them at any time, but those works must be done properly.

So, to answer how to handle this. If they have had a demonstration and are working improperly on purpose, a redirection is what is in order. They can work properly, or they can put it away and get a new work. I usually give three chances to a student. First, I gently put my hand on their should and quietly say "You can work on this properly, or you can put this work away and choose new work." If they are still working improperly: "You can put this work away, or I will put it away for you." And finally if they do not put the work away: "I am going to put this work away now, you can return to it tomorrow if you are ready to work on it properly."

I know in one reply someone said a teacher would not allow a student to work on something without a demonstration first, and they thought that was too controlling. I would agree with that. Sometimes a student can pick up work without a demonstration and do the work correctly. Sometimes they cannot. If you are observing you can see that the work is not being done correctly and then you can do a demonstration of the work. A correction of work that has never been demonstrated; however, should not be done at the time of notice, but rather wait until the child is fresh. It is a blow to their confidence to think that someone is always waiting to correct them and this impedes their confidence. Also, do not mention that they were doing it incorrectly, a redemonstration (maybe several) will correct that. This is also the protocol if they are not doing the work correctly because it is too difficult (instead, demonstrate a work that is more at their level but will help them to work on the activity they tried at some point in the future) or if it is just an honest mistake in the work. She also said another teacher allowed them to do what they wanted to with the materials. This is too liberal. Certainly students can make extensions with the materials if they are expanding their skills, but just "playing" with the materials as if they are a toy is not what they are in school for and is a waste of time. If a student is doing extension work, they should have mastered the original material and then be getting be getting something useful out of the extension.

If a misuse is occurring, it may be the students way of telling you they would like a different work. For example, if the student is pouring dish to dish, create a work that allows they to do this. If spooning to a plate is what is desired, make an activity to do this. In the case of the beads, you may want to add a work that allows her to make designs using beads (not your sorting beads, but craft beads or the like), as well as a study of artists that have done just that. You may also want to remove the works that they are not using properly/are uninterested in. Redirect the misuse, but the next day the new works should be awaiting them.

I was disturbed by something in your post. You said that you use time-outs. I just want to emphasize that time-outs are a form of punishment and are NOT Montessori at all. A child learns nothing from a time-out (or any form of punishment or reward) except that they will be punished for not complying to an adult's wish. Instead, a Montessorian would use a combination of redirection and then understanding the root cause of the behavior (through constant observation) and then adjusting the environment of the child appropriately. Natural consequences are key here. If something is used improperly, they may not use it (a natural consequence). If something is broken, they must fix it or it is lost (not to be replaced). Again, a natural consequence. A time-out is an artificial consequence and no learning comes from it, other than to know that they do not want to get caught for fear of punishment. It does not actually curb behaviors, only curbs behaviors when the punishment could occur.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Neurology of Montessori

This is a wonderful article on why the Montessori method works so well for children, according to brain research.

Thank you Lori Bourne at Montessori for Everyone for putting this together!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Playdate altercations

How would you all have handled this situation - during a playdate near the end (lunch, tired and hungry kids) one child starts yelling at another to let go of a toy. kids age range form 3-7; child yelling is 5. child being yelled at is 3.

If the child yelling is trying to take the toy from the 3yo, I would gently put my hand on the child's shoulder and say "Would you like a turn with toy? You can ask so and so, so that he/she know that you want the toy. Yelling so loudly is hurting my ears, but if you ask nicely perhaps so and so will give you a turn." Generally children respond to a request like this. If the 5yo refuses to stop yelling, I would ask him or her to go to a place where he or she can yell and not disturb others (this may mean requesting the parent remove the child from the playgroup until he or she is calm, to their car, a restroom, perhaps take the child home.) If the child does calm down and is polite I would say "I love the way that you were using such polite words. That makes my ears feel much better." Even if he or she does become calm and politely requests a turn,there is the possibility that the 3yo says no the child cannot take a turn (in the 3yo eyes taking a turn means immediately giving up the toy) so in that case I would tell the 5yo "He/She is still using the toy. When he/she is finished it can be your turn. While you are waiting you can use this toy (giving a substitute), or you can just wait until he/she is finished." It is important that you do not force the child that has the toy to give it up to make the other one happy, or require sharing. One child's time with an activity is just as important as another child's. If the 3yo does share or immediately give the other child a turn I would say "I bet that made so and so very happy." This way the 3yo knows that his or her actions had a positive impact on someone. Sharing should be something spontaneous, not forced because good or nice children share.

If the 3yo took something from the 5yo and the 5yo was yelling trying to recover said item, there is legitimacy in his or her yelling. I would gently put my hand on his or her shoulder and say "Is there a more polite way that you could ask for your toy back?" Then see what happens. Generally, a child can calm down when snapped out of the fit of rage by a gentle voice. If the 3yo does not comply with the polite request of the 5yo to return the toy, then I would step in and say to the 3yo "So and so was still using that. If you would like a turn you could ask him or her for a turn when he or she is finished. Right now, though, you must give it back to so and so." If the 3yo complies (and they usually do, the taking of a toy is generally an impulse and after the impulse they realize they were wrong), I would say to the 3yo "Thank you for returning the toy to so and so, I bet the made him or her feel much better. Would you like to ask for a turn with it when he or she is finished?" If the 3yo does not return the item I would say further "You can give the item to him or her or you can give me the item (then I would give the item back to the injured party)." and if still no compliance you may need to request the parent takes the child home, as he or she is not cooperatively playing. In a school situation or if my child were the one that was not being cooperative I would say "You can give me the toy now and you may not use anything else until you are ready to be polite." If it is my own child I may say I was taking her home because she was not being polite.

I would also request to the playdate organizers that the playdate either not be quite so long or not run into lunch time, because that is a brewing grounds for trouble. A parent meeting for regular playdate groups to lay down ground rules for when you should take a child home is often helpful. I would step in even if the parent is there and not responding (I even do at the mall playground and such) because I am trained to handle these situations and many parents feel ill equipped to handle them and are often thankful. Even if the parent is not, it is still a learning opportunity for the other children/parents in the group.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brain research supports Montessori education

From Parenting Works (

Brain Research Supports Montessori Method
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
By Eileen Lian

“Spotlight the good and the good will grow”

According to Phyllis Wallbank, this was one of Maria Montessori’s most profound ideas. Children need positive remarks and attention and if parents are too busy to provide these in sufficient quantities, they will resort to behaving badly in order to get the attention that they need.

Founder of the first Montessori school in England in 1948, Mrs Wallbank says that brain research has shown that it is the frontal lobes that are active when a person is happy, thinking or speaking positively—the left side—and also when the person is depressed—the right side.

The frontal lobes are also that part of the brain that is active from the time we are born to the time we turn six. During this first stage of development as defined by Montessori, there are more brain cells there, than at any other time in our lives.

These cells absorb the child’s surroundings like a sponge, ensuring that he becomes part of his larger nationality and culture. They also mould him into the man that he will become, in accordance to the messages of love and attention, or neglect, that he receives as a result of his personal circumstances.

Children learn what they live. And later on in life, live what they have learnt.

Mrs Wallbank was speaking in Kuala Lumpur two years ago as part of her Montessori Centenary Lecture World Tour. She was already in her nineties at the time but decided to go on the tour to pass along her first-hand knowledge about the Montessori method of education in light of recent brain research.

The Montessori method is based on Maria Montessori’s observation that there are four very distinct stages of development that we all go through:

• Stage 1: from fertilisation to six years
• Stage 2: from seven to 12 years
• Stage 3: from 12 to 18
• Stage 4: from 18 to 24

Movement plays a critical role in brain development during the first stage—the absorbent mind stage. Intelligence is developed through movement and children need to have freedom of movement at this age.

Sitting down to lessons just won’t do; rather, young children should be allowed to move around freely, on their own volition, and explore the objects and the world around them. Montessori suggests providing them with a variety of sensorial materials.

When children are between seven and 12 years of age, many of the brain cells in their frontal lobes die off as the early absorbent way of learning diminishes. Suddenly a larger world than their immediate environment opens up.

This is the age when children consciously want to learn and to have their questions answered. They thrive on the opportunity for occasional talks with people who are experts in their fields.

Repetition is very important at this age and the materials used should incorporate the childrens’ own interests. At Mrs Wallbank’s Gatehouse Learning Centre, subjects were not separated but were linked so that they became part of the whole.

Stage 2 is also the action age for children, in terms of gaining physical skills and playing team games. They enjoy making up secret languages, laughing at jokes and telling riddles.

Adolescents from 12 to 18—Montessori’s Stage 3—struggle to cope with the intense emotional, behavioural and physical changes that are going on in their lives. This is a time when they feel especially vulnerable.

Latest brain research shows that the circuits that coordinate our behaviours are being remodelled during the teen years in preparation for adulthood. This is a period of great adjustment, with many of the cells that were active during the earlier years now dead, which explains why these previously polite and delightful children no longer seem to be so.

Montessori believes that children this age should do practical tasks for money and have plenty of opportunities for self-expression in occupations. They should study literature, have choral singing and play instruments, among other things.

This is the time that adolescents have to ask questions and discover for themselves what they really believe and who they really are. The main stages of development during this period are divided into two halves: 12, 13 and 14; 15, 16 and 17.

In these later years of the child, language is no longer learnt by absorbing but rather by conscious work in parts of the brain other than the frontal lobes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cool Talk by Will Wright...

...creator of Sims, about how Montessori education inspired him and how his games are Montessori-like.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Toddler Temper Tantrums

I get asked this question all of the time, what do I do about toddler temper tantrums? One thing to be sure of, these tantrum usually pass with age. I say usually because they will not go away if they are rewarded. The first thing about a temper tantrum is to understand the root cause, it is generally not caused by the obvious trigger. Children are generally not throwing a temper tantrum because they are truly sad or angry they are not getting their way. Usually he or she is tired, hungry, overstimulated, bored, or any other host of reasons that cause this behavior. However, and this is important, just because the underlying reason is primarily not the child's fault, you still can never give in. If you are at home the best solution is to, in a gentle voice, tell your child "I understand that you are unhappy, but I will talk to you about this when you have calmed down." And then walk away and ignore the tantrum. Of course make sure the area is clear of hazards if your child is a flailing sort of tantrummer. When he or she calms down, return and say "Thank you for calming down, now we can talk." And discuss your reasons. Even a very young child can be reasoned with, or at the very least understand a gentle voice. Sometimes explaining a reason causes the tantrum to begin again, in which case you repeat the process. Then, as soon as you can, try to relieve the root cause of the problem, a nap or bed, a snack or meal, some quiet time or rocking, an activity to occupy, etc.

You should try to avoid making going to bed, even if the child is tired, seem like a punishment for a tantrum. This is sometimes difficult, especially when you know that is what is really needed. In this case, try to follow the tantrum with a linking activity to sleep like rocking or reading a bedtime story. If sleep is made to seem like a punishment for a behavior, regular naps and bedtimes may become difficult.

For public temper tantrum, which are of course much more embarrassing for the parents, try to remove the child from the situation as quickly as you can. Going back to the car, a restroom, a quiet area away from people all work. Then, follow the same protocol as when home. Decide if they should return to the activity, or if he or she really just needs to go home. Even if something wonderful is to be missed, sometimes this is the best option.

The main keys to are to avoid giving the tantrum attention and to at all costs not ever give the child what they are throwing the tantrum for. The biggest mistake I see parents make is to give the child what they want after calming down. So, in the child's mind "I throw a tantrum, I calm down, I get what I want." It is actually a very logical progression on their part. Once the child sees that the tantrums do not work and have the verbage and ability to control their emotions, the tantrums will end. Light at the end of the toddler tunnel.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Battle over Dressing

This blog entry was inspired by a high school friend whose facebook status update was asking for advice for her son (I think he is around two years old) who refuses to get dressed in the morning. Was it OK to allow him to choose to wear his pajamas out?

Many said yes, just let him go out in PJs, choose your battles. I respond to this with a resounding "NO!" While I agree that as parents we should choose our battles, this one is not a choice. One of the many jobs of a parent is to teach societal norms. Can we go out in our PJs? Certainly, most days I would love to, but no, we cannot. Nor should your child, past the infancy stage.

Another responded with a sticker chart. Reward his "good" behavior of getting dressed. But any reward or punishment system denies the child to do the most important thing, the very work of the child. And that is to learn. Rewards/punishments serve only to produce a desired outcome for an adult, not to teach the child about anything. Instead, the purpose of getting dressed in the morning should be for no other reason than to master this very important skill, gain self-confidence that he can perform these skills, and being proud of his appearance when he does get dressed. A child has a great amount of dignity, and they do like looking very nice and taking pride in their appearance.

So, how to stop the battles? As a Montessori teacher, I would try to find out the root cause of the battle. Is he lacking in self-confidence that he cannot do certain tasks involved with getting dressed? Most children at the age want to do things for themselves, and do not want help from an adult. However, they can quickly become frustrated when tasks do not come easily to them. If this is the case, make sure the clothes are easy for him to put on. Lots of elastic waistbands, no buttons and zippers, etc. Lay the shirt out on a bed face down so he can "dive" into it. To help him prepare for more difficult clothing, have things that he can practice with at other times of the day. In our classrooms we have dressing frames, but bears, dolls, etc are easily found at toystores that allow practice with buttons, snaps, zippers, etc.

Or, do you dress him and he is ready to move on from that and be more independent? By all means, at this age he certainly has the capabilities to do this himself. You may need to allow for more dressing time in the morning. Adjust your morning prep time accordingly.

Are the battles because he doesn't feel he has control over the situation? The control might stem from a few different places. What is going on when he is asked to get dressed? If he is playing with his favorite toy, he probably does not want to stop and get dressed. Try either waiting for a break in his activity or giving him warning about when he will need to stop playing and get ready. Adults do not like to be interrupted when we are busy with something, and neither do children.

Is the control centered around the clothing choice? In this instance you can either let him choose his own: "Which pants are you choosing today?" This is the choosing battles time. It is OK that the outfit does not match, his pants are on backwards, etc. Just be joyous that he did this himself.

Sometimes, the whole choice of a closet is too overwhelming, or maybe it is a special occasion when unmatched clothes are not appropriate. In these cases you can limit the choices for him: "Would you like to wear these pants or these pants?" He will still be happy that he got to have a choice in the matter.

Another reason for not wanting to put on his clothes could be that they are uncomfortable. Do they have tags or something that are itchy? Are they too big or small? If this is the problem try to help him remedy the situation by making the clothes more comfortable. Some children have certain things they are very sensitive about, such as socks aligned just right. Help them learn to get the clothes the way they like, and where possible help them learn that it is also all right when things are not just perfect.

In the end though it may come down to: "You can choose to get dressed, or I can dress you." If the response is negative (or a refusal to respond, which is also a negative response): "OK, I am going to put your clothes on." Period.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Montessori and Ayn Rand

A vote for Montessori by philosophist Ayn Rand:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Montessori and Objectivism

Note: this is not my post, but one I found very good, so I wanted to pass it along.

A Tribute To Maria Montessori

“The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own efforts.”

Ayn Rand, “The Comprachicos”

The state of education in New Zealand is a shambles. Parents who are concerned about the future well-being of their children are searching desperately for educational alternatives. The increased demand for private schooling and the dramatic rise in the number of home-schooled children provide an accurate measure of the growing degree of parental dissatisfaction with the current situation.

But unless responsible and well-meaning parents are armed with the philosophical knowledge to be able to choose a rational educational method for their children i.e., a type of educational method that will fully prepare their children for successful adult life then it is quite likely that the results will be just as disappointing for them as for those parents who have left their children’s education in the hands of the state.

There is no guarantee whatsoever that private or home-schooling per se will produce satisfactory results. It is one thing to opt out of a state system that not only stunts, but positively perverts a child’s intellectual and moral growth (see Editorial, Turning Minds to Mush, TFR #9); it is quite another to choose a rational alternative. This is why philosophical knowledge, because of its specially close ties to education, goes a long way in helping parents make the right choice.

The objective of this article, therefore, is to provide not only the knowledge, but also an introduction to a particular educational method that produces exceptional results.

The important thing for parents to be aware of is that all educational methods rest upon underlying philosophies. A type of education system that derives its methods and goals from a philosophy that is steeped in irrationality and collectivism will produce a certain type of individual (and society); conversely, a type of education system that derives its methods and goals from a philosophy that advocates and upholds reason and individualism will produce a completely different type of individual (and society).

It follows that in order to choose a rational education for your child, it is first necessary to identify an education method’s philosophical underpinnings if you want him to have every opportunity of fulfilling his potential as a human being.

To begin with and this cannot be stressed enough you must know that, ultimately, in order to allow your child to fully develop the potential power of his mind, you first have to know what potential power needs developing. It is only once this power has been correctly identified, and its function properly understood, that it will be possible to go about aiding its development. The power in question, the power that man uses to grasp the world around him, the power that is at the central core of his very nature, is reason.

Unlike the other animals, man is a conceptual being. It is his rational faculty, his ability to reason, that sets him apart. To possess the power of reason is to possess the ability to conceptualise; it is to possess the ability to build, hierarchically, beginning with the perceptual evidence, progressively higher-level concepts that presuppose earlier concepts. Reason is man’s sole means of cognition, his only means of knowledge. It is this power which has enabled man not only to survive, but also to progress. It is man’s capacity to reason that has taken him out of the caves and put him on the moon.

To grasp this point fully, imagine for a moment what it would be like if you lost your ability to reason i.e., to think. How would you take care of yourself? How would you perform a simple task such as tying your shoes? How would you structure your day? The answer to all these questions is that without the power of reason you wouldn’t be able to. You would be in exactly the same position as a new-born baby helpless, totally dependent on others to look after you.

It is the purpose of education, therefore, to ensure that the helpless, dependent new-born baby makes the successful transition to becoming an independent, mature adult, fully confident of being able to master the world in which he lives. The only way to do that is to provide him with an educational method whose explicit goal is to assist him in such an achievement by developing his power of reason.

The good news for parents is that there IS such a rational educational method. It is known as the Montessori Method, named after Maria Montessori, the Italian Doctor of Medicine who developed her methods while working with mentally retarded children at the turn of this century. Her results with those children were so spectacular that they caused her to wonder what was holding so-called normal children back to the levels she was attaining with her retarded children.

In 1907, she founded the first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) where she applied her methods to children of normal intelligence. Her successes led to the opening of other Montessori schools, and although many intellectuals were (and still are) vehemently opposed to her approach and even more so to the underlying philosophy of her approach (as they are to anything that provides a foundation for, or aspires to, individual excellence and achievement) her radical methods were widely acclaimed by the general public.

The reason the Montessori Method is so successful is that it is based on the true nature of Man. Dr Montessori did not have a preconceived theory of education into which she attempted to fit the child (unlike other educationalists such as John Dewey); she did not project a type of individual she wanted to create. Instead, she followed the “inner dictates of the child” to guide her in aiding the child’s natural development to his full potential.

She was fully aware that Man’s nature is that of conceptual being, and that the nature of the young child is such that he actively strives to perfect his conceptual faculty as it evolves. Her method works because it advocates and upholds the advancement of a child’s reasoning power as its foundational and philosophical cornerstone.

Specifically, it is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, which upholds reason as Man’s only means of knowledge, that can provide the theoretical foundation for the Montessori Method. Rand herself paid tribute many times to Maria Montessori’s genius in the field of education.

Both Maria Montessori and Ayn Rand saw man as, to quote Aristotle’s definition, the “rational animal.” In his book Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, E. M. Standing eloquently encapsulates Maria Montessori’s view of reason: “In the first place it is the intellect or reason which sets us free from the never ending prison of the present moment in which animals live, dominated entirely from moment to moment by their instincts.”

In an almost identical reference to reason in her major work on education, “The Comprachicos,” Ayn Rand states: “Deprived of the ability to reason, man becomes a docile, pliant, impotent chunk of clay, to be shaped into any subhuman form and used for any purpose by anyone who wants to bother.”

Both Maria Montessori and Ayn Rand clearly recognised the central role of reason in Man’s life. Whereas the genius of Ayn Rand was to construct a fully integrated philosophy with reason as one of its central tenets, the genius of Dr Montessori lay in the fact that she devised a systematic, integrated educational method which all but guarantees the child’s proper conceptual growth.

Although Dr Montessori’s personal philosophy was a mix of Western religion and Eastern mysticism, her methods automatise in the child thinking methodology entirely consistent with Ayn Rand’s theory of concept-formation. Those who are interested in the more technical aspects of concept-formation are strongly urged to read Ayn Rand’s ground-breaking work, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. This book has major implications for education, as it provides the key to understanding how a rational mind functions, and therefore how a forming mind should be guided as it goes through the various developmental stages.

Through scientific observations of children (conducted in an environment where the children were free to act spontaneously), Maria Montessori gained first-hand knowledge of the developing stages of the conceptual faculty; specifically, she observed how the children acquired conceptual knowledge.

She recognised their intense interest in the qualities of things; she recognised their capacity to isolate qualities or ideas and their ability to form abstractions of such things. She was well aware “of this tendency of the child?s mind to draw off from material objects their intangible essences, thus building up a store of abstract ideas. These ideas reflect the ESSENTIAL nature of the confused flux of merely sensorial impressions that ‘big, booming, buzzing confusion’ of which Professor (William) James spoke” (E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work).

It needs to be pointed out that “the first five or six years of a child’s life are crucial to a child’s cognitive development. They determine, not the content of his mind but its method of functioning…” (Ayn Rand, “The Comprachicos”). Also like Rand, Dr Montessori understood well the importance to the child of these crucially formative years. In a quote which mirrors Ayn Rand’s thoughts she said, “There are many who hold, as I do, that the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For this is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed.”

To that end, and by way of an introduction, this article will be restricted to dealing with those aspects of the Montessori Method as they apply to the child of 2 6 years of age. (It should be noted that Maria Montessori devised her system to educate the child from birth through to twelve years of age.

Montessorians have since expanded on her work to include the teenage years for which, before her death in 1952, Dr Montessori left only a basic outline.)
Dr Montessori’s Aristotelian view of reason (and her in-depth studies of the educational methods of Seguin and Itard) led to the development of her specially designed SENSORIAL MATERIALS which are a feature of all Montessori classrooms. She believed in Aristotle’s dictum that “there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses,” and knew that the refinement of the child’s senses and clarity and precision of his perceptions would affect his ability to conceptualise. By means of a sensorial education she sought to provide the child with the means to exercise his ability to compare, contrast and discriminate, to classify the goal being the child’s acquisition of what she referred to as an “ordered mind.”

Designed to encourage individual rather than co-operative effort (reason is an attribute of the individual), the sensorial material takes the young child step by cognitive step from the perceptual (concrete) to the conceptual (abstract) level, allowing the “child’s mind to draw off their (the materials’) intangible essence.”

This process is imposed on him by the self-correcting nature of the material its inbuilt “control of error,” which only ever allows for one correct answer, making it evident to the child if he makes a mistake (teaching him in the process that reality is not malleable, that things have identity); this demands from him absolute cognitive precision, and rewards him with absolute cognitive certainty. These materials are deliberately designed so that all their attributes are the same except for the single attribute that the child is to focus on.

For example, in teaching a child the concept “colour,” the child is introduced to the “colour tablets.” These tablets are all the same size, weight, shape etc.; they differ in one aspect only colour. Because of the elimination of non-essentials as well as isolation of the quality (concept) being taught, the child must focus on the particular quality being isolated. The child quickly learns to pair colours of the same hue, and in so doing, makes it possible for the Montessori “directress” to label each quality for him.

Later, shades of each colour are introduced, and concepts such as light, lighter, lightest, and dark, darker, and darkest become readily apparent to the child so that “when the child has recognised the differences between the qualities of the objects, the teacher fixes the idea of this quality with a word” (Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook).

The wide range of sensorial materials, which teach concepts such as length, size, musical pitch etc., are placed in the classroom on child-height shelves where the child can reach them without adult assistance (promoting independence).

Within certain limits, the child is then free to work with the material as he chooses. I say “within limits” as (and this is a point of which certain critics of a Montessori classroom should take careful note) the child is free neither to take material from another child who will be working with it on his private mat nor to insist that the other child share the material with him (which has obvious ethical implications).

He may not interfere in any way with the work of another child; instead, he must wait until the material is returned to its assigned place on the shelves. The child is also prohibited from selecting materials from the shelves which are too advanced for his level of cognitive development.

In a Montessori classroom the child works at his own pace with the teacher keeping detailed notes of individual progress. This is done to ensure that intellectual progression is based on certainty not layers upon layers of mental fog; it ensures that the child is not introduced to material demanding higher levels of abstractions before he has a firm grasp of the lower levels abstractions which they rest upon.

For example, the child would never be given shades of colour to grade before being able to match hues; he would never be given a word to read before being able to sound out each individual letter. Why not? Because like Ayn Rand, Maria Montessori grasped the hierarchical nature of knowledge, the obvious implication being that any knowledge presented to the child should follow such logical progression. Instead of ending up as a head full of scrambled and disparate facts, the child’s mind becomes ordered. “The little child, who carries within him a heavy chaos, is like a man who has accumulated an immense quantity of books, piled up without any order, and who asks himself: ‘What shall I do with them?’ When will he be able to arrange them in such a fashion as to enable him to say: ‘I possess a library.’?” (Maria Montessori, The Advanced Montessori Method 1). He will be able to arrange them when he develops, to use Dr Montessori’s words, an “ordered mind.”

The sensorial materials, with their sequential and hierarchical presentation, are but one aspect, albeit a crucial one, of the Montessori classroom. Like every other feature of the classroom, which Maria Montessori referred to as “the prepared environment,” they serve a specific purpose. At the central core of that purpose is the attempt to assist and guide the child in the formation of his rational faculty.

And while it is certainly true that the primary motive of a Montessori education is to develop the child’s rational faculty, that is not to say, as so many of the system’s critics do, that other aspects of the child’s education are neglected or overlooked.

In fact it is precisely because of the development of the rational faculty that these other aspects become possible. For example imagination and creativity, which, contrary to conventional wisdom, are a direct extension of the fact that “imaginative creation has no mere vague sensory support; that is to say, it is not the unbridled divagation of the fancy among images of light and colour, sounds and impressions; but it is a construction firmly allied to reality… The creative imagination cannot work in vacuo. The mind that works by itself, independently of truth, works in a void” (Maria Montessori, Advanced Montessori Method).

A Montessori education also teaches the child to take responsibility for his action. This is achieved by giving him clearly defined and reasonable rules to follow where the consequences for breaking them are both known in advance and consistently upheld (objective law). He is taught not only to make full use of his time but also always to complete work that is begun (instilling in him the virtue of productivity). He is taught to respect the rights of other children by never interfering with their work unless it is at the express invitation of another child (teaching him that all interaction between people should be of a voluntary nature).

Insofar as the classroom is a microcosm of society, one of the most striking features to any observer of a Montessori classroom is how well the children get along with one another. A typical scene in the classroom is the sight of a number of industrious children happily going about their work, independently or together, in a spirit of real benevolence towards one another.

It is therefore both surprising to and frustrating for Montessorians that by far the most frequent criticism of Montessori education is that not enough emphasis is placed on the “socialisation” of the child. At the deepest root, these critics are philosophically opposed to the Montessori method because they are philosophically opposed to reason. This criticism manifests itself, on an ethical level, in a profound hostility towards independence and individualism. It manifests itself in the attitude of those who love to accuse someone of being “too sure of himself who does he think he is?!”

Yet this is one of the many positive hallmarks of a Montessori educated child; he is “sure of himself.” It is precisely because he is so sure of himself that he has no desire to succumb to group pressure or obey its whims. Of course, critics then label him “anti-social.” “He needs to be socialised,” they say knowing full well that what they really mean is, “he won’t sacrifice himself to my (or our) desires.”

John Dewey, the founder of the school of philosophy known as Pragmatism and the father of modern education (known as progressive education), was one such critic openly hostile to reason and independent thought. “The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat” (John Dewey, The School and Society).

The progressive schools, which follow in Dewey’s philosophical footsteps (and whose strands of philosophical thought are heavily entwined in New Zealand’s education system) socialise the child by discouraging individual effort and immersing him in the group, or, to use Ayn Rand’s words, by “throwing him to the pack.”

Montessori helps the child develop socially by aiding each child’s personal development primarily, by encouraging independence and self-reliance, knowing that these lead to a high level of self-confidence and self-esteem. The progressives, in direct contrast to the Montessorian emphasis on reason and individualism, promote anti-reason and collectivism.

They do so by such methods as only having materials in the classroom which are too heavy for any one child to carry by himself, or by insisting that all learning is done as part of a group project. Or, to use a particularly vicious home-grown example of the application of such monstrous methods, by implying that a cow’s stomach is wherever the group deems it to be. (Don’t laugh, this sort of thing really happens.)

Unlike Montessorians, the progressives don’t teach respect for another’s property; instead, the child is taught that property is communal. In a progressive school, instead of being taught to think for himself, the child is encouraged, in true democratic fashion, to conform to the dictates of the majority. In such an environment it is only a matter of time before truth, to the child, becomes whatever the group decides that it is.

The inevitable result of such socialisation is not a society of capable and productive individuals who think for themselves, but a society of dependents who, to repeat Ayn Rand, are ready “to be shaped into any subhuman form and used for any purpose by anyone who wants to bother.” It does not require much imagination to project the future shape of any society made up of such types. In fact, one need look no further than at most of the current local crop of near-illiterate high-school and university students to get the picture.
But before rushing off to sign your child up at the nearest Montessori school, a strong word of caution. There is no legal way to stop anybody from calling his school a Montessori school. Consequently, there are a number of so-called Montessori schools without trained teachers, without Montessori materials, or without teachers who have even the faintest idea of the Montessori methods.

It is imperative, therefore, that you thoroughly familiarise yourself with both the Montessori Method itself as well as the Montessori school you have in mind for your child.
That aside, a Montessori education comes with our highest recommendation.

Copyright 2006 — A parent of three young children who are homeschooled according to Montessori principles, Chris Lewis is a former Number 1 ranked junior tennis player in the world (1975) and Wimbledon finalist (1983). When not discussing children’s education, you will find him on a tennis court in Southern California, where he now resides. You can read more of Chris’s articles and tennis tips at his website, Expert Tennis Tips.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What age should we start school?

A question from a prospective parent:

When do I feel children should begin school?

How I feel about when children enter school is very dependent upon the home life and the quality of the school. If children are exposed to a Montessori home life (children are self-directed, independence is encouraged, etc), then waiting until they are older, two and a half or so, to enter a true Montessori program is fine. If the home life is not structured in a Montessori way they should begin in a Montessori program earlier, at 18 months or so. This is not a judge of the home life, but children of this age acheive more in life when they are stimulated in the Montessori way at any early age. Montessori is the only scientifically studied method of education. If they are to be going into traditional preschools or daycares, studies have shown that these do not benefit children in the long run (throughout their school years) and the benefits when they enter Kindergarten are slight. Of course, having them in some social settings before Kindergarten is helpful, whether it is playgroups, workshops at museums or zoos, provided that proper social learning/encouragement is provided (which in these types of settings generally needs to be provided by the parents, the workshop facilitators usually do not run this type of interference).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Socialization difficulties

A question from a parent about socialization...

Socialization is one of the hardest things for parents to help with, just because of the nature of the relationship. As parents, we do not want to see our children upset so to ostracize them for inappropriate behavior is difficult for us, even though in a social setting that is what naturally occurs when inappropriate behavior occurs. Also, parents have a relationship with children that is very different from that of peers.

He will naturally pick up social cues from other classmates and with the teachers guiding him. You can help with this. Instead of time-outs, which we do not use in Montessori because it fails to teach any lessons but is a punishment, try asking of him that he treat you and everyone else he comes in contact with the respect that they deserve. When he does not, use an approach that would be more of a natural consequence of that action. For instance, if he spits on you, you refuse to speak to him until he can show better manners. Do not ignore the action, address it and the fact that it is extremely rude and if he is going to do things like that then others will not want to be around him. When he has calmed down you can ask him why he has spat, and help him think of alternatives to the behavior. Did he spit to get your attention? Then suggest he calmly place his hand of your leg to get your attention. If he is spitting just because he thinks it is cool, he can always do appropriate spitting (in the bathroom sink). He may come out of the bathroom when he is done spitting.

He seems to not understand how to enter situations where he wants to interact or wants attention. Instead he is disturbing work or doing inappropriate things to catch attention. This is not a skill children instinctively have, it is a learned skill. Up to this point, these things have gotten the desired attention so he is continuing to do them. He must be taught how to enter these situations. For instance, at home if he wants yours or your husband's attention, he must gain it properly. When he does, may sure you let him know how much you appreciate that. Always model proper behavior for him as well. If you want his attention (or your husband's and vice versa) make sure it is gained in a way that would be appropriate if he was doing the same things.

My child is stealing!

We had a student that was taking things off of the shelves at stores, opening and eating them before purchasing. This was a strategy I suggested to the family, who wanted to do a coupon system for good behavior:

I know you are thinking to do a coupon reward system, and I congratulate you for wanting to see her progression. I would stay away from extrinsic rewards; however, as all the Montessori research (and traditional education research as well) shows that rewards programs actually impede true learning of behaviors. Rather, the children are doing what they need to do for the rewards, without true understanding about the reasons they need to have the proper behavior. Also, behaviors usually revert when the reward is no longer given. Instead, I would suggest a system to help her learn why she needs to have proper behavior. Her reward is the benefit that you find going to the store with her a joyful and fun experience, and she will see that.

Before going to the store, remind her of the expected behavior and why you expect that behavior ("We haven't paid for it yet, and that was not on our shopping list today. Maybe we can put it on the list for next time" (or "that isn't something on our shopping list because it isn't healthy for us"). That way she knows her expectations ahead of time. Eventually she won't need reminded, but while she is still learning the reminders help.

If she does take something off of the shelf, and if you catch that before she opens it, have her return it to the shelf and explain why she has to return it. Say the same things you said before you went into the store to keep consistency in your message.

If she does open it, then you can give her the money to buy it (or you can take money out of her savings from birthday money, etc) and she has to go to the front of the store purchase the item and then she has to give it to the store to throw away. She MUST admit her wrongdoing to the clerk. When she goes home she forfeits a snack because she helped herself to snack at the store.

There seems to be a misunderstanding in her concept of ownership. You can work to explain to her that only things the she buys or are given to her by another are hers. To pay for things she takes she can do chores around the house. This should come before any play time. This should not be things that she should responsible for herself (like making her bed, it is her bed, she should be responsible for making that herself as she is the one sleeping in it, dishes, because she also uses dishes, etc), but things such as making your bed. Things that have nothing to do with the care of herself, but would help you out. Essentially, you would hire her and she can earn the money to pay for her habit.

Outside of the actual occurrences of the behavior, perhaps setting up a "grocery store" at home. She can practice how to take things off of the shelf and then "pay for it" then take it home. Then she can reset and play again. You can also work with her and real money, learning first the different monies (penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar) and when that is mastered the values of the monies. This is a pre-kindergarten skill. Allow her to pay when you go shopping, so she can become familiar with the fact that money has to exchange hands before they belong to her.

Finally, be very wary of purchasing treats or gifts when you go to the store. She will then feel entitled to receive something when she goes and this may lead to her taking matters into her own hands when she doesn't (then returning to taking things again, because she feels she should have them).

Baby questions on sleep and other...

I was answering a parent's (5 month old child) question and though I would post the answers I gave her. One was about sleep problems and the other was about just general developmental guidelines. Hope this helps others...

We coslept with our baby from when she was 2 weeks old until just this past Christmas, but I know not every family is up for that. I had never intended to, at birth we had her in a bassinet by our bed but we couldn't get her to sleep for more than an hour at a time. Then one night I had pulled her in bed to feed her and I accidentally fell asleep. She slept through that whole night! Voila, a family bed was born! There is a great book about sleeping, Elizabeth Pantley's The No-Cry Sleep Solution (she has a for babies version and a for toddlers and preschoolers version). I would suggest reading through that to find the solution that fits your family best. It coveres almost every sleep problem that is not medically related. It also covers naptimes. If you decide to cosleep there is a great book, Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping. It goes over all of the dos and dont's. I used both of these. Good luck! One thing to keep in mind is that at this age you still can't spoil him, so I would go ahead and provide the comfort he needs.

At five months they are starting to do such cool things! Definitely provide him with an abundance of the things he is interested in, whether it is looking in boxes, balls, whatever (not necessarily store bought things, they usually prefer things that are already in their environment). Try to have him be as much a part of your lives as possible. By this I mean keeping him at conversation level, or bringing conversation level down to him. Social skills and vocabulary develops much more quickly when they are "incuded" in the conversation. You could be talking about nuclear physics, but if you look at him and let him have turns babbling back to you it teaches him how conversations happens. It is much better for them than looking at adults' feet all day. Dr. Montessori discovered this when she was with a baby who was crying while the adults were conversing. As an experiment she "included" him in the discussion and he was instantly soothed. Because the warm weather is coming it is great to try and get him outside as much as possible. Dr. Montessori found that when children are connected with the natural world learning comes at a faster rate, she surmised because they are fasinated about what is in their world and want to explore and discover what is happening there.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Forcing the apology

It never ceases to amaze me. A child hits another and the adult makes the child go up to the victim (either at the time or hours later when the incident was reported to them), and says "Tell them you are sorry." And then waits until the child apologizes. I even read a discipline guide for toddlers that said to make them apologize. What does the forced apology do? Number one: it says, you can do anything you want as long as you apologize for it afterward. Number two: it is never sincere. A spontaneous apology is different. If a child does something and honestly feels sorry for doing that and apologizes, that is to be commended "That made me feel much better that you apologized to me." But to force an apology is never warranted and really only serves to make an embarrassed parent feel better.

The better alternative is to have the child ask the other child what would make him or her feel better. This teaches the aggressor to empathize with the victim and also teaches him or her responsibility for his or her actions. Then, help the aggressor follow through. If the victim requests an ice pack, the aggressor gets the ice pack and holds it on the hurt body part until the victim says it feels better. Let the victim be the guide. Until he or she says it is OK, the aggressor must tend to him or her.

Teaching the lesson of apology is better left to times when an incident has not occurred. Through books and by modeling apologetic behavior when appropriate. This way the child learns that saying I'm sorry comes from within, when he or she is truly feeling bad for their actions.

One day at school we had this situation happen. A student had hit the teacher. The parent told him that they could not leave school until he apologized. He promptly apologized. We pulled the parent aside and explained that we do not force apologies and told her why. She went over to her son and said "Are you really sorry, or did you say it just because I told you to?" He said, "I said it because you told me to." Vindication...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ending the Drama

A parent recently asked me about the crying bouts of her Kindergartener. "Is this normal for this age? It's getting to be a bit much..." My answer, whether or not it was the desired answer, was yes. If a child has been positively rewarded by attention, sympathy, or receiving a gift to make him or her feel better than the child will continue crying fits and temper tantrums for a long time, even into adulthood if it continues to work. No parent wants to hear her child cry, or think that her child is sad about something. However, it serves the child much better to learn the difference between being truly sad and being sad because she or he has not gotten their way. Crying is a way that babies can communicates their feelings of discomfort because the baby cannot use words or communicate in any other way. Once the child is able to communicate, the child should learn how to communicate with words. A good tactic to teach this to children (no matter what the age), is to ask them when why they are crying. What are they sad about? If it is truly something to be sad about, comfort him or her and ask what would make them feel better. It is important for the parent not to ask them how the parent can solve the problem. Children need to learn how to cope with situations, even sad situations. You can offer suggestions, such as "You're sad your friend had to go home? Maybe you can draw a picture to give to him next time to see him, so he knows you were thinking about him." It should not be your goal to make their hurt go away, as much as we want to. We want our children to grow up to be happy adults that can cope with the things that life throws at them, and sometimes life doesn't throw the greatest pitches. If their tears are because of something that is not really sad, such as they are not getting their way, then those are tears to ignore, after explaining to them that it is not appropriate to cry in that situation. Ask them to save their tears for times when they are really sad (What defines really sad? That is different for each child, some are more sensitive than others. A good test is asking yourself if the tears are being used for attention or to manipulate, if so those are not truly sad tears.). Explain to them briefly why things must happen the way they are "Mommy has to go to work, and I will be back later, just like always. I love you." And then you do what you need to do. Parents must resist the urge to give just one more hug, a treat to make them feel better, have a long drawn out discussion, or make a deal to do something wonderful or special when you return. If you do so, the child's tears have done their job. They have gotten their way, even if only for a few more minutes, and the tears will continue every time you are in that same situation. If you do not indulge them, the tears quickly end after a week or so. The child then becomes able to cope with that situation, and has another tool in their emotional toolbox.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Important tips for raising infants

A prospective parent recently emailed me, asking what the most important things she could do in raising her new baby so she is ready to come to school. The advice I give to new parents sounds very easy, but in practice it is much more difficult. The most important thing is to not underestimate your child, ever. Allow your child the chance to do things on his or her own, even if our society typically thinks that it is things that the child is too young to be able to do. Speak to your child often and reason with him or her. Even if he or she doesn't understand right then, eventually it will work and at a much younger age than you might realize. Always present your child with the option of doing things independently, which is difficult because our society is so hurry, hurry and children do take time, especially when learning something new. That means as parents we may need to wake up earlier to allow enough time to walk down the stairs and out to the car themselves instead of carrying them, or put their shoes on themselves, or dress themselves. We also need to be willing to allow for messes. Instead of sippy cups--which allow for no learning to take place--allow your child to drink from a regular cup and spill on themselves and the table. Your child is smart enough to be able to figure out how the cup needs to be held so this does not happen in the future. There is no reason that your baby cannot do everything you do. There is no need for baby DVDs to occupy him or her while you get housework or officework done. Set up a play space on the floor and let him play while you work. Exposure to life is how your child will learn, not the latest "educational" DVDs.