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.