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Is Montessori the Best Start for My Child?(Part1)

April, 2008
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MariaMontessori01 It really depends on you. Keep in mind these questions as you read this article:

  • “What do I want for my child as a parent?”
  • “Am I willing to abide by practical philosophical principles that may challenge me along the way, all the way, and may even radically change the way I do things?”

  Montessori is a complete, whole embracing, integrative system that will help parents be more effective when it comes to meeting a child’s needs.

  Montessori is a whole, integrative system because it does not stand on preconceived ideas. It is based on the principle that to meet the needs of each child, we must follow the child and respond to the child’s requests, providing what can and will promote growth. This means that the child leads. The adult follows. The child is not lead and when we often speak about gently guiding the child, we are in fact falling pray to the wrong idea that children require, here and there, a little “gentle push” in order to “get it” or “get there.” Nothing stands farther from what is required in order to let children develop. When we speak of “allowing children to develop to their fullest potential,” we are in fact revealing the reality of much of our lives. The way we were dealt with and often deal with children ourselves, and others, is in terms of control.

  Many of these issues may come across like being merely a question of semantics. They aren’t. Indeed, they clearly reveal the vicious circle adults and many traditional and apparently even modern educational systems are trapped in.

  Freedom is a natural state. It cannot be given. If it can be given it is because it was at some point first taken away. CIMG1218

  In Montessori, if Montessori is done the right way, what we do is structure the environment in such a away that it does not hinder the child’s movement, does not take away nor does it compromise the child’s freedom, and allows for unlimited exploration within limits. I did not write unrestricted but unlimited on purpose. This apparent contradiction creates tension, and tension is part of Montessori.

  Harmony, Conflict, Trust: Can these Coexist?

  There is a lot of misunderstandings about what education is, or what it is supposed to be. This sort of discussion can be never ending; it can be very useful or not at all, because it depends on many factors and maybe above all, one’s own standing on the matter. What does it mean to be well educated? Who decides what education is, and what subjects are to be part of any given academic curriculum? To discuss these issues is not the scope of this article.[1]

  For some people, it’s not as much a question of misunderstandings about what education is or is not, but rather of choices; or lack thereof! Or the fact that accepting the status quo is easier than trying to change the way things are. The fact is that a growing number of people are choosing alternative approaches to raising their children, rather than labeling, or letting others label, their offspring as dysfunctional, because they don’t fit in. A greater awareness of the fact that children do not have to fit any particular system, nor do they have to comply with standards, is leading this movement worldwide. Montessori was, with names like Pestalozzi, Homer Lane, Dewey, and others, pointing in this direction. More recently, A. S. Neil (the founder of Summerhill) and others, keep providing alternative practices that put the child first, and, in many cases, do away with “the system” altogether.

 CIMG1177 Montessori is maybe different in that it provides a structured environment like few other alternative systems provide. Parents who chose Montessori because they understand what it offers their children, rather than simply because they heard it said that Montessori is a good system, usually fall in two separate categories. Those who want to learn more about it, and incorporate Montessori principles in their daily lives and in the raising of their children, and those who are satisfied to just have a reliable school environment to entrust their children to. These parents are usually looking for daycare services, and want a good daycare center. Because, for one reason or another, some parents do not invest in learning more about Montessori, problems can occur. The number one reason being that these parents do not understand and thus cannot accept some of its aspects and practices.


  Montessori environments are usually seen and thought of as harmonious. Classrooms and schools are beautifully designed and setup, and the children are happy, going about their daily work. Learning is taking place, discovery of the world around them is part of that learning process and fosters their curiosity, and they become part of communities that thrive on allowing communication skills to develop, and have no expectations beyond what is naturally acceptable; in developmental terms children are never expected to meet a challenge that they cannot live up to. In Montessori, children are always engaged in activities they can succeed at—as success keeps their interest alive.

  Aesthetics, beautiful materials, real occupations, modeling of respectful behavior, care for other and the environment are elements that are always present.

  One thing that is also always present, in its natural state, is conflict. Montessori environments, surprising it may be to many who do not fully MariaMontessori03 understand what the approach is all about, are not conflict free. As Thomas Gordon puts it[2], conflict “is not necessarily bad—it exists as a reality of any relationship. As a matter of fact, a relationship with no apparent conflict may be unhealthier than one with frequent conflict. A good example is a marriage where the wife is always subservient to a dominating husband, or a parent-child relationship where the child is so deadly afraid of his parent that he does not dare cross him in any way.” The same can be said of the group or school community. If children are submissive to the adults, and do not “misbehave” for fear they may be scolded, something is utterly wrong. Montessori environments do not avoid nor do they fear conflict, because conflict is part of life. What happens then?



  (We will address this question on the second part of this article, on the next issue of LittleStar)

Series on Montessori education contributed by Mammolina Children’s Home Montessori Kindergarten

Photos courtesy Mammolina Children’s Home Montessori Kindergarten

[1] See “What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? And Other Essays On Standards, Grading, And Other Follies,” by Alfie Kohn, as well, as other works by the same author.

[2] Gordon, Thomas, P.E.T. - Parent Effectiveness Training, 1974

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