I have been enamored with Montessori education since the moment I learned there was anything else out there. I’ve been defensive about it, passionate about sharing it, and inspired by the possibilities I saw within it. But when asked the all too common question,
What is Montessori?
I found myself fumbling to find a succinct answer. Many components of the philosophy would jump to mind, but rebuttals to each of their value followed just as quickly. Without having seen a Montessori classroom it is tremendously difficult to understand, so the real answer I gave would involve a minimum of a three-hour observation.
Naturally, I know most people are simply not willing or able to commit to such an act, particularly not the random friend who really only asked as a courtesy. So I would fumble around grasping for tangibles that usually ended up explaining more what Montessori is not: traditional education. As I finished up my Montessori Teacher Education course, I’ve finally discovered an answer.
Montessori is an educational philosophy in which teachers follow the child to help them develop as a whole person.
We let children teach themselves through interaction with a carefully prepared environment that allows them to work at their own pace. The Montessori materials are a huge part of this, but using the materials facilitates the child’s learning more than the teacher does. The child selects which material they wish to work with (that they’ve been introduced to) based on their needs and desires, and the teacher observes to identify what the child needs next: a more challenging lesson, more time with this one, or a re-presentation to clarify the object of the material.
To me, following the child makes complete sense as an educational model, but I can see how others may not agree. I’ve asked several of the instructors from my program for their thoughts on whether Montessori works for every child. Their response? Almost every child, the whole model is to follow them, so how could it not work for them. But, this is quickly followed by an important caveat: It definitely isn’t for every parent though. The Montessori methods ask us to forget about years of norms that dictate how we raise children, which is not small task. But, for those who are willing to try it, the risk can be highly rewarding.