The Power of Positive Thinking (Work Edition)

Montessorians approach children in a unique way. We believe in positive discipline, encouragement instead of praise, and utilizing power collaboratively instead of imposing our will upon the children we work with. Though it may sound normal, it is actually one of the most counter-intuitive pieces of learning Montessori – for most people, it requires unlearning a lifetime of socialization about how we should deal with children.

The basics of the approach look something like this:

  • Provide limits, structure, and routines
  • Give love unconditionally and avoid rewards and punishments
  • Model appropriate behavior (especially social etiquette)
  • Limit intermediate devices (like cell phones) when interacting with children*
  • Minimize time spent with poorly regulated influences (i.e. television)*
  • Offer encouragement instead of praise
  • Find ways to share power with a child instead of wielding power over the child
    (*Not applicable within the Montessori classroom)

Observing these guidelines goes a long way in creating a peaceful classroom and building student-teacher relationships and this approach is one of the things that draws me to Montessori. In short, we aim to treat children like people instead of children, a distinction that aims to respect their humanity and development and is often missed elsewhere.

In practice, this makes our classrooms incredibly positive places. There are any number of guidelines that children must follow, but any failure to do so is met with kind words and a gentle reminder. For example, if a child fails to push in their chair after leaving it, we simply say, “Oh, I think you forgot to push in your chair.” in a calm, kind voice. The most typical response is some sort of gasp and smile as the realization that they did indeed forget washes over them followed by quick replacement of the chair under the table. While we try to avoid praise (things like: good job, I am so proud of you, you are the best ________), encouragement abounds. We acknowledge hard work, focus, concentration, teamwork, and other positive behaviors with observation (i.e. our classroom looks neater now that you helped put things away).

These tactics teach children that it’s okay to make mistakes and to fail. Plus, they go a long way in showing them positive ways to deal with other people. Instead of assuming the worst of a friend who has done something wrong, the children have hours of examples of adults assuming the best to pull from. Perhaps most importantly, this approach helps children to develop internal motivation and a sense of responsibility to the community at large. By observing the impact of their action (positive or negative) instead of framing their work in relation to ourselves (i.e. “I like…”) they learn to work for their own fulfillment rather than merely to please someone else.

I have known this approach to be wonderful for children for a couple of decades, but I never considered what a difference it would make in my  day. Instead of coming home feeling drained and negative about all the little things that had gone wrong (even on generally good days), last week, I had a hard time coming up with anything negative to say at all. For the first time in a long time, I left work feeling good about myself, my work, and the students in my care multiple days in a row. I know the novelty of this work will likely wear off, but it seems almost impossible to leave feeling miserable when you’ve spent the entire day looking for the good in and assuming the best of others.

**Views expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily shared by Millhopper Montessori School.

Welcome to Our Classroom!

I started my new position as a Teaching Assistant at Millhopper Montessori School this week. We spent the days preparing our room for the 25 preschoolers and kindergartners that will join us on Monday. It’s an inviting space full of work that 4 and 5 year old hands can’t wait to use and learn from.

Montessori classrooms are usually unique, put together based on the materials chosen by the teacher from their own stock and what they think will both interest and advance their student’s development. But, most Montessori classrooms are characterized by materials dedicated to certain subjects that comprise much of the Montessori curriculum.

Sensorial
The Sensorial curriculum has materials designed mostly by Maria Montessori that encourage children to develop their various senses. Like most Montessori work, it’s designed for students to be able to manipulate, but it also aims to isolate one of a child’s senses, whether visual, tactile, or gustatory (among others). Children get an introduction to geometry through these materials and develop their ability and vocabulary to discriminate between sizes, textures, smells, tastes, colors, etc.  These skills serve as a strong foundation to later math work, as well as encouraging students to problem solve and become researchers – finding a variety of answers to big questions, like how many rhombi can be made from putting together a variety of triangles.

Language
In a typical pre-primary Montessori classroom, children ages 3-6 share the space and the language materials, meaning, some children are just learning their letters, and others are reading at 1st or 2nd grade levels. As such, the language materials are varied and extensive, comprised often of naming, spelling, or matching object names with movable letters. Montessori also places a heavy emphasis on auditory and verbal language development; we not only spend a large amount of time reading stories and sharing songs and rhymes, but place an emphasis on using the real names for even the most complex things and giving students an opportunity to develop their vocabularies  through interaction with the environment.

Math
Montessori math extends from the Sensorial materials and spans a spectrum of learning to recognize and write numerals to dynamic multiplication and division with numbers in the thousands. All of these learning goals are achieved with the use of manipulatives, from wooden numerals, to golden beads representing units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. Before heading to 1st grade, most students will begin to move toward abstraction, making calculations mentally without manipulatives to aid them. Math materials can be expanded into weights and measures, money, and other areas as students’ skills demand.

Practical Life
The Practical Life area is foundational to the Montessori 3-6 classroom, serving as a connection to home and a place where all students can work to build their manual skills that will support them throughout their time at Montessori and their independence at home. These activities serve to develop basic skills for the youngest children in the class, like grasping, twisting, and caring for the environment, and as a point of rejuvenation for older children who need to reenergize after doing complex work in other areas of the classroom. The area encompasses art, food preparation, and care of person and environment. Students learn how to independently clean up after themselves doing everything from blowing their nose and hand washing, to sweeping the classroom and doing dishes.

Other Areas
These are the main areas of the classroom, but most include science and culture work as well. Every teacher makes their Montessori classroom unique, and each group of students demands materials that meet their own needs, so a classroom might look different not only from year to year but from month to month. 

*Views expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily shared by Millhopper Montessori School.