Many people are under the impression that older children need a more conventional model of education, and that a Montessori education doesn’t work after preschool. This likely comes from a lack of understanding all that the Montessori Method really encompasses. Other myths about Montessori can also feed this belief, myths such as: “Montessori children do whatever they want,” or “Montessori does not prepare children for the real world.” I am happy to report that none of this is true. On the contrary, the Montessori Method is all about meeting the changing needs of each individual child at every age and stage in his or her development.
The Montessori method, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori nearly a century ago and since substantiated by numerous scientists and studies, is based on an in-depth understanding of the way the human brain really works and grows. Maria Montessori, a brilliant scientist and physician, spent her life observing children in order to understand things like: how does the brain really learn, what concepts can or should children be learning and when, and what is the best way to provide the right lessons at the right times.
One Size Does NOT Fit All
Most of the schools that we adults attended as children, were based on a “one-size-fits-all” model. In other words, we all sat in the same classroom, learned the same lessons, and worked (or were expected to) at the same pace. Some schools offered a few different levels for more or less advanced students, but the lessons were still centered around one teacher delivering a single lesson to numerous students. The lessons were rarely interactive or hands-on, and independent thinking was not practiced or encouraged at all.
While there are exceptions, my experience has been that today’s classrooms are much the same. The child’s individual developmental needs are not taken into account. Children are often bored or frustrated with school and lose interest at a young age. Today’s children are also expected to sit still for longer and longer periods of time during the school day. Playtime, outdoor-time, movement, music, and hands-on learning are all considered inessential and even a waste of time. Is it any wonder that more than 1.2 million American students drop out of school every year? That’s around 7,000 students a day! (According to the National Center for Educational Statistics.)
On the other hand, the Montessori classroom environment changes in response to the needs of the child. Instead of lecturing to the class as a group, the Montessori teacher moves around the classroom observing each child’s progress and offering instruction accordingly. Montessori children often learn from one another by working in small groups, the more advanced (at that particular task) demonstrating for the others. The Montessori Method places a lot of emphases on hands-on learning and learning through physical movement. Also, Montessori schools work toward the goal of mastery and thorough understanding, instead of focusing on test scores and grades. (Which is not to say that Montessori students perform poorly on standardized testing. On the contrary, Montessori students tend to have better reading and math skills than their peers who attend traditional schools. (Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius: Angeline Lillard, PhD.)
We parents all want the best possible education for our children, at every age, and Montessori’s educational method is every bit as ‘right’ for older children as it is for those in preschool.
And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.
~ Maria Montessori