Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grace and Courtesy

Grace and courtesy are part of the life lessons learned under the practical life principle. Montessori teaches children acceptable behaviour through exercises which display respect and kindness to others. They are taught how to speak politely to others and resolve conflicts peacefully. This is done by explaining different situations in simple terms and demonstrating the behaviour the child needs to display. Role playing is an effective method of teaching young children good manners.

My son loves to read books and as a way of introducing a fun new way of explaining grace and courtesy to him, I have enlisted the help of Storybird. Storybird is a website that allows users to create personalised stories that are fun, social and easy. It is a highly interactive website that encourages users to create stories (either individually or as a collaborative effort) using the artwork of various artists who post their creations to the site. Below is a story I created titled 'Feeling Cranky'. You can view my other Storybirds, or you can sign up and create your own.

Feeling Cranky by Janelle on Storybird

Practical Life

Practical life is one of the cornerstones of the Montessori teaching method. The exercises practiced by children during these sessions resemble life at home: sweeping, dusting, washing dishes, dressing etc. By practicing these types of activities, children are learning self control and how to be a contributing member of the group. As their ability to master these tasks grows, so to does their confidence and independence. By teaching children self-awareness and reliance, we are increasing their overall sense of self and reinforcing their competency in these areas. Practical life encompasses a number of life lessons, including care of self, grace and courtesy, work and play, getting dressed and helping around the house.

At daycare, my son is practicing these self-help skills by washing his dishes after meals. With the use of Montessori dressing frames, he is being taught how to do up buttons and zippers, all of which are not only developing his fine motor skills, but teaching him how to do these things for himself. At home he is expected to take his dishes into the kitchen when he has finished eating, help make his bed in the mornings and clean up after playing with his toys. Using positive reinforcement, these tasks have been easily adopted into our home and help make my job a lot easier!

Sensitive Periods

The Montessori teaching method believes children pass through 'sensitive periods' during which they are at their optimal best for learning experiences. As Tim Seldin notes in his book 'How to Raise an Amazing Child', "During a sensitive period children become intrigued by aspects of their environment. Given the right stimulation at the right time, children are able to learn almost unconsciously".

There are several sensitive periods that occur during the early years, from birth through to age six. These are:
  • movement (from birth to one year)
  • language (from birth to six years)
  • small objects (from one to four years)
  • grace and courtesy (from two to six years)
  • senses (from two to six years)
  • writing (from three to four years)
  • order (from two to four years)
  • music (from two to six years)
  • toilet training (from 18 months to three years)
  • reading (from three to five years)
  • spatial relationships (from four to six years)
  • mathematics (from four to six years)
It is important to remember that while children can be completely absorbed and focused on a particular aspect of their environment while in a sensitive period, these are transitory states. Once the skill is mastered, the period will disappear. Therefore the importance of exposing children to the right experiences and activities is paramount in order for them to make the most of this learning opportunity. Obviously the skill can still be learnt, but it may take more hard work in the future.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Montessori versus Traditional Schooling

As you may have already guessed, there is a vast difference between the Montessori teaching method and those of traditional schooling. There are some excellent articles available on the Web, however I have included a table taken from the Queensland Montessori College website to highlight some of the differences:

Montessori EducationTraditional Education
Teacher has unobtrusive role in class, the facilitatorTeacher is the centre of classroom, the controller
Environment and method encourage self disciplineTeacher acts as primary enforcer of discipline
Mainly individual instruction Mainly group instruction
Mixed age grouping Same age group
Child chooses own work while teacher monitors progressTeacher assigns work to child
Child discovers own concepts from self-teaching, self-correcting materialsChild is shown concepts by teacher and corrected by teacher
Child works as long as he wishes on chosen projectsChild generally allocated specific time for givenwork
Child sets own learning pace and reinforces own learning by repetition of work and internal feeling of success Instruction pace usually set by group norm.If work is corrected, errors are pointed out or praise comes from the teacher
Multi-sensory materials for physical exploration Few, but increasingly more
Child can work where he chooses, move around and talk at will yet not disturb others at work, also participate in group projectsChild often assigned own place. Required to participate, sit still and listen during groups
Teacher facilitates organised programme for learning, care of self and environmentCare of self and environment left primarily to parents

It is always important to remember that as parents, we need to decide what's right for each individual child. Some children thrive in a Montessori environment, however others are better suited to the more traditional classroom. Each child is different. While I think alternative education is becoming more widely known and accepted, there are still a lot of parents who don't know there are other options available to them.