Learning is the Star:
The very first thing that strikes parents of children who hail from a non-Montessori background is the free flowing nature of the classroom. At first glance it seems chaotic. There are no neat rows of desks and chairs. The walls are covered with apparently random stuff. But there is method in the madness.
I have been a part of the Montessori paradigm for decades now. Yet I am still impressed in awe with the different learnings that take place.
You see, the teacher is not the center of attention. She doesn’t preside over things in the middle of the classroom. Instead learning is the star. Instructors move from child to child, group to group. And I think they learn a thing or two from the discussions as well.
Yes, the mathematics principles, the grammar nuances, the general knowledge and the heated discussion around literature lessons are all present. But the spontaneous connections that these little learners make between apparently random facts like ‘names of organisms’ taught in the evolution class and ‘the concept of nouns’ (Our Eva proclaimed that Trilobites is a noun in the middle of her science lesson – proud moment for me) is precious. And something not many teachers in the conventional setting are privileged to experience.
Take away #1 from Montessori Learning: Collaboration
If a child learns in a Montessori environment, he or she will become a master collaborator. He/she just has to be. And that’s great stuff. In the real world we rarely ever work alone. An entrepreneur has his team. An employee has his peers. We are not an island. The montessori method teaches kids to leave the ‘alone and defiant’ model behind and experience different levels of collaboration. Some tasks require two minds coming together. Others call for the inputs of the whole class.
In a recent endeavour that our tiny tots decided to take up, each and every individual knew the end goal and was aware of the fact that they had to reach it together. But there was clear delegation of duties.
Faiz and Nuha worked on the creative aspect of the undertaking. Avez was the facts buster and Siddharth preferred to quietly observe from his corner quipping in with the answers to questions no one else could solve. Tanav was the leader and Maryam was there by his side keeping track of what was being accomplished. Dia the ideator was with Saud the doer and they kept things moving along superbly.
My kids have different personalities and they sparkle in harmony, making me one ecstatic supervisor. In the Montessori method, instructors do not enforce. We guide and the learning comes from peers and friends and startling insights.
Take away #2 from Montessori Learning: Respect for Different Thought Processes
Another great thing about a Montessori classroom is the respect for different thought processes that is naturally inculcated in the little learners. The freedom inherent in the environment allows children to breathe. And learn at their own pace. They can choose what they wish to work on. And revisit it as many times as needed. This repetition leads to mastery first and innovation later. I have seen so many of my students come up with alternate ways to solve maths problems and realize the underlying principles of scientific theories while using knowledge in practical scenarios. Since these realizations keep happening all the time, from a very young age children understand that there is no ‘set’ way of doing something. That many different roads can lead to the same destination. This idea gives them two very sought after traits – fairness and tolerance.
I think we can agree that we desperately need them in our lives and the world at large.
Take away #3 from Montessori Learning: Conflict Resolution
Only when little ones appreciate the unfamiliar and have a desire to understand ideas different from their own thinking can true conflict resolution take place. I am not talking about the ‘forgive and forget’ mentality which isn’t really a solution and breeds negative feelings from repression.
Resolution happens when the parties acknowledge that their views differ but are ready to logically explore the alternatives to reach a mutually advantageous decision.
I had a golden opportunity of starting my learners on the path of negotiation when there was a skirmish between two students. Both parties held on steadfastly to their opinions and their friends alternated between supporting the two ladies. There was a lot of pouting and drama. But all that excitement soon drained the kids and they were eager to settle things when I proposed an open discussion to put matters to rest. I didn’t give them a tailored, ‘She is wrong, you are right’ answer. I merely handed the formula of resolution and they used it themselves, beaming with pride as the tension was eased. And life returned to normal!! Phew…that was a session the UN would have learnt a thing or two from.
Take away #4 from Montessori Learning: Limited Freedom & Self Discipline
This is an aspect of the Montessori methodology that I absolutely adore. Limited Freedom. Let me explain. Montessori doesn’t go with strict regimes or course specifications. It embodies the essence of lifelong learning. Thus students choose their own study material. And they can work independently or in a group if there is the consent of selected partners. The only two rules they need to abide by are:
- What is started has to be completed
- A detailed log of every day activities has to be maintained
This makes students accountable for their own progress. They realize that their development is largely in their own hands. And they have a rich repository of knowledge and support in the form of their books, their friends and their instructors to seek help and guidance from. Self-discipline is very naturally introduced into their lives. It is no wonder that Montessori kids don’t freak out in college because of the sudden freedom from the boundaries of school. They conduct themselves with dignity and responsibility. Because that is who they are!
Take away #5 from Montessori Learning: Realizing that Everything is Possible
Montessori kids know that impossible just spells ‘I’m Possible’. And they believe it with their whole heart and soul. The sense of wonderment, the inquisitiveness and curiosity of kids is nurtured by instructors. If students articulate a big dream, they are not patted indulgently on the cheek. Instead they are asked to elaborate upon how they can turn it into reality. This kind of encouragement is extremely beneficial to kids in their formative years. They acquire a quiet confidence that they can reach their goals. They can travel to Mars or they can indeed go visit Madhura aunty in Bulgaria if they so choose. Nothing is off-limits. But everything needs a game plan and desire.
All in all, the Montessori experience is hugely empowering. Children learn all that they need to about the fundamentals of academics. But what they get over and above that is respect for differing views and opinions, a sense of fairness and tolerance, an appreciation of (and mastery over) collaboration and the realization that humans can accomplish almost anything they set their hearts on. In short the pearls of wisdom and practical skills needed to ace real challenges. It’s not just a school. It’s a bootcamp for life!