4/14/15

8 Myths about Montessori Method

   

So there are many myths about the Montessori education. I often meet people that after reading some information from the internet got the misunderstanding of the method. So today I want to discuss several myths that I hear very often.

   I wanted to write about it for a long, but the final push was the TV show I recently watched. So there is no  information on TV about Montessori system here, so when I saw a program about Montessori education I was all eyes and ears to watch it! It is a very popular show in Ukraine, a Martha Stewart type of a show, where they cook, clean, choose best and healthy products in the shops, tell about parenting, give fashion advice and so on. They always have a guest-expert that knows best about the topic. The show is pretty respected one. So that time they were talking about the Montessori way of educating children. What they have shown was a great shock for me, that ''expert'' knew nothing about the system, and she was giving this not true information for such a huge audience who watched it! Can you imagine?? She was not a  Montessori teacher or Montessori educated, just some psychologist.  I now doubt the other experts that so many of us were listening too like they knew what vegetables age good or not, and what eco-friendly home cleaners to choose or moreover how to make home products for the care of self.

   I don't want to sound like I give a false accusation, that is why here are the main Montessori principles in their words:

1. Zoning of child's room. There are 4 zones with special toys - language (letters and alphabet), mathematics (numbers), space zone  (soft toys, geographical globe) and sensitive zone (cubes to build, things to touch). There is no movement zone. By observing where the kids play and what zone they choose we can predict their future profession!
2. Fairy tales are not allowed
3. Children of different ages should be educated together (ages are not specified)
4. Forget about prohibitions and limits for the child
5. Do not scold
6. Do not praise
7. Do not criticize
8, Do not stimulate

Oh, my.... I was sooo angry watching it. I don't know where did they get this information. 

But THIS IS NOT MONTESSORI METHOD!

   I feel so sad about people who watched it and thought that Montessori method is such a  nonsense (that what would I think after watching it if I knew nothing about Montessori) and I would never ever use it.

   So I ask you to be inquisitive and always check the information. So let's now discuss the main myths and get to the insides.

1. Montessori is only for children with disabilities

   This myth was formed by the people who knows not much about the history of Montessori pedagogy. Yes, in the beginning of the career Dr. Maria Montessori was working with such children for some time but then she was working with different kids all over the world.

Do you remember that Maria was first woman doctor in Italy?  They did not admit women into the medical program at the University of Rome.  Men thought that she is parvenu. So when she asked to work  with children the government was not believing in her and let her work with special children because they had no faith in their development too. But in the end, children's results was a great surprise for them.

   So, let's remember, in 1897 Maria joined the staff at the University of Rome as a voluntary assistant. She was to visit asylums for the insane as one of her responsibilities. There together with insane people were living special children, unable to function in schools or families and had no other public provisions. These children had nothing to do in there. There were nothing for them. The room where they were spending free time was empty with now toys or other things. 

While observing these kids, she noticed that children were collecting bread crumbs from the floor with their little fingers. This way they were unconsciously developing their hand muscles. And here she understood that no matter in what conditions child is his nature always tend to develop. She saw that they were starving for experience and started to think about what she could do to help them. 

So she returned to University with a desire to study the mind instead of the body. She was learning all the literature she could find about children. She used not medical ways of working with them but pedagogical. She started creating materials and some environment for them. She found some materials that were created before by other doctors, but she used them in the other way. She was teaching these children with new materials. Special techniques allowed the kids to feel themselves confident and successful. After working with Maria children could not only write and read, but they got extremely good results on entrance exams to the gymnasium (school), even better than normal kids.


    After observing special children, she understood that if they have such results, the result with other children will be several times better. After that, she was developing her method to work with different children. For some special children, there is now such a thing as Montessori therapy, but it is a bit different from general Montessori method. I believe that Montessori is appropriate for every child as long as every child is working to build himself, some children just need to work more and it will take more time.

Maria thought that every child develops according to his own temp. Some kids develop faster, and some slower but all of them are developing! If the temp and direction of development are individual for every child it doesn't matter at what level they are now, a proper support will help them to develop  in the most effective way. So what we can see in the result that Montessori ideas are appropriate for all children, no matter who they are or where they live. 

Specially organized environment typical for every Montessori school in the world fits every child. 


2. It is impossible to work with children of different age in one group

Montessori groups are divided by age

- under 1,5
- 1,5-3
- 3-6
- 6-9
- 9-12

    How often now does the child have the experience of living in the family with several brothers and sisters? Not quite that often. So he is not receiving the full social experience. Perfect social environments for the child are children with the age difference year or two. And Montessori classroom is a big family with a lot of children of different age, but not that different to be impossible to study together. This difference helps to avoid many conflicts that are present in the same age groups. There Children want to know who is the Chief. In our groups, we have natural age hierarchy, and the older Child tends to help, to patronize and to teach little one. Little kids know that they can always get help from older ones. Here is a wonderful thing that little Child with time will have the position of older.

3. It is a silent method. Maria was telling the teachers to "count their words"

     The child now is currently living in the world of noise - television, radio, music. And often we also speak too much. Imagine when the child is playing and mother is in the kitchen. She starts telling the Child from there what they are going to do like "You are now playing and I am cooking. Then father will come. He will bring the big bucket with fruits. Then we are going to make jam. It will be so tasty..." So the Child treats this long monolog as a noise. 

Often observing the work in the group of toddlers with moms I wonder how mothers can't be silent even for a minute. The child is stacking the pyramid and mother is supporting his work with constant commentaries: "Now you should choose the biggest part and find the hole. Then you should put it here. No, this is not the biggest one. Yes, this one. Now stack. Not like this. Try one more time. Ok. Now let's choose the next one...". Constant talking. I don't mean to offense someone in any way, just think, do the Child understand and even hears all she is saying. The answer is no. He treats it as a noise or sound on the back.

To develop audition we need to live in the silence (this is one of my favorite phrases). 

Not literary of course. But the child will hear you when you will look at his eyes and tell what you want in short and simple words.


      I was observing the work of toddler group with mommies. I watched mom and a wonderful girl of about 1,5 years. She was doing spooning. She was making a great job, she grasped the spoon very well. She was transferring objects from one bowl to another, of course, her movements were not perfect, she was losing some beans, but I saw her hard work, she couldn't do better for that moment. The only thing was spoiling everything was her mother. She was constantly talking, touching the child and interfering in her work, like "Oh be careful, do you see you are loosing things. Give me that. Try one more time. Haven't you seen how the other one was doing it? Give me that. Oh just transfer it there..." And so on and on, and in different words. The girl started to be angry after every transferring she was throwing the spoon, she clenched her fists tightly. I felt what she felt like I was that kid. I was angry inside too. The mother was honestly not understanding why is she getting nervous. Of course, this situation isn't only about talking, but about it in a big way too.

So in Montessori method when we show the work to a child we are doing it almost silently and it is enough for him to understand it and make it by himself. Additional commentaries often can spoil child's concentration, ruin his work or upset him.Though we have many works that concern culture and cosmos where we are telling the child a lot, but this is the aim of the work itself - to show, tell and discuss. For language development, we have many different materials, 3-period lesson and many other things.

4. 1,2 or 3-hour work period in a Montessori classroom can be exhausting, difficult or tiresome for a child

   Montessori classroom is a very special place. The furniture here is light and child-sized. The materials are on the opened shelves and a child is free to take them. Materials have different levels of difficulty and cover a lot of study areas. There are a lot of space. Children can work on the table or on the mat. They can stand, sit or even lie and work. They are free to move. They can work on the line. 

    So the child chooses the material, place to work and how to work. The time is not limited. He can work with this material for several minutes or for the whole work period. He chooses to work alone, with a friend or asks the teacher to help. 

   The child can even not work but just move around the classroom and observe the work of his friends. He can rest in the cosy reading corner looking through some books.

The child is choosing his working schedule by himself and he will never do harm for himself.

5. In Montessori classrooms, children are free to do whatever they want and they will not act properly  in general schools. They will not listen to the rules

     Freedom and permissiveness are completely different things. Montessori classroom has freedom of choice for the child. He can choose work, place, duration and many other things. But Montessori classroom also has rules, and the first thing that children learn are them. And it is very easy for kids to follow these rules. 

Three main strict rules are:

- you can not do harm to others
- you can not do harm to yourself
- you can not do harm to the environment 

    But there are a lot of others, for example, concerning grace and courtesy or working with sharp objects. Children understand the rules because they are helping them to feel comfortable in the classroom. There is a rule to help others and children do it because they know that if they would need help others will help them too. 

Children are working on the line with different objects

      So Montessori classroom has freedom within the limits.

     When children will come to general school they will understand that this place also has rules. They know that rules are important and good thing that help them to feel fine and comfortable and work in a friendly and respectful environment.

6. Сhildren are not playing in Montessori schools

     In the beginning let's understand what was the play itself in the eyes of Maria Montessori. She was not against it, she just suggested a different format. She was saying that the child is sent to the world of toys and removed from the tasks that are needed for his inner development. People here can say that the game is the main type of activity for preschoolers, BUT it became the main type of activity for children when they were edged out from the usual and normal life of their parents and adults. So when children in the very young age were shepherding sheep and geese, gardening, doing housework and bringing up their little brothers and sisters they didn't need to play like they are shepherding sheep, gardening, doing housework and bringing up their little brothers and sisters. So in Montessori education we tend to bring the Child into the normal life of the family. We are not buying Children a fake set of cutlery, we are giving the Child space in the kitchen where he can store his own real cutlery, where there will be his real knife and apron. And here he will make sandwiches and tea for himself and family or will help the mother to cook. So we are trying to fill the Child's world with real life. 

    One of the Montessori teachers here made an experiment. Except Montessori classroom she had created a play room where the children can go freely, it was full of  toys and role-play sets like doctor's one for example. Firstly, this room was very popular, it was somethings new. But in half a year the teacher has noticed that children are not leaving the Montessori classroom to play with the toys. They prefer to stay in Montessori classroom for all time and they choose Montessori materials. So she closed this room because there was no sense in it.

But notice, we don't exclude the play, if the child needs it we give him such possibility at home.

7. Montessori philosophy is against fairy tales

     In the times of Maria Montessori fairy tales in Italy were very cruel and evil. They rarely had good endings. Maria did not like them and thought that they are not appropriate for kids. And I can agree with  that. She preferred telling kids interesting stories about discoveries or secrets of the Universe. In addition, her point was that the child should not live in a fantasy for a long, so all her stories were about real but fascinating and interesting things in the world, about discoveries and travels. She was often answering children's questions in a form of the exciting story. 

So Montessori education is not against fairy tales, we often have them in our classrooms, we just don't have too much of them. We carefully choose books for our children. I always explain to the children that what we have just read is a fairy tale, these heroes are not real and they don't live in our world, they live only in the tales.  To younger children, we propose more real books, but that doesn't mean that we should read to our children some encyclopedias or scientific books.

    I tell children that tales, in general, is a very good thing, it is the form of art of some nation or the artwork of the particular person.

    Here I talk about the 0-6 age. During this age it is difficult for the child to distinguish fantasy from reality. That's why we use this kind of books. From 6 years we start to read more fantastic stories because at this age child starts to differentiate real from unreal.

   Also, there is a difference between fantasy and fiction. There are a lot of wonderful stories that don't incorporate magical or supernatural things but still great.
  
    I want to give an example of the fairy tale I once read, to prove that not all the stories are suitable for kids. This is the Russian folk tale.

Fox-weeper


   Once  upon a time there lived old man and old woman. The woman died. The old man was very sad, so he went to look for a weeper. On his way, he met a Bear. The Bear asked:
- Where are you going?
- I am seeking for a weeper. The old woman has died.
- Take me as a weeper.
- Can you weep?
The Bear weeped:
- Uhaaaa...
- Stop. You can not. Your voice is bad.
The old man walked further. He met the Fox. The Fox asked:
- Where are you going?
- I am seeking for a weeper. The old woman has died.
- Take me as a weeper.
- Can you weep? Weep to me.
The Fox weeped:
- The peasant - had a wife. She was getting up in the morning, cooking and cleaning for her husband.
The old man answered:
- Come with me. You are a great weeper.
He brought her home and put her near old woman's feet. She started to cry and the man went to build a coffin. When the man returned there were no old woman, nor Fox in the house. The Fox ate everything and had gone away. The old man cried and started to live alone.

Creepy, isn't it??

8. Montessori education does not stimulate creativity

   Here I have several points to discuss:

1. Yes, the child is not allowed to build a house using brown stairs, as long as the aim of the material is  to understand harmony, learn about qualities of objects. Here a lot of parents can oppose me saying that we don't let children be creative. But look, you have a hair brush and creative person can invent 10 non-standard ways to use it. Hmmm, maybe the first thing that come to my mind, we can use it for gardening, for example, imagine this tiny straight rows for planting seeds. But we are using hair brush only to brush hair because simply it is the aim of this thing. The same thing is with the material.

    Also when the child will understand that harmony behind the brown stairs he can build different designs with it. And with this knowledge he has now it will not be some car garage but some original ornament. Then children compound several materials in one work (like the pink tower, red rods, knobbed cylinders) and create something wonderful from them. Isn't it creativity?


2. Maria Montessori has built her system on a scientific basis and she looked at imagination as at serious cognitive function what develops step by step from easy levels to more difficult. She thought that developed sensory ideals (such as understanding of form, size, color, weight, height) are the base for imagination. 

3. And the last point, but definitely not the least. The thing is that Maria's understanding of art was a bit different. She couldn't say that some chaotic using of finger paints created by a toddler is art masterpiece (quick note, Montessori method is not against finger paints, with younger children we just attribute it more to receiving sensory experience, introducing art tools and encouraging to work with it later). She understood art as making something new after you have achieved the proper skills. Plus every art piece should represent some idea! That is why in Montessori schools there are numerous presentations that teach a child how to use scissors, how to clean brush, how to glue, how to use finger paints. We firstly teach the skill and then create something new with its help! This preliminary works also help then to avoid interrupting the child when he makes errors, like forgetting to clean the brush or something. Kids step by step are moving to master the skill. So there are many art related works on the shelves of Montessori classroom, we discuss paintings with Children, look at artists, touch real paintings, learn art movements. 

Here is the example of art area works from How we Montessori. Materials are clear and simple. In this blog, you can also read an amazing post about rotating art materials at home.

Art materials by How we Montessori

So what are your thoughts? Are there any points about Montessori that firstly you thought are right and then understood to be false? Was this information helpful for you?

26 comments:

  1. What a great post! I love your explanation and how you debunk the myths. I agree with the fairy-tales - we (me) are pretty picky about the books we choose for our son and I do tend to go for more realistic books and stories. Like you say, some of our fairy tales are creepy and those are ones I tend to avoid ;)

    I'm curious about the show you watched... I remember a Russian one I watched a while ago that left me wondering if they knew anything Montessori but I can't remember at all what it was called.

    I live in the Netherlands now, and I am actually really surprised to have discovered recently how many people actually know even what Montessori is. We have very few Montessori schools in our area. I have no idea if many people actually know very much about Montessori. I'm inspired to start a few more conversations about it now :)

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    1. Thank you for you comment! This is actualy was the show I liked, but not sure about it now. You can watch it here Yuliya http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJGQJ2jrZ_M

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    2. I am a montessori teacher. Some of the children push and run around. What is the best way to handle?

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    3. Hi Mohua! I would practice grace and courtesy more. I would should show them how to walk silently and carefully in the classroom. I often show such presentations also with other teacher as an example and then every child practice it. But individual presentations should be in the class also. Another thing is your own example. You should always remember to show how to walk in the class. I also had a rule that we run outdoors and we we walk in the room. I introduces this rule as one of the first when children join our community

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  2. Great post! It's a shame that Montessori and other alternative pedagogies are sometimes known more for this kind of myths than for what they really are...

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  3. Great article indeed the best one I read about Montessori.

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    1. Thank you! I appreciate your opinion very much!

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  4. Great article indeed the best one I read about Montessori.

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  5. Brilliant and thank you! I consider myself a Montessorian and although we do not have a Montessori school where we live I use Montessori principles in our Homeschooling experience. I don't say that we are 'doing the Montessori Method' because we are not. We need the School room, other Children, Teachers, materials etc for that. However I have trained in the Method, materials, read her books and taught in Montessori Preschools. When you 'get it' you get it, and I still can follow the Child and use her pedagogy in my practices as their Mother and Teacher. I also help others to use the Method and my first question is, which of her books have you read? Can I share this article on my blog please?

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    1. Thanks! I haven't read all the books by Maria. From what I have read are The Absorbent Mind, The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education in the Children's Houses, Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook, The Advanced Montessori Method, Help me to do it by myself. I have read also articles written by her. Here is a great resourses to read, number one is just awesome!
      1. http://thevillamariaweb.com/?p=1042
      2. http://thevillamariaweb.com/?p=758
      3. http://thevillamariaweb.com/?p=1098
      Sure, you can share the article;)

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  6. Спасибо за статью,со всем согласна, систему очень поддерживаю. у меня вопрос - а откуда такая русская сказка? никогда не сталкивалась, особенно, среди детских книг...

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    1. Эту сказку нам на монтессори обучении рассказали. Я тогда ее тоже первый раз услышала. Когда писала этот пост думала какой пример привести, не хотелось банально Братьев Гримм, вспомнила про эту сказку русскую. Я думаю в фольклоре каждого народа такие встречаются

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    2. У нас называется Лиса-плачея

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  7. Thank you for this lovely explanation of the myths and truths of Montessori education. I learned some interesting facts and I love how you weave history into your explanations.

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    1. Thank you for reading, it is great if you found something fog you!

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  8. Thank you for the article, it made me smile at the misconceptions about the Montessori teaching method.
    I believe that the Montessori philosophy is a natural method for parenting in raising children regardless of whether thee child attends a Montessori school or not.

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    1. Yep. I think it is very important to spread the word about Montessori education so people understand better what is it.

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  9. This is a wonderful article. I especially liked number 6 and 8 ... Particularly because those are the points we struggle with doing Montessori at home! At the end of the day, I do my best to follow the child and I think most things will fall in line :) Love your article!

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    1. I am happy that you enjoyed the read;)

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  10. Thanks for the article, very instructive. I think however that the Montessori method lacks on methodological clarity, as it is very contradictory in many ways. First, the medical instruction of Maria M., as any other physiological approach, is empirical rather than idealistic, which means that it works inductively rather than hypothetically deductively. This means that she works FROM the experience, not from pure ideas that need to be proved empirically. In other words, she derives her theory from what she sees, not from (scientifically discussed) epistemological mechanisms of knowledge. As a consequence, many of the Montessori commandments are contradictory themself, like the use of imagination inside of already prescribed limits. Other of the problems hereby derived have to do with the development of epistemological categories (how are they formed at all?) and the belief that a toddler can learn from an older kid (as if both had the same categories, or we can learn new categories just by contact).
    Second, about fantasy: in this methology, everything is predicted, and the only space for creation are the limits of technical knowledge. But then they say that art should express ideas. And what about the ideas of things that do not exist yet?
    Third, about playing: If Montessori says that children should not play that often, because playing is an exclusion of the world of adults and that obtructs their cognitive development, then I would ask why children who help their parents with sheeps are mostly more provincial and worst prepared than the prince of a crown (I wonder if the prince really prefers helping his father in his chamber rather than playing with toys).
    And last, but not least: the problem of fantasy exposed in this article generalizes a quality of a wide and open sort of narrative from some few (creepy) examples that are not liked by the author. That presuposes that creepy is bad for the developement (that is a huge presuppotition, by the way). And then they propose to read more realistic literature. Like the diary of Anne Frank, I suppose?

    Best regards.

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    1. Hello, Jake. I am very impressed by your comment, how scientific it is. TO my mind, the method seems contradictory because you are working with children, and this work has no straight algorithms. And even if you are sure that you know everything you will come into the classroom and children will amaze you will have a lot of questions.
      I wrote about these aspects in general, but as everything in life, nothing is just black and white. There are tons of tiny moments about each point and you can not complete it into one post.
      In this post, I tried to describe shortly some general ideas that people often misunderstood about Montessori way of education. This post is for people who just discovered this way of teaching. It should give a person a food for thought, a desire to study more. You can not build your opinion about the system only by reading the post, you need to read more, maybe Maria's own books.
      Montessori was not saying that children should not play that often, she was saying that "Play is the work of the child". I think there are different types of play, some are more beneficial for development, and some are less. I just wanted to say that often toys substitute things that child easily can do in real life. Maybe you feel that the prince is more educated because the environment around him in general is more developed, people are more educated and it influences him. I say that he has no need to pretend play that he rides a horse because he is riding real horses.
      I wrote that in Maria's times fairytales were creepy and that is why she was not reading such books to kids, but it doesn't mean that this way of education is against fairytales in general. I gave the example of some Russian folklore to support this idea. "To younger Children, we propose more real books, but that doesn't mean that we should read to our Children some encyclopedias or scientific books". I didn't plan to give a list of good books here, I think there are a lot of wonderful posts around the web that recommend wonderful children books.
      Thank you for reading the post ;)

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  11. Thanks for the beautiful information regarding Montessori Elementary Classroom. Montessori classrooms use unique materials that are beautiful hand designed to help children develop concentration and work through the process of learning. It helps to increase the motivation and learning power of children. Get the Montessori, Teaching Materials at kidadvance.

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  12. Thank you for trying to dispel some of the myths surrounding Dr. Montessori's work. I would like to make a few additions (and perhaps corrections) to your article.

    There are a few things that need to be said on the topic of fairy tales. First, is that they are not discouraged in the least in Elementary. At that plane of development, children can understand analogies, derive morals, and enjoy stories at an abstract level (rather than literal interpretations only).

    By contrast, when children are first born into the world, they are bombarded with sensory stimulation and a barrage of new information. They have not yet sorted out what is real or unreal, perceive relationships between cause and effect, developed executive functions, or learned the names or functions of common items.

    As a physician, Dr. Montessori realized that development was far from complete when the child left the womb - and that its continued formation was environmentally dependent. For example, the ear and the parts of the brain needed to process sound develop according to the sounds the child is exposed to. Repeated appearance of certain sights, sounds, and other stimuli would signal genes to switch on so the individual would be able to perceive that stimuli with greater accuracy and acuity. In other words, the brains of the very young child attempts to wire themselves so the individual will thrive and survive in whatever surroundings they find themselves. The brain will have grown to 90% of adult weight by age 3, and have attained about 95% of peak volume by age 6. The vestibular, proprioceptive, and other vital systems are still under construction during that time period.

    It is THEN that we don't offer fairy tales because at this point the child hasn't yet completed development of the cognitive architecture needed to understand them - AND because doing so would take time away from activities that ARE developmental requirements.

    Because the changes that take place during early childhood and puberty are so obvious, everyone sees and acknowledges those stages. But, through scientific observation, Dr. Montessori realized that the child undergoes a long progression of small stages (which had gone virtually undetected because no one was looking for them, and they are less perceptible). For this reason, as the child grows and changes, the environments she developed and her prescribed responses also change.

    She described 4 planes of development that each have their own motivations
    (0-6 move from unconscious to conscious, self construction, learn language, self-control, move from dependence to independence)
    (6-12 Exploration of themes like fairness, justice. Personality and creative thought. Note: Fairy tales are perfect this age - Children also create their own games and play in the way most of remember from our own childhoods)
    (12-18 Sense of Dignity, Interpretive Mind, Social Independence)
    (18-24 Evaluation of Social Policy, Moral Compass/Independence)




    Ideas about play and creativity have a similar foundation. Dr. Montessori isn’t against either. Her cautions are only that they be introduced in ways that align with development.


    Creativity is not well understood by the most. Fantasy does not = creativity. A child who thinks they can fly or believes that monsters are real is not playing. Nor are they necessarily the child who is having the most fun.

    My father often said that it was the clown on the high wire that was the most practiced expert. The clown knew their craft so well that they could “play” and do creative or silly things.

    For most children, if you simply let them alone in a room with a piano, their banging on the keys will not suddenly turn into a concerto. Usually, it is not until you show them something about the notes will they be able to create songs or play music.

    Children who have some sense of reality are the ones who can intentionally bend what they know…. and put things together in completely new and unique ways.

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    1. Thank you very much for such a thoughtful comment. I completely agree with you. I wrote this post basing on my background in 0-6 environement but I probably should write a bit about elementary also. I really appreciate you taking time and writing to me. Thank you

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