The Montessori Method: Beyond Elementary

The Montessori Method: Beyond Elementary

When I am asked about homeschool and the “why” behind my decision, I explain that my 11-year old child was a Montessori kid for seven years and we have decided to continue his education in this learning style. Almost immediately, a quizzical look appears and I know the question before it is asked… “Isn’t that for younger kids?

The answer is yes and no.

Maria Montessori studied medicine at the University of Rome in the 1890’s.  During her studies, she cared for children from orphanages and asylums; children who were considered unteachable, and in many cases, unreachable.  But Maria Montessori was determined to reach them, and because of her philosophies, she had much success in doing so.  After this success, she returned to the university to study philosophy and anthropology, and became an anthropology professor.  As she taught and observed her students, she reflected on her work with the orphans and began to gain new insights into the innate nature of humans. She translated that understanding into observations on the Four Planes of Development for young people.

Here is where Montessori gets tricky for most people as they believe that the Montessori method’s success is based solely on Dr. Montessori’s fabulous materials.  And it is, but the true magic of the Montessori curriculum is that the schooling is based on, and corresponds to, the child’s natural developmental periods and natural behavioral tendencies; her famous “Follow the Child” philosophy.  I know– hard to believe– so let me break it down as I understand it through living it as a Montessori parent, and my massive research around what I was getting my child into.

From age 0-6, children live in a very concrete world and it is hard for them to relate to abstract concepts. They are natural explorers, which is the reason why toddlers put everything into their mouths and your three year old begins to ask questions for which you have no ready answer.  This is when the famous Montessori materials are the most valuable, because they encourage sensory exploration.

From 6-12, children begin their shift into the abstract world.  Their appetite for knowledge is immense; they become more social and seek life away from the protection of parents. Montessori deemed this period the “intellectual period” and Montessori materials of the previous stage are coupled with a Cosmic education to appeal to the child’s burgeoning intellect.

After age 12, children are finished with this intellectual stage of life and enter the period of great vulnerability.  The basic Montessori principles of developmental planes and the human behavioral tendencies remain, but, the majority of the Montessori materials disappear.  As they enter the adolescent years, children change, and so should their education.

The adolescent program for Montessori is called Erdkinder, which translates to Earth children.  Adolescents experience a rigorous academic curriculum during this stage, with an academic foundation of math, science, language, history, creative and performing arts and independent study.  An emphasis is placed on math, and math lessons continue to connect the hand to the mind, so that a strong math foundation is established.  But, because of the adolescents vulnerability, students are given large blocks of time to complete academic studies, and not pressured, so that they have time for their thoughts to develop. We know all too well about the vulnerability of adolescents.  They are filled with doubt and hesitation, are sensitive, embarrass easily, and so on.  As far as learning, they have difficulty concentrating, and are easily distracted.  To combat this sensitive time, Dr. Montessori felt that the goal of adolescent learning should be to help the adolescent develop “Valorization of Personality” by allowing the children to develop a profound sense of  accomplishment–  which is why most Erdkinder programs spend a significant amount of time on farms and in natural environments. On a farm, the adolescent is able to witness commerce and become involved in caring– for animals and crops in the ground and, most especially,  for themselves.  They are placed in situations where they are able to contribute fully to society, and through this experience, gain a huge sense of accomplishment.

At the high school level, the children are on the descent of the adolescent phase and instead of being prepared solely for college work, are also prepared to enter into the world at large. In the high school program, a lot of time is spent on adaptation to the social world of work and college.  At my son’s school there was a professional college planner that met individually with students and parents beginning in the 10th grade year.  There was a lot of research, presentations, and lecturing.  Also, loads of time was spent on communication and the “right” way to communicate in society.  Business manners and etiquette were paramount and intercessions, interning and volunteering in the community were extremely important. But out-of-school experiences (Montessori believed in children experiencing the world) were still paramount.  In fact, I had the chance to host a weeklong fashion design intercession for the school and the depth of knowledge of the children was mind-boggling. Montessori had a deep belief in the benefits of academic knowledge and intellectual study and in the high school, there was a great emphasis placed on acquiring this knowledge. To this end, the high school program offered 32 core honors courses and 10 AP classes.

Montessori believed that “human beings do not develop meaningful knowledge by force.  The human tendency to manipulate the environment leads us to build a strong conceptual base for further knowledge, and hence, to retain it.”  This is our main reason for continuing in the Montessori vein.  We don’t have to ask my son ten times to begin his school work, or struggle with him to complete it.  The Montessori method presents his learning in a way that allows him to be self-motivated, excited, and engaged in his work.  Montessori produces a calm, peaceful, intellectual and mannerable child. We are always complimented on our son’s manners. No yelling, no screaming, no disrespect? Yep. I’ll take it any day.

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