The wonders of Montessori early childhood eduation

July 5, 2018

To the editor:

With this letter, I hope to share the wonders of Montessori early childhood education with mothers and teachers. Someone once said that every child is born with the perfect teacher… his mother. If you’re a mom or teacher, try out some of the Montessori techniques below. The children love it. The children thrive.

Another “M.M.” And early childhood education
Now what woman with the initials “M.M.” left an impact on the world? If you’re American, you’ve probably piped up “Marilyn Monroe.”

Well there’s another “M.M” out there that you may never have heard about and she could have a vital impact on your child’s education today – Dr. Maria Montessori. She was one of the first female doctors in Italy at a time when there was a lot of hostility toward a woman even wanting to go to medical school.

Dr. Montessori was born in 1870 and went to the University of Rome Medical School. She received her doctor of medicine degree in 1896 and specialized in pediatrics. She initially worked with children suffering from mental retardation and disabled children. She ultimately left medicine and became an educator.

She was a single working mom when it was scandalous to be one. She developed a unique education which we now call “Montessori education” which can be used for both disabled and “normal” children.

She wrote The Montessori Method. Her educational theory was that children have a natural desire to learn and if you prepare a stimulating environment they will learn.

She believed that children like order. Children can direct their own activities and develop self-discipline even at a very young age. She believed in simple concepts that we now take for granted, like child-sized furniture or placing pictures at the child’s eye level. How many of you remember those alphabet letters placed near the ceiling, oh so high, that you could hardly see from where you sat, yet alone copy? This was the system I grew up with many years ago.

Dr. Montessori advocated practical life experiences for the child like pouring from a pitcher (this was before juice boxes!) or washing the table or sensorial experiences like learning the alphabet with sandpaper letters. She advocated the use of manipulatives or things the child could feel and touch to further the learning process.

If you google Montessori materials you may be dismayed at the prices. Don’t be alarmed. You can make your own materials from things you already have at home or things purchased from the dollar store.

Find some shells or pretty stones or pieces of bark. Let your child examine them with a dollar store magnifying glass. He is “categorizing”, a vital tool in science.
Be creative. On a hot fall day, I once had children “paint” the school with water using foam brushes. The expense for this activity was minimal: the brushes cost 12 for a dollar. The children loved it and it is an excellent eye-hand coordination activity, so essential in writing.

As a Montessori teacher I’ve seen children as young as three, get ready for lunch, set the table, unpack their lunch boxes, then clean up, wipe the table down and begin working again. Amazing. A routine and again this is fun.

Dr. Montessori labeled things. Even art. Again I’ve seen children naming the great artists and discussing their work, just because they were exposed to copies of art that had been labeled with the type of art form and the artist’s history. I wish I had been exposed to the great painters when I was a child. It’s easy to do. Copy some of the work of the great artists off the Internet. Show it. Label it.

Here’s a simple idea which is classic Montessori: Take a large piece of cloth. An old sheet will do. Divide it in three horizontal spaces: sky, land, and water. The sky is blue. The land is green or brown. The water is blue. You can color it with markers. Now buy several bags of dollar store animals, fish, and birds. Or go through your child’s toy box and dig them out. You know they’re in there! Have the child place the manipulatives where they belong: in the sky, on the land or in the water. Maybe they live in both places? This is such an easy lesson to prepare and children love it.

Too often we see educators and administrators stress the importance of “crowd control”: walking in a straight line, sitting quietly. While these can be positive attributes and can assist in the safety of children, especially in an emergency situation, when a child actively engages, he is thoroughly engrossed in learning. Let him sit on the floor as long as he is learning. Give a little freedom.

Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. Her ideas have stood the test of time. She once said, “The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.” Moms and teachers, see how easy it is to implement her ideas and how fulfilling it is for your child and student. Have fun!

Barbara Woodry

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