Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If Only They Had Montessori Education

      When we listen to how our students are doing in school we hear the following: they can’t read at grade level, they are deficient in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), bullying  is pervasive in schools. Looking at our global environment, we read that our actions are destroying the environment.  As I reflect on these challenges, I can’t help but say, “If only they  had Montessori education, these problems would be non-existent. “

      Through a multi-sensory and personalized approach to teaching phonemic awareness and phonics, reading is taught in seventy two lessons grouped into five big steps. Mastery of the 44 sounds of the English language along with the different ways these sounds may be represented gives the child the key to reading.  Once a child can read, one can read everything, not just first  grade or third grade books.  The underlying principle is that a child taught individually for short periods daily experiences success at every step which encourages one to want to learn some more.  These successes lead to what Montessori calls “the explosion to reading.”  A child who discovers reading will keep on reading for the love of it and for the feel of having achieved a monumental task.

       Science is taught in an integrated manner, weaving chemistry, physics, life science, geography, history, art, music, literature and culture with the view of understanding how the world works and one’s place in it as a steward of the earth and all its inhabitants.  One gains respect for the age of the earth and its slow transformation from its early beginnings to what it is now.  It is humbling to note that it took millions and billions of years for the earth to flourish to the point that life sustains itself and for mankind in a few hundred years to denude its forests, pollute the air and destroy life. A child steeped in the knowledge of the laws of the universe through hands-on experiments and research realizes that we are a part of the web of life,  not the weaver, only one of the strands.  What affects one, affects the whole web.  We try to conserve, protect and replenish the fruits we gather from the earth and keep the earth sustainable.  Life depends on cooperation and symbiotic relationships.  Peaceful resolution of conflicts can be taught and practiced on a daily basis so that there is no need for bullying to dominate others.

      Mathematics is the most highly developed part of the curriculum.  With specially designed hands-on materials to teach concepts from counting  to the  Pythagorean theorem, students using these tools truly take the journey from the concrete to the abstract  arriving at a full understanding of what math is and not just a bunch of memorized facts. Math anxiety is replaced with love of numbers and problem solving. A strong number sense which includes understanding of place value in our decimal system serves as a foundation for higher math exploration.

      Montessori is a social experience in a community of learners.  One learns to help each other because cooperation, not competition, is encouraged. One works to the best of one’s ability for the sake of learning, not for artificial rewards such as stickers or grades.  One is helped in understanding why one behaves in ways that may not be socially acceptable for the purpose of serving one’s mistaken goals of attention, power struggle, revenge or display of inadequacy.  Through discussions during class meetings one is shown alternative ways of behaving that meet one’s basic need for significance in the group while acting for the good of the whole class. Class unity is promoted through music, drama, cooking and eating together and just having fun as fellow learners in a Montessori environment.