“Knowledge can best be given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into knowledge.” —Maria Montessori
I am often asked the question, “Why Montessori?” by prospective families curious about early education. Parents want to understand the difference between the Montessori experience and other early education programs like daycare and nurseries. The answer to this lies at the intersection of responsibility and independence.
At Inly, the Montessori experience begins in Toddler House. At the core of Montessori philosophy is a deep respect for the child and a regard for him or her as a fully capable person. To support this, Inly’s Toddler House consists of a dedicated team of warm and nurturing teachers trained in early childhood development and Montessori education. The classroom contains spacious, well designed areas where toddlers are free to explore with all their senses. In addition, everything is toddler-sized. Enticing work materials are displayed on low shelves within easy reach of curious hands. It always makes me smile to witness a toddler walk over to a shelf, select a work and bring it to a work space all on their own.
In a Montessori classroom, activities are set up for children that nurture their intrinsic motivation. The “works” we provide for the children are accomplishable. A student can engage with each work until they have reached a place of mastery and then move on to the next work, which builds on the previous skill and is challenging and educational in a different way. The opportunity for mastery is different in a Montessori classroom. So often, in an ordinary classroom or daycare center, a child will be asked to abandon their work before they have finished. But rushing children and interrupting their work cycle results in an incomplete learning experience. In a Montessori classroom, a child is given more time and opportunity to master a work. Consequently, the student develops their ability to focus, hone fine and gross motor control, and problem-solve independently. Work is approached in a gentle and nurturing way that allows children to advance at their own pace.
The Toddler House program prepares children for preschool work by exposing them to each area of Inly’s Children’s House curriculum. It also supports the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of each child. The toddlers learn concentration, coordination, language skills, responsibility, and respect—all of which prepare them well for a successful transition into preschool in Children’s House.
Those who are part of the Montessori tradition have long valued a child’s natural affinity for exploration and understand how that sparks their desire to learn. Very often, daycare centers are teacher-driven and teacher-focused. In a teacher-centric program, the education is geared toward what the teacher is most interested in versus what the students are interested in. A teacher will say, “Ok kids, we’re all going to do this now.” While there’s definitely value in doing things together, not every moment needs to be orchestrated this way.
Dr. Montessori revolutionized the practice of education by shifting the paradigm of a teacher-centered system to a learner-centered one. Her belief was that the goal of a school should be to cultivate a child’s natural desire to learn, not to simply fill the child with facts. She felt that the discipline in a classroom should be self-discipline, and that children need the opportunity to develop it.
One of the most common misconceptions about Montessori is that the student is allowed too much freedom and that they may take advantage of that freedom. The beauty of a Montessori classroom, however, is that the student has choices within a discreetly controlled environment. Just as a parent would most likely not allow their child to eat dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, in a Montessori environment, a child is encouraged to try different things and is encouraged to do different works, all under the careful guidance of a trained teacher. In addition, the multi-age classrooms allow for children to take on the roles of mentor and mentee at various times, which further enhances their learning experiences.
Inly’s curriculum is designed at every developmental level to further independence and responsibility. “What am I responsible for?” and “How do I apply what I’ve learned?” are questions that our students ask themselves each and every day. In doing so, our students develop a strong sense of purpose that helps them look beyond themselves and to the greater community. At the same time, they also cultivate a strong sense of self and self-reliance. When we hear a child say, “I can do that myself,” we are delighted because that is our goal. We want our children to learn from the very beginning who they are and how they fit into the world.
At Inly, we have a vision for our students. Starting in Toddler and Children’s House Preschool and building all the way through Middle School, our students play an important role in their own education. They learn to initiate and complete work independent of constant teacher direction, accept responsibility for their actions within a community, take responsibility for themselves and for each other, and develop a sense of mastery and accomplishment as they learn. The Montessori model at Inly provides children with a strong foundation for learning that they take with them for the rest of their lives. It also helps empower them as individuals and prepare them for their roles as global citizens. In conclusion, perhaps the question is not “Why Montessori?” but rather, “Why not?”