I was recently speaking with a friend about how difficult it can be to help our kids avoid the mistakes we’ve made in life, or to achieve successes that we ourselves have not yet managed to achieve. I thought he put it beautifully when he said, “I want my ceiling to be their floor.” In other words, he wants his personal and professional achievements (which I think are pretty impressive) to seem like no big deal compared to what his children will accomplish.
Most parents that I know share the desire for their children to have an even better life than their own, a life with less struggle and more success. Yet in today’s educational landscape, too many children leave school without the strong foundation needed to make this happen. While they may be motivated to get a job or enroll in college, they approach these tasks with a nagging sense of “have to,” not “want to.” Throughout my work in colleges and universities, I’ve seen this type of attitude lead to anxiety and burnout for even the brightest students. It all starts with their elementary foundations. In many classrooms, a heavy focus on “talking at” and testing children drains their motivation and undermines any efforts to steer them toward the bright futures that we all imagine.
So, how is Montessori different? In my experience, Montessori schools possess four distinct characteristics that set them apart and make them more likely to gear kids up for true personal and professional success:
1. Montessori teaches organization, strategy and good learning habits.
All of the facts in the world are useless if you are forever disorganized, procrastinating, or confused about what to do next. The Montessori classroom offers children the gift of a calm, orderly environment and also teaches them how to maintain it (both in and out of school). The Montessori school day is full of simple, practical rituals that help children develop self-discipline. From setting up their workspace to preparing their daily snack, these tasks give them a sense of what it means to independently plan a task, carry it out, and clean it up all by themselves. This is a priceless skill set for success through college, and beyond.
2. Montessori offers a deeper way for kids to learn (not just memorize) tough subjects.
Sure, we all learned the state capitals and periodic table the good old-fashioned way…by rote memorization, right? And how much do we actually remember? Being able to spit facts onto a test is very different than being able to absorb information into your knowledge base and pull it back out for practical use when you need it. And you can’t build on knowledge that you never really have to begin with. Through the use of tactile objects, the Montessori method allows children to tap into a kinesthetic learning style that tends to be underutilized in conventional classrooms. My son once told me that the colorful little beads used to teach math concepts in Montessori helps multiplication and division “get into your bones!” In essence, the type of multi-sensory learning that happens in a Montessori classroom is effective in helping information to “sink in” and be available for creative output (i.e. cool ideas and inventions) later.
3. Montessori teaches kindness and respect toward others.
Not through harsh punishments or forced apologies when kids are cruel to one another (as we all know they can be). But through the teaching of values like compassion and honesty, so that children are encouraged to think about how their behavior affects those around them. Montessori students are taught to see themselves as members of a classroom community, to respect their fellow school “citizens,” and to speak kindly and sincerely to one another. What could possibly be a better foundation for our future business owners, community leaders, and neighbors?
4. Montessori takes a positive attitude toward child development.
Children are not just viewed as miniature adults with poor self-control, empty vessels to be filled up with facts, or machines designed to crank out worksheets. They are little people with their own agendas. They are naturally inclined to want to see, hear, touch, talk about, and try out everything around them. If you allow yourself to trust their natural exploration patterns, you’ll notice an interesting thing – playing is how they LEARN. Montessori recognizes that for children, play is the most important work to be done. Research shows that children are actually performing crucial tasks related to brain development when they play. No lecturing or classroom power struggles required.
With these four keys, Montessori can unlock any child’s potential. Why not empower our kids by giving them this type of supportive, solid foundation? I want my kids to soar to heights that I don’t even yet know exist. I might not always be able to guide them there but I’d like for them to have the tools to guide themselves. I’m absolutely sure that what they’ve learned in Montessori schools has set them on the right path.
Laura Turner-Essel, PhD lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and four children. She holds a doctorate in Counseling Psychology and serves as Coordinator for Residential Education at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She believes that education should support the whole child, whole family, and whole community. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.