Simply Montessori: How I Joined the Bandwagon
Becoming a Montessori Groupie…
When I was a child, I unwittingly was an at-home Montessori student. You see, my mom started her career a Middle School teacher in the Detroit Public School system, but when my siblings and I came along, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. She never really stopped teaching – it was in her blood. She taught each of us to read phonetically at a very early age, and was always coming up with fun, hands-on activities for us to do.
I distinctly remember one such project – “Name Books” – which were small booklets made of multiple sheets of construction paper. My mom would take an old-school stencil and trace out our entire first name onto a piece of sandpaper. We would carefully cut out the letters, pasting one at the top of each page, until our book contained all of the letters spelling out our name. Then we would scour old Sears and JCPenney Christmas catalogs to find just the right pictures of items that began with each letter, cutting them out and pasting them onto the correct pages in our books. Finding lots of things that began with the letter “A” was always a challenge for me, as I had two pages to fill…]
Little did we know that the same types of activities were happening every day in Montessori classrooms around the globe. Maria Montessori knew the importance of teaching children letter sounds, rather than simply reciting the alphabet. She made classroom materials that included wooden tiles with sandpaper letters on them, so students could learn the shape of each one through a tactile experience. Maria Montessori realized that children benefitted from sorting and categorizing items, so she set out baskets with small objects on shelves, which children could take down and group by beginning sounds. It is no wonder that several years later my mom became a certified Montessori teacher, as the Montessori method was her teaching style right from the very beginning!
So how, then, did I become a Montessori “Groupie?”
My mom was helping out in my brother’s co-op preschool when she learned about Montessori education while taking an Early Childhood class through a local college. She recognized right away that this method of teaching was exactly how children learned best, and soon she began training to become a certified Montessori teacher. My future husband (who had an art background) and I were recruited to help her make materials in preparation for her new classroom. As we colored, cut and laminated cards with strange things such as geometric shapes, parts of an insect, types of leaf edges and names of clouds, I began to wonder whether or not preschool children would really “get” any of these topics. I mean, what the heck was a “quatrefoil” or a “serrate edge” and why would kids even want to know that? Really, wasn’t this all a little too advanced for four to six year olds?
But something I saw for myself made me change my tune – I visited my mom’s Montessori classroom and saw Montessori education in action.
Being a young twenty-something at the time, I can say that I wasn’t really thrilled about having to stop by her Montessori classroom, but obligation got the best of me and I finally went, rather reluctantly. To this day, I can distinctly remember what I witnessed when I walked through the door. This wasn’t your average “run around the room and scream” daycare center! Rather, children were walking around quietly, picking interesting, colorful materials from shelves to work on. A few kids were building a Roman arch (complete with keystone) out of blocks on a rug on the floor. Still other children were working at tables, concentrating on pouring, tweezing and scooping items from one bowl or plate to another. I was astonished, and it was right there and then that I realized what I was seeing all around me just made sense. The crazy “Montessori method” my mom kept talking about was all around me, and everything it encompassed tapped naturally into what each child their loved to do. Every child was REALLY learning, and enjoying themselves doing so.
Fast-forward many years later… that single event prompted me to begin travelling down my own Montessori path. Montessori education is now in my blood, too. Over the past 25 years I have had the privilege of many different Montessori experiences – from watching my own daughter flourish in a Montessori classroom, to attending national teacher conferences as a Montessori materials supplier, to co-founding a public Montessori charter school that benefits hundreds of families in my local community. Each twist and turn brings out a new understanding or facet of Montessori education that enhances my love of Montessori and strengthens my dedication to sharing its benefits with others.
So I would like to extend an invitation to each and every one of you to take some time out and see Montessori in action for yourself. With today’s national push toward common core standards, and a growing concern that public education provides students with the skills necessary to compete globally with their peers, we must find effective methods of teaching that work for ALL children, no matter what their background or learning needs. Montessori education is, and has been, just that for well over 100 years.
I look forward to continuing to share my personal Montessori experiences with you, and in turn, hearing how you, too, became a Montessori groupie!