How do we measure human development? Can testing alone be enough to assess children’s abilities, interests, and development? Montessori administrators and teachers would say “absolutely not!” Montessori schools provide different kind of learning environment, characterized by hands-on learning, child-centered learning, and peer teaching. There is minimum testing in Montessori schools. Instead of testing, there is an assessment protocol that captures not only Math, Language and Science test scores, but outcomes such as perseverance, independence, and compassion. This is a method moving away from a narrow focus on subjects to emphasis of development of whole child.
Montessori teachers keep observation notes and refer to them frequently. They observe the classrooms and children regularly as children’s interests ebb and flow. Each didactic material has its own purpose and careful and daily assessment made by teachers ensure each child’s work with variety of materials, their progress, and development. Older children are often working in groups helping and teaching each other, which is more developmentally appropriate way of learning. Subjects are not compartmentalized and taught according to the school schedule. After they get lessons from the teachers, they can work with materials at their own pace with freedom of repetition until they develop good understandings. The teachers check students’ work and progress regularly and guide them, but children’s interests are at the center of their learning. The fact that Montessori children have age-appropriate freedom in the classroom helps the teacher to observe true nature of each child.
When students and teachers must spend a lot of time and energy preparing for the tests, it is hard to focus on conceptual learning and personal development. Test performance alone does not measure learning, and it can distract us from what really matters. When we turn our eyes to children’s internal development as well as what is visible outwardly, we can better understand each child’s needs and development as a unique person.
“We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.” ~ Maria Montessori
The new school year has started, and children are acclimated into their Montessori environment at school. The Montessori classroom is an environment prepared by the trained adult for children, which Maria Montessori called the prepared environment. It contains all the age-appropriate essentials for optimal development but nothing superfluous. Many parents then ask, “What can we do at home?”
As you prepare your home environment, there are basic Montessori principles to consider, like organization, order, independence of the child or freedom with limits.
Furniture and objects in the room are tangible parts of the environment. Children should have child-size furniture and child-friendly tools for easy use. Older children, elementary and up need more freedom and varieties. Having choices in where to work, such as at a table, on the floor, at a counter-top, or patio area outside would be great. An open shelf is the best option for storage, which allows easy access, organization, and easy cleanups.
It is a good idea to have a separate supply shelf for the children, so that they know where to get materials they need and be able to work independently. At the end of the day, children can be involved in replenishing what they used for the next day.
Older children can have a selection of books on a separate shelf in common area of the house instead of storing everything in his/her room. Different board games or art supplies for big projects can be stored as well since older children enjoy more group activities with their families.
It is great to have child-size cleaning supplies, such as brush and dustpan, mop, broom, or table sponges, so that they can clean up the spills they made independently. You can also provide an apron for messy activities and a hook on the wall for the children to hang them.
Having choices, routine, freedom with limits and independence are intangible parts of the environment. Out of selections of activities, the children can choose what they want to do. Or they may just want to watch what other family members are doing. We need to be mindful about not to over-schedule activities. It is important for them to have unstructured times at home. Creativity and innovations are often born when children have free time.
By giving age-appropriate freedom and the limits, children feel safe to engage in activities independently. You can keep the objects and supply limited, so that they learn to take good care of them. Parents should also have a high expectation of the children to participate in family life. Care of the home should be done with the children.
Having order and organization are important for independent functioning of the children. Containing objects in baskets or on trays helps children to find objects easily and can encourage repetition. Objects on the shelves can be rotated every 2 or 3 weeks to keep children’s interests fresh. Toddlers need a lot more space to move around and keeping rooms tidy and organized are even more important for them.
“The adults work to improve his environment while the child works to improve himself.” By Maria Montessori