On the Montessori Method and why it is my preferred educational philosophy…

A couple of years ago, when I started looking around at schools for my daughter, I was overwhelmed with the options. Should we look at an home daycare vs. a center? What kind of educational method was I looking for? What should the learning focus be on? I read about the Montessori method, Reggio Emilia approach, Waldorf education, and more. Superficial research told me that Montessori was a popular choice. Not to be convinced by a popularity vote, I delved further into my research and tried to work out why Montessori was so popular.

The first thing that I understood, and a very important point that I believe every parent should comprehend prior to enrolling their child in a Montessori school, is that Montessori is a philosophy, not a curriculum. Before proceeding, I had to learn all I could about Montessori and decide whether I believe in the philosophy or not. I could not put my daughter in a school unless I believed in their practices. So, let me explain to you what I learnt, why I believe, and then you can decide for yourself whether this is something you believe in too.

The Montessori method was definitely the oldest method of all that I had researched. It was developed by Maria Montessori over a 100 years ago. It has been tried and tested all over the world with a lot of success. In fact, Maria Montessori’s methods were verified more than a 100 years later through new techniques in brain research and MRIs with young children! A lot of the other methods I saw were newer with comparatively less field studies, and I wanted to go with a more tried and tested approach.

More importantly, Montessori follows a constructivist approach to learning. This means that students are actively involved in the process of building knowledge and learning, as opposed to passively receiving information. For example, lecture-based instruction is a passive form of learning. Now, think from a child’s perspective. Would a child below the age of 5 prefer to be active, using their hands and moving, or passive, being asked to sit in one place for extended periods of time and listen? I know my child would prefer the former, and I can imagine most children preferring the former too. I have believed in a constructivist approach for many years and worked on incorporating more forms of active learning at all levels, so it was obvious that I would want my bouncy, happy toddler to learn in a constructivist manner too. Children should be allowed to participate in their learning, and not be chastised for it. Montessori ticked that box.

Not only do children participate in how they learn, but they also, to an extent, choose what they learn. In a typical Montessori setup, students choose their activities from a prescribed range. This encourages a child to direct their own learning. By doing so, we ensure that the child is more engaged with his / her learning. Making such choices also improves their decision making skills at an early age!

I was also impressed with how activities were setup in the Montessori way. I learnt from A’s teachers that in Montessori terminology, activities are called “jobs”. A “job” consists of everything required to complete an activity from start (including selection and set-up) to finish (including cleanup). The jobs are setup in small trays or bins, and placed at a child’s height level. For example, when my daughter was in the “toddler room” one of the jobs was to pour water from one small beaker to another. This job, obviously, involves some spills and messes when performed by a 2 year old. The tray also had a small cloth, and children learnt to clean up their own spills! This ensured that children learnt complete ownership in all their activities, and also developed discipline to keep their surroundings clean.

This sense of ownership and discipline prevails in all things Montessori. Montessori rooms are designed for children – safe spaces, items placed at convenient heights, enabling children to be independent and allowing them to explore without restrictions. With this, children also develop a sense of responsibility such as cleaning up after themselves and organization.

It has been a year since my daughter started her Montessori education, and I have found a sea change. I have also found that for Montessori to be as effective as possible, one needs to comprehend that Montessori is a philosophy and not a curriculum, believe in it, and implement it outside of school as well. In the past year, we have worked on incorporating many Montessori practices in our day-to-day life and found that it has made it a world of difference. In a series of posts, I will be describing the ways in which we have started leading a Montessori life. Stay tuned for more!




First pizza!

Recently, I had a breakthrough. A ate her first pizza! Now, you might wonder why this is such a big deal. Why would I want my kid to eat “junk food”? Well, as I’ve mentioned time and again, A is a picky eater. She eats a handful of dishes prepared in exactly a certain way, often force-fed with bribes. Combined with our love for travel, it gets inconvenient with lugging around a rice cooker and ingredients everywhere.

I’ve come to realize that pizza is common denominator food, available world-wide, and isn’t as unhealthy as we think when we have control over the ingredients (from trust-worthy sources and home-made as far as possible).  A has taken an interest in cooking and baking recently, and I’ve taken advantage of this by encouraging her to participate in preparing dinner and have her eat the same food as the rest of the family, with no screens or bribes. I fight my motherly instincts to make her eat more everyday! We follow a Montessori philosophy at home (more on this in a future post) and she uses a ladder to reach the kitchen counter and participate in the daily cooking, an activity she loves. This has been a worthwhile effort.

I’ve also observed that she has a love for strong bold flavors. For example, she will always choose a pesto pasta over a mac ‘n’ cheese. So I decided to have her make her own pizza, choosing her own toppings. First, I asked her what she would like on her pizza, showing her a few options. She made a face and rejected the more traditional option of marinara. No worries, I asked her if she would like a pesto pizza. While she was suspicious (“Do you mean pesto pasta or pesto pizza?”) she did agree that she would like to make a “pesto pizza with cheese”. Brilliant! Step 1 had been accomplished – that was further along than we’d ever gotten with pizza before. And I ensured that she was involved with every step that followed.

Next, we had to buy ingredients. Trader Joe’s is a family favorite, where we all love shopping for our treats, in a trust-worthy, vegetarian-friendly environment. I asked her to please help me shop for ingredients. Since we were in a hurry that day, we chose to buy our ingredients rather than make the pesto at home, but that worked out very well as she loved looking around and finding the pesto and cheese off the shelves.

Finally, it was time to go home and make the pizza! By now, the excitement had amped up and she was extremely excited to make her own pizza. This turned out to be one of the easiest cooking experiments I had ever done with her. Other than getting the pizza in and out of the oven, she could do everything herself. She patted and rolled the dough into a circle, eagerly “painted” the pesto on the base, and got a kick out of heaping on cheese on the pizza (of course with chef’s treats of bits of cheese to snack on!) She watched eagerly through the oven door as her pizza baked. When the pizza was done, she bounced between her feet while we sliced it for her. She was so proud of it! And, best of all, she ate  satisfactory amount of it!

It just goes to show that kids are way more capable than what we give them credit for. In fact, other than a light dusting of flour on the counter, the entire activity proved to be mess-free with A developing a sense of cleanliness and order as well.