The “Freakanomics” of Montessori!

18k2c4bjygau8jpg +MariaMontessori

Hello, all!

i have been talking to new/prospective parents about their children and what they want for them. It is very inspiring to me, and hopeful, and wonderful.  I love this every year.

This is good, as it is also the time of year when we get ready for the rising Kinders to leave.  They are such a mix: perfect in their ability to know what needs to happen in the classroom, chaotic, inspired, messy, kind, loud, pushing all the boundaries.  I also am sad to say goodbye to families; some of whom I have served for many years, with multiple children.

But, what I am excited about today is what I am calling “The Freakanomics of Montessori”!  Now, I can’t begin to explain what “Freakanomics” is, really.  It is a book about something called “functional economics” which is, to me “what people actually do instead of what you think they ought to do.”  The book is great, along with the 3 other ones Levitt and Dubner have written, and the blog, if you want to check it out.  It will push you right out of some boxes in which you are thinking.

The “Freakanomics of Montessori” is my way to describe what she (Maria Montessori) saw and what we “guides” (as she called us) attempt to do, every day.

Montessori was not a teacher, she was a medical doctor.  She was hired to take care of the physical/medical needs of a group of “at risk” students.  (We don’t know much about them; they were below average in some ways: cognitively, physically, socially, economically, we don’t know; It was between 1896 and 1901.)

As it was, she, as a doctor, watched the children.  Watching, she noticed that the children seemed “interested in learning.”  So, she set about to offer them instruments, materials, to help them to learn.  She thought that they should be tactile, and sought out those throughout Europe who were trying to work with children who were deaf, or blind, or had other handicapping conditions.

She used some of these devices (we call them “manipulatives”, and are now an educational catchphrase), and made some others (she made the first movable alphabet, famously, from a fruit crate).  The she sat back and watched.  She had no idea that these children needed to learn the way she had been taught, or that they would learn at all.  She took away some things, including reward systems, large tables, expecting children to sit still, to work alone, to work on what she chose instead of what they chose.  She added other things, like small furniture, allowing children to work on the floor, with others, alone, for a long time or a short time on something, with time to repeat things that they loved.  She thought children should go outside every day.  She noticed that children like to use real things, and to learn how to use real tools.

She noticed a lot, and we are still using her way of seeing children in schools all over the world, as best we can.  We base what we do on what works, not on what worked with us, or what should work, or even, what worked with another child.  We are always expected and, hopefully, willing to modify what we do, and how we do it,  to fit what we see as the needs of a particular child, and the way(s) in which they seem to learn best.  We also get to do this for three years, so that we truly get to know children deeply.

This “outside the box” way of seeing children is endlessly interesting.  The children appreciate being participants in their learning process, and forgive us when we make poor calls on what to do and how to do it, as they see we are trying, often, to meet them where they are, both in abilities and interests.  They appreciate the ability to pursue what they like, with whom they like, for how long they like, and reward us (so to speak) by dipping deeply, at times, into learning.  They also like to rest, and play, and return to things which are easy and meet a creative need.  We have sewing, painting, drawing, composing stories, making books, singing, and all kinds of movement going on.

Go check out what Montessori kids are doing!




3 thoughts on “The “Freakanomics” of Montessori!

  1. I’m applauding your post from CA. While there are thousands that practice Montessori, there are many that have the philosophy memorizes but when it comes to application it could look and feel different all in the name of trying to get it right. You’ve nailed the essence of our work and that is, “If it works for the child.” Thank you!

  2. Reblogged this on From This To That Early Learning and commented:
    Sometimes when we try so hard to get things right we end up not sticking with the fundamentals of Montessori. This post certainly reminds me of that!
    In a nutshell, “If it works for the child” we are following them.

    In relation to ABA where reinforcement is given by tokens, food and other reinforcing items, reinforcement is given in Montessori but in a different manner. The environment is created to appeal to the child’s senses, inviting them to explore. The activities are created and developed to harness independence, deduction skills and our favorite independence, order, concentration and coordination. Montessori environments honors the child’s need for movement, repetition, learning style and ultimately reinforces intrinsic motivation while develop executive functioning skills.

    To follow the child in ABA, edibles and reinforcement by praise may have to occur frequently when learning new skills. I hope that once the child develops a repertoire of skills, those of us in special education and in home practicing ABA can move towards creating environments and functional/academic activities to bring out and cultivate each child’s individual potential. My point is, let’s follow them our children on the spectrum, give them what they need and transition them to something much greater because they can do it!

    • marysmontessorischool says:

      Yes, we have to start with the child and where they are. Behavior mod is certainly useful and appropriate for many things (I use it on myself every day!); it makes me sad, though, when it is applied as the limit of adult/child interaction for all children! What is your connection to Montessori and ABA?

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