‘We learn through what we do’

Independence, engagement, collaboration among the cornerstones of the Montessori philosophy, one of the most widely-implemented educational approaches in the world.

By Sonia Mendes

Anshumala Juyal with her son Anadi, 3, and daughter Tosca, 6.

Anshumala Juyal with her son Anadi, 3, and daughter Tosca, 6.

Last September, just a few weeks after two-year-old Anadi Juyal-Bozza joined the half-day program at OMS Montessori, his mother began to notice changes in his behaviour at home.

“We saw our son spontaneously doing small tasks at home that he does at school, such as carrying his dishes into the kitchen after eating, cleaning up after playing with toys, putting away his clothes and ordering the shoes in the front hall by the door,” recalls Anshumala Juyal.

Such practical life exercises are part of OMS’s Casa program, designed for children ages 2.5 to six years.

One important aspect of the Montessori approach to education — developed in the early 1900s — is the belief that young children are attracted to activities that give them a sense of independence and control.

That’s why Montessori educators provide children with special materials to tie, button and snap, teaching them to develop concentration and attention to detail.

“We learn through what we do,” explains Pat Gere, director of OMS. “This is an important concept in Montessori; it’s the activity itself that the child is doing through which they learn.”

Montessori is a unique approach to education that was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy in the early 1900s. Through her medical work with children and her scientific training in observation, she became interested in how young children learn.

In 1907, she set up a school for children between the ages of two and six years.

“What Dr. Maria Montessori realized, based on her observation of children, is that some of the materials caused children to be very focused and engaged,” says Gere.

“It was then that they became calmer and more energized, so she learned that it is crucial to find those things that naturally put children into a state of engagement.”

Gere likens the concept of engagement to an adult participating in a hobby or a sport they enjoy; when we’re engaged, we’re relaxed and “in a state of flow,” she says.

“The truth is, we all have this innate desire to be engaged in what we do.”

Today, Montessori schools around the globe implement these intuitive concepts into their educational approach. With more than 22,000 schools in 117 countries, Montessori is one of the most widely-implemented educational approaches in the world — and growing.

Katherine Poyntz, executive director for the Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators, estimates there are about 500 Montessori schools across Canada, with at least 100 in Ontario.

Adult Helping Two Young Children at Montessori/Pre-School

However, the name “Montessori” is not trademarked, so be sure to find out which schools offer education in Montessori style, and which ones adhere to the original philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori.

Poyntz says parents are now spending more time researching what constitutes the best possible start for their kids, in order for them to find lifelong success as adults.

“Look at the workplace today and ask yourself, ‘What do companies look for when they hire?’” says Poyntz. “The answer is, people who can think, collaborate and communicate.”

Collaboration is another concept that’s central to the Montessori approach.

Gere says a Montessori environment is structured very differently from the traditional classroom.

Montessori classes have multi-aged students — three, four and five-year-olds are grouped together, and six to nine-year-olds together.

And last fall, OMS expanded its programming to include Ottawa’s first Montessori high school program called The Element, for students in Grades 7 through 9.

“Montessori children tend to be very knowledgeable about who they are and what they’re good at,” says Gere. “They accept that within a group, we all have certain strengths and that is just fine; we’re all who we are as individuals.”

The role of teacher is also interpreted differently within the Montessori classroom.

While the adult’s initial responsibility is to introduce material to the child, their second and largest role is as observer.

“It’s an education based on observation and assessment,” says Poyntz.

This approach provides children with the autonomy to resolve situations amongst themselves.

And Anshumala Juyal, mother of little Anadi, says she’s seen the positive results firsthand.

“I recently arrived at school slightly early to pick up my two-year old and found a final-year student patiently helping him put on his winter clothes,” says Juyal. “Both children were having fun and smiling in the process; of course, my son is thrilled to be doted on by a bigger boy.”

“I think both my younger child, as well as the older child, feel special having their different but meaningful roles in these simple everyday processes.”


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