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Montessori Musings

By: MAIRE CORBETT

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Back when I left school, I knew I wanted to work with young children, very young children. Yes, there was Primary Teaching, but those children were too old! I heard something from someone about Montessori, an approach to working with children under six and I was sold! I bought a book by EM Standing called Maria Montessori, her life and work and I was so taken with her thoughts on young children, the respect she had for their potential, for their competence and for their rights. She believed in children choosing what they wanted to do and for how long, she believed in children exploring with their senses, she believed in children being in beautiful environments. She believed in children having TIME, being an advocate of a 3-hour cycle, in which children can engage and explore in their environment, indoors and outdoors. She believed in supporting children’s independence. All these principles are to be found in Síolta and Aistear.

 

Now I often hear people saying Montessori is rigid, it is overscheduled and it limits children’s potential and is over academic! How did this perception come about?

Going back to principles
Montessori was developed over 100 years ago so is of its time. But Maria Montessori was ahead of her time. At one stage, she wanted to be an engineer, but in fact went on to be the first female Medical Doctor in Italy! The world has changed in 100 years, and the principles she explored and established at that time are still relevant, though some of the specifics may not be. For example, the skill of polishing was valued and important back then, but not so much in today’s world. The exercises in practical life showed children skills that were important in that time, so let’s see what skills children may need in today’s world and see how we can provide for those. Dressing is still a needed skill for example. There were few toys in that time, so Montessori developed her own apparatus, such as dressing frames. Now we have big, soft dolls, so the skill of dressing can be practiced with those dolls and real sized clothes in the home corner, through play. These still give children exercises in practical life, but in a more playful, imaginative way. Similarly pouring and spooning can be experienced by children in a more playful way in the home corner, as the children make tea, have dinner and engage with other children.

Home corner in early years service - Montessori Musings

Play and hands-on learning
Montessori speaks about how important movement is to the development of the mind, saying mind and movement are part of the same entity. At the time Montessori wrote The Absorbent Mind this may have had a different expression, because society was different then. But remembering her passion for real experiences, real items for children to engage with and explore…I am convinced she would be a complete advocate of the hands-on learning and exploration Aistear and Síolta require. This means that in today’s early years environments we see real life materials such as items from home that children see in everyday life. These include true to life toasters, kettle, food, tea-sets, cooking equipment that enable children to play, explores roles and abstract concepts in a very concrete, hands-on way.

Mixed ages:
Montessori believed that children learn best in groups with children of mixed ages. The most common age range is 3 years to 6 years, from those early days when she established her Casa dei Bambini in Rome. She said

The main thing is that the groups should contain different ages, because it has great influence on the cultural development of the child. This is obtained by the relations of the children among themselves. You cannot imagine how well a young child learns from an older child; how patient the older child is with the difficulties of the younger.

This is something to consider as with the new ECCE qualifying age there may be children younger than we used to take in our rooms. This this something we will return to in future Scéalta posts.

For more ideas on Aistear and Montessori look at our 4 podcasts here: 
https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/work/quality-practice/national-frameworks/aistear-and-montessori/

For more ideas on Mixed Ages read: 
https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/blog/developing-curriculum-for-children-in-mixed-age-groups/

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