10 Characteristics of Children in a Montessori Classroom
1. Respectful: The basis of the Montessori classroom is mutual respect. The teacher respects the child for the person s/he is (someone who is coming into being; the child who will become the adult, just as the acorn will become the great oak). The children respect each other. The children respect their teacher as the person who will help them grow, the person who will coach them, and the one who prepares the environment (physical, intellectually, emotionally) for this unfolding to take place. A classroom based on mutual trust creates trustworthy children. Respect and trust go hand in hand. “The Montessori teacher’s specific responsibility is to aid human development through awareness of the children’s needs at each stage of development.” (Montessori Today, p. 114) By respecting the individual children in their care, Montessori teachers continue to aid the intellectual, emotional and moral development of their students. Respect is at the core of this difficult but fulfilling task.
2. Responsible: In Montessori education children take responsibility for their own learning. There is a certain amount of work for them to do. The child knows that this work will help them and that the process of doing it will make them intellectually prepared and will make them feel good about themselves. But it is their responsibility to do it. In order for them to accomplish this goal they must manage their time. They plan their week and choose what they want to do and when. This is a learning process. They need to make adjustments along the way. But the goal is for them to take responsibility for what they do and once they do this they have “ownership” of it. The teacher will help them in any way that they need. This style of learning is now referred to as “constructivist.” The child constructs his/her own learning. The child learns directly from what he/she does. But children cannot construct their own learning until they are responsible for making their own choices. If they are forced to learn and do not know why they are doing it they merely go through the motions. They feel as if they have no control over their lives and learning can become something that they endure, rather than something that they accomplish by their own self-effort.
3. Self-Disciplined: No one is born disciplined. To accomplish self-discipline is one of the great tasks of life. Responsibility requires discipline. In order to discipline yourself you must have the freedom to make choices. This freedom allows you to take charge of yourself and your behavior, both intellectually and socially. Children innately desire to be useful and to belong. They want to fit in and behave appropriately. In order to achieve this goal they must become master of themselves. They must achieve self-discipline. They must have the opportunity to control themselves, by themselves. They must not be constantly controlled by others, because this imposes discipline from the outside and does not give the child the opportunity to learn it by him or herself.
4. Independent: “No one is free unless he is independent.” (The Montessori Method, p. 95) In order to be independent, the child must be free to make choices, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and have the opportunity to self-correct. From the moment that a child is born he/she begins the work of becoming independent. It is our job as parents and teachers to aid our children in this task. The goal of life is to become a fulfilled human being with the opportunity to be a part of society and to give back to society that which has been received. In order for children to become independent they must acquire skills, intellectual, social, and physical. When we aid them in the acquisition of what they need, we help them develop independence. We guide them in their growth as we prepare a learning and social environment in which they are able to make their way toward independence. It is experiencing independence in an appropriate environment that they come to acquire their necessary skills.
5. Creative/Inventive: Maria Montessori said that everything the child does is creative. It is the creative mind that harnesses all of its power to solve problems. The creative powers of the children help them solve problems throughout their stay in the Montessori classroom. These problems can be social, emotional, intellectual or physical in nature. By allowing the children to grapple with these problems and ideas we help them enlist their own creativity. When children are not permitted to deal with their own problems as they arise, but have adults solve them for them, they have difficulty experiencing their own creative solutions. In many ways the Socratic method of asking questions and allowing children to choose their answers is a way of allowing for creativity to arise. We all know there are many ways to get to a goal. To teach children in only one way, and ask for only one answer, will prevent them from using their minds in an inventive way. Children need projects and tasks that they can tackle. They need to experience their own endless creativity. They must come to see that they can do this is to be allowed to solve appropriate problems and experience the benefit of their own innovative solutions. Some of these problems might be artistic, scientific, intellectual or social. Anytime a child sits down to accomplish something they are drawing on their own reservoir of creativity and inventiveness.
6. Self-Motivated: Children are self-motivated when they are allowed to make choices and have some sense of control over what they elect to do. This does not mean that they do whatever they please. Rather, they find themselves in a prepared environment, which is designed to stimulate them to learn. As the younger children watch the older children in their class they are inspired to emulate them. They perceive the work done by the older children as more difficult, but work that they want to be able to do when they are older. They look up to the older students, much the way a younger sibling looks up to his older sister or brother. In this way the teacher is not the one who constantly has to direct activities. They do not need external pressure in order to do most of their work. Rather, they are eager to get to the next thing. They are also presented with lessons that are interesting and follow-up lessons, which are fun for them to do. In a Montessori classroom every presentation has a follow-up activity that the children do on their own. The presentations and the materials are well thought out and they are designed to appeal to the child’s imagination. A great deal of thought and preparation goes into designing the presentations and the extensions on the part of the teacher. The pay-off for the children is that they are naturally curious about the lessons and this makes them want to do the activities because they are intrinsically interested in them. In this way, Montessori students choose to work. Even when certain lessons are required of them, like learning their times tables, they are aware that once they learn them they will be free to do other activities that they are looking forward to. The secret to self-motivation is creating a learning environment where the natural curiosity of the child is stimulated. In the Montessori classroom we are looking for intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. Children work because they want to – not to get a grade, to please an adult, or because they will get in trouble or fail if they don’t do what the teacher requires. (“Montessori Today, P. 90.)
7. Organized: Montessori children are exposed to the concept of “time-management” at an early age. It is a skill, which is essential for success in the complex society in which we find ourselves. The teacher begins to discuss with the child the idea of choosing work in the math, language and cultural areas. The choice is completely up to the child. If the child is not inclined to make a choice the teacher will help them and invite them or work with a particular material. This is the beginning of reflecting on what you do at school; how you use your time. Children may decide where they will do their work. Some work is best done at a desk, lying on the floor, or sitting in the reading corner. The lessons are also sequenced in a specific manner. They are sequenced this way so the child will be successful. They are also designed so the child learns to do one step at a time in an organized manner. In this way the children do not get overwhelmed and they can achieve the task they set out to do. Organization is one of the key components of the Montessori classroom. The physical environment is also organized according to subject area so the children know where everything is located. Each material is returned to its place so other children can find it. The environment is a consistent place that children can count on. The routines are reliable, the lessons are sequenced and the environment is predictable. Organization gives the child a sense of security and power for they know what do to and how to do it.
8. Global Thinker: Montessori education is the largest international school movement in the world. There are Montessori schools located on every continent, except Antarctica. In Montessori schools that offer an elementary program, the program is called “Cosmic Education.” Cosmic Education is based on the concept that all life is interrelated and all humans have the same fundamental needs. If you disturb or affect one aspect of this intricate relationship, you affect everything. Montessori students study the development of the solar system, geography, (physical and political), the ecology of the planet earth, and the flora and fauna located on the earth. They study the planet earth as an ecosystem. In preschool they begin their “global” study by becoming familiar with the planets in their solar system. Then they study their planet, the earth. They study the layers of the earth and then they begin their study of zoology with an overview of vertebrates and invertebrates, animals with and without backbones. They begin botany with the overview of the parts of the plant. This curriculum becomes more sophisticated in the elementary program. There they begin a more in-depth study of the fundamental needs of humans, as well as botany, zoology, history, and geography. In the upper elementary program the students study physics, and chemistry and they expand their study of botany and zoology. They begin the history of world cultures as well as an in-depth study of the history of the state or country in which they live. This complete overview gives them the opportunity to study the chronological development of the solar system and the earth, as well as the development of species, ending with the study of human life and culture. Cosmic Education is taught with a timeline so the students can place developments in order, which gives them a way to hold on to and understand the material, and provides them with a global view that is chronologically developed.
9. Collaborator: Montessori students work cooperatively and collaboratively on a number of tasks. In this way they are able to learn from each other. Often, when children work together, they are of different ages. Because children have their own developmental time scheme, not everyone is at the same place even if they are chronologically in the same age range. This allows the children to respect each other for their various strengths. Because children have different talents, skill and interests, the groups that form together to help each other are constantly changing. Sometimes children want to work together simply because they are friends. Other times they choose each other because they are a good team. Sometimes a child will choose another child because they realize that child knows the lesson and he or she can help them with it. The nature of a collaborative environment is that it feels very reasonable and safe. A child can always turn to another child for help. This is made easier in the multi-aged classroom. It also helps older children when they explain things to younger students. It clarifies their knowledge when they have to articulate it to someone else. The children are also used to working in pairs or small groups to solve problems or discuss history or literature questions. They are used to exchanging ideas. They begin to experience that you can often learn more when you collaborate and cooperate then when you work alone.
10. Leader: When children are encouraged to develop the nine characteristics that we have already discussed, they will have all the qualities that make good leaders and good team players. In life, both are necessary. Children who have been allowed to take responsibility for their work and have developed an essential level of self-discipline and responsibility experience high self-esteem and are prepared for life. They have the requisite skills to go on to higher education, to be successful at what they attempt, and to step forth into the world with the leadership and problem solving skills that they will need to successfully face the tasks that await them. It is our job to prepare our children for the future. The problems that are surfacing now in our society will need to be faced and solved by them. They are our future leaders and it is our job to see that they have the appropriate educational experiences that will prepare them for the adventures and challenges that lie ahead. It is an exciting task and it is the task that Maria Montessori envisioned when she first sought to design a way of teaching our children so they could go forward into society and become the bringers of peace. As Maria Montessori said, “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.” (Education and Peace, p. 24, Maria Montessori)