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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2007

Автор: Хакак А.Б.

“The upbringing of kids starts from their birth”. This statement is very popular among all parents. Up to the age of 1 or 2, numerous aunts, uncles, grandmas and granddads, take of care the little ones. When the child turns 3, the busy parents rush to find the place in the overcrowded kindergartens or in the home-nurseries, which are so modern nowadays. However, are you sure that all pedagogical, psychological, health and other aspects are professionally covered in such institutes? In this aspect, I want to represent you the world well-known system of Montessori schools. I am sure that the majority of you have heard about them, due to their popularity abroad. Not only the USA, Great Britain, European countries, but most of the so-called “third world” countries are used to this type of education. Some elements of such schools we already have in our kindergartens and primary schools. However, by paying attention to this article you will discover some interesting and useful elements for yourself, doesn’t matter who you are: the teacher, the principle, the director or simply the kind parent of your loving offspring.

Montessori is not a system for training children in academic studies; nor is it a label to be put on educational materials. It is a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development of children. Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem solving, social, and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time and place on Earth. The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is respected individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted concentration rather than group lessons led by an adult. As you read through these pages you will discover the unique practices that make Montessori the fastest growing and most successful method of education today.

The Montessori method is both a methodology and educational philosophy. It was originally developed in the early 1900s by Dr. Maria Montessori. Many Montessori schools are preschool or elementary school level, but there are some. Montessori programs, which begin with infants and/or end at the 12th Grade. Montessori stated, "I have studied the child. I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it and that is what is called the Montessori method."

The Montessori philosophy is built upon the idea that children develop and think differently than adults, that they are not merely "adults in small bodies." Dr. Montessori believed in children's rights, children working to develop themselves into adults, and that this development would lead to world peace.

The Montessori method discourages traditional measurements of achievement (grades, tests) as negative competition that is damaging to the inner growth of children (and adults). Feedback and qualitative analysis of a child's performance does exist but is generally provided in the form of a list of skills, activities and critical points, and sometimes a narrative of the child's achievements, strengths and weaknesses, with emphasis on the improvement of those weaknesses.

The method was developed from observations of young children from which a set of universal characteristics of children was created for each level of development. The Montessori method has two primary development levels: the first is birth through 6, the second is ages 6-12. A Montessori classroom for the first level is called the casa dei bambini, or "children's house," with focus on individually-paced learning and development. In the second level, collaboration with others is encouraged, and "cosmic education" is introduced.

As an educational approach, the Montessori method's focus is on the individuality of each child in respect of their needs or talents, as opposed to the needs of the class as a whole. A goal is to help the child maintain their natural joy of learning.

The Montessori method encourages independence and freedom with limits and responsibility. The youngest children are guided in "practical life" skills: domestic skills and manners. These skills are emphasized with the goal of increasing attention spans, hand-eye coordination, and tenacity. The Montessori Method states that satisfaction, contentment, and joy result from the child feeling like a full participant in daily activities. Montessori education carried through the elementary and high school years follows the child's emerging tendency for peer interactions and still emphasizes each student as guardian of his or her own intellectual development.

Dr. Montessori gave the world a scientific method, practical and tested, for bringing forth the very best in young human beings. She taught adults how to respect individual differences, and to emphasize social interaction and the education of the whole personality rather than the teaching of a specific body of knowledge. The discoveries of Maria Montessori are valuable for anyone living and working with children in any situation.

The premises of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include the following: a view of children as competent beings capable of self-directed learning. Those children learn in a distinctly different way from adults. The ultimate importance of observation of the child interacting with her or his environment as the basis for ongoing curriculum development. Presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation are based on the teacher's observation that the child has mastered the current exercise(s).Delineation of sensitive periods of development, during which a child's mind is particularly open to learning specific skills or knowledge, including language development, sensorial experimentation and refinement, and various levels of social interaction. A belief in the "absorbent mind", that children from birth to around age 6 possess limitless motivation to achieve competence within their environment and to perfect skills and understandings. This phenomenon is characterized by the young child's capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories, such as exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence. Those children are masters of their environment, which has been specifically prepared for them to be academic, comfortable, and allow a maximum amount of independence. Those children learn through discovery, so didactic materials that are self-correcting are used as much as possible. Independent problem solving is encouraged.

The goal of Montessori is to provide a stimulating, child-centered environment in which children can explore, touch, and learn without fear, thus engendering a lifelong love of learning as well as providing the child the self-control necessary to fulfill that love.

Montessori is a highly hands-on approach to learning. It encourages children to develop their observation skills by doing many types of activities. These activities include use of the five senses, kinetic movement, spatial refinement, small and large motor skill coordination, and concrete knowledge that leads to later abstraction.

After years of expression mainly in pre-schools, Montessori philosophy is finally being used as originally intended, as a method of seeing children as they really are and of creating environments which foster the fulfillment of their highest potential - spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual - as members of a family, the world community and the Cosmos.

Montessori practice is always up-to-date and dynamic because observation and the meeting of needs are continual and specific for each child. When physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional needs are met children glow with excitement and a drive to play and work with enthusiasm, to learn, and to create. They exhibit a desire to teach, help, and care for others and for their environment.

The high level of academic achievement so common in Montessori schools is a natural outcome of experience in such a supportive environment. The Montessori method of education is a model which serves the needs of children of all levels of mental and physical ability as they live and learn in a natural, mixed-age group which is very much like the society they will live in as adults.

Today Montessori teacher training centers and schools exist on all continents. There are Montessori parenting classes, "Nidos" ("nests" for infants), infant communities, "children's houses" (for age 3-6), and classes for children up to age eighteen in public and private schools. Montessori works in gifted and talented programs and for children with developmental disabilities of all kinds. Many parents are using Dr. Montessori's discoveries to raise/educate their children at home.

Parents who were concerned that their own children have a good educational experience began many Montessori schools. Innovative school administrators and teachers, as charter or magnet schools, also begin schools. For many years, there were only private schools but because of the success of the Montessori method, there are almost 3,000 Montessori teachers teaching in public schools today, and even more teaching in private schools.

The significant attention in these schools is paid to the furniture and the premises in general. Montessori classrooms are child centric. Furniture is child-sized, and there is no teacher's desk. The typical classroom consists of four areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, and Mathematics. Practical life includes activities such as buttoning, sweeping, pouring, slicing, tying, etc. Sensorial includes activities to stimulate and train hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

Most Montessori classrooms try to include ways for the children to interact with the natural world, perhaps through a classroom pet (rabbits, gerbils, mice, etc.), or a small garden where the children can plant vegetables or flowers.

In schools that extend to the upper grades, each Montessori classroom still includes an approximately three-year age range. This system allows flexibility in learning pace and allowing older children to become teachers by sharing what they have learned. The intent is to establish a non-competitive atmosphere in the classroom. The belief is that class work which is different for each child results in students who are less likely to try to keep track of where other children are academically.

Every activity has its place in the classroom and is self-contained and self-correcting. The original didactic materials are specific in design, conforming to exact dimensions, and each activity is designed to focus on a single skill, concept or exercise. All of the material is based on SI units of measurement (for instance, the Pink Tower is based on the 1cm cube) which allows all the materials to work together and complement each other, as well as introduce the SI units through concrete example. In addition to this, material is intended for multiple uses at the primary level. A perfect example of this is the "Knobbed Cylinder" materials: not only do they directly offer a sensorial lesson, but indirectly the child's grip on the cylinders paves the way for holding a pencil, and the grades of cylinders allow for an introduction to mathematics.

Other materials are often constructed by the teacher: felt storyboard characters, letter boxes (small containers of objects that all start with the same letter) for the language area, science materials (e.g. dinosaurs for tracing, etc.), scent or taste activities, and so on. The practical life area materials are almost always put together by the teacher. All activities, however, must be neat, clean, attractive and preferably made of natural materials such as glass or wood, rather than plastic. Sponges, brooms and dustpans are provided and any mishaps (including broken glassware) are not punished but rather treated simply as an opportunity for the children to demonstrate responsibility by cleaning up after themselves.

Each activity leads directly to a new level of learning or concept. When a child "works," s/he is acquiring the basis for later concepts. Repetition of activities is considered an integral part of this learning process and children are allowed to repeat activities as often as they wish. A child’s is becoming tired of the repetition is thought to be a sign s/he is ready for the next level of learning.

The child proceeds at his or her own pace from concrete objects and tactile experiences to abstract thinking, writing, reading, science, and mathematics. For example, in the language area, the child begins with the sandpaper letters (26 flat wooden panels, each with a single letter of the alphabet cut from sandpaper and affixed to it). The child's first lesson is to trace the shape of the letter with their fingers while saying the phonic sound of the letter. A next level activity might be the letter boxes (small containers each with a letter on the top, filled with objects that begin with that letter). Having mastered these, the child may move on to the word boxes (small containers each with a short three-letter word on the top, for example CAT, containing a small wooden cat and the letters C, A, T). One child might move through all three levels of lessons in a few weeks while another might take several months; although there is a prescribed sequence of activities there is no prescribed timetable. A Montessori teacher or instructor observes each child like a scientist, providing him with appropriate lessons, as he is ready for them.

A wide range of conflicting criticisms has been leveled at the Montessori method. The two primary critics of the Montessori Method in education theory are William Heard Kilpatrick and John Dewey. They thought that Montessori was too restrictive, and didn't adequately emphasize social interaction and development. Dewey believed that the Montessori Method stifled creativity. However, Dewey and Montessori agreed that education should be directed by the needs of the student and that the teacher should act as a guide to the educational process.

Another criticism of Montessori schools is that they do not traditionally assign homework. The lessons taught in a Montessori classroom are not generally conductive to home use, and the materials are highly specialized. It would be unlikely that a parent would buy materials for this purpose. Critics allege that a child who transfers to a traditional school and is required to do homework will have trouble adjusting, but while this is the case in some instances, the opposite also occurs. Homework in some form has started to find its way into the Montessori curriculum, if in a somewhat forced manner.

A 2006 study published in the journal "Science" concluded that Montessori students performed better than their standard public school counterparts in a variety of arenas, including not only traditional academic areas such as language and mathematical reasoning, but in social cognition skills as well.

On several dimensions, children at a public inner city Montessori school had superior outcomes relative to a sample of Montessori applicants who, because of a random lottery, attended other schools. By the end of kindergarten, the Montessori children performed better on standardized tests of reading and math, engaged in more positive interaction on the playground, and showed more advanced social cognition and executive control. They also showed more concern for fairness and justice. At the end of elementary school, Montessori children wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school.

The authors concluded that, "when strictly implemented, Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools."

In our country, the Montessori system can make a great revolution in the upbringing of a small children. Our pedagogical system has a great experience in the pre-school education. However, the inculcation of Montessori system should start with the training of the teachers. This system gives many opportunities especially for young teachers, because such schools can be both private and public. The realization of new pedagogical, educational, linguistic approaches is only welcomed in this system.

LITERATURE

1. Dr. Angeline Stoll Lillard “Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius”-Oxford University Press, 2005.

2. Michael Olaf “Montessori Schools”- Oxford Press University, 1999.

3. W.H. Kilpatrick, “Montessori: advantages and disadvantages”-Oxford Press, 2002.

4. John Dewey “Montessori Methods”- Oxford University Press, 2000.



К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2007


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