Interview with Montessori Teacher Extrodinaire — Madelyn Beatty
Madelyn Beatty always had the goal of working with children, so she jumped on the opportunity to teach preschool right out of university. Only her love and fascination for alternative education models like Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emilia had her wanting more. When she found out that a new Montessori school was opening up in her city Fredericton, New Brunswick she applied to join as a teacher. Over the last 3 years, Madelyn has worked to build her local Montessori school from the ground up.
Madelyn took time to help me simplify the complex world of Montessori into something a newbie like me could understand. What is Montessori and what benefits does it hold for children? Here’s what we discussed:
1. Explain like I’m 5 years old — What is Montessori ?
It is a method of teaching that allows children to create an independent learning environment. It was created in 1907 by an Italian [Maria Montessori] who wanted children to be empowered and have choices from an early age — she wanted to create an environment just for children where they could guide adults in what they are interested in.
2. What are some key Montessori learning elements ?
I. Montessori is child-led
Children get to choose within the prepared classroom what they’re interested in learning, and it up to you (as a teacher or parent) to feed their interest continuously until they show that they’ve mastered the skill and are ready to move onto something new.
The Montessori philosophy allows children to learn what they want, when they want to. This is done within boundaries of course. We don’t just have just have anything sitting around for children to play with and learn. Everyday teachers strategically select and prepare activities found on shelves for children to choose from themselves.
II. Montessori has uninterrupted learning
Children work in 3 hour blocks of time. The thinking here is that if a child is engaged and interested in what they’re learning, you want to give them the space and time to focus on it. It takes a child on average an hour to choose what they want to do (from the shelves), so by giving children 3 hours they will have time to independently choose their learning activity, time to focus, time to carry it out and end it for themselves. If they never get time to focus, they will never get time to enjoy the learning experience.
III. Montessori uses specific materials
The activities children do in Montessori schools are specific to the Montessori method, and set up in a way specific to Montessori as well — you won’t find them anywhere else! These activities are designed to teach across 5 subject areas: math, language, science & culture, sensorial, and practical life. The actual materials are tiny building blocks to a bigger concept.
For example, all activities move from left to right. If an activity was ‘scooping’, there would be a spoon on the left hand side and a bowl on the right hand side. There would even be another bowl on the right hand side for children to scoop items into. Activities are conducted left to right because when the children learn to read and write, they learn from left to right.
3. What makes Montessori education different to regular public education?
Unlike traditional public education classrooms, Montessori ones are mixed in age. The benefit being that younger children can learn from older children and older children can learn how to become leaders. Also, in a Montessori classroom you will find more fluidity and movement of children versus just sitting down and learning, and children have the opportunity to learn independently from their peers. They can spend as much or as little on an activity as needed in order to grasp the concept they are trying to learn.
4. How is it different to other alternative educations like Waldorf?
Because Montessori has an academic end goal, we don’t encourage “adult-guided” creative and fantasy play. Waldorf schools are different that way — they believe that creativity and imaginative play allows kids to think outside the box. In California, many Silicon Valley Executives are sending their children to Waldorf schools to learn how to think outside the box from the get-go. Some other differentiating elements is that Waldorf schools have a very close relationship to the natural world, and lessons are taught through art, song and storytelling.
5. From what ages can a child take part in Montessori education ?
The main Montessori program is CASA (pre-school) for ages 3-6. However Montessori education can be followed up until high-school. Over the last 10 years, many baby and toddler Montessori daycares have cropped up as well. This type of environment for babies and toddlers can be beneficial because it teaches them how to be as independent as possible from the very beginning.
6. What are the short-term and long-term benefits for a ‘Montessori child’ ?
The biggest short term benefit would be that they learn reading, writing and math very early. I recall teaching fractions to my four year olds. Montessori children tend to be less distracted and have fewer behavioural issues since many behavioural issues stem from boredom or frustration and not having time to make positive choices.
Because the point of Montessori is to create a love of learning in all forms, as an adult, ’Montessori children’ tend to have a love of learning. They will have a strong sense of self, problem solving skills, improved social awareness, concentration, overall maturity and sense of kindness.
7. The world has dramatically changed since the days of Maria Montessori are there any ways the philosophy falls short in today’s modern world ?
I find personally my biggest challenge as a teacher has been technology. Montessori doesn’t endorse technology. In the materials we use, there are no flashing lights and sounds. Everything is wooden and natural so children can have fewer distractions. So there is a pressure sometimes from parents asking, “When will my child will learn technology?” To them I say that children will inherently learn how to use technology because frankly it’s everywhere. They will have time to learn later on when it inherently becomes a part of their lives.
8. How can families who can’t afford a Montessori education still have Montessori in their lives ?
Because Montessori is a lifestyle, it can be simply incorporated within the home. Allowing children to have access to getting their own glass a water, snacks, tooth brush & toothpaste, shoes and clothes is a way of giving them opportunities for independence.
It’s important to allow children to have their own space to play. Something we do at home with Freddie [my 14 month old son] is roll out a blanket or mat as his dedicated area to play. No-one else is to walk on it thereby respecting personal boundaries and allowing concentration to happen without any distractions.
9. How are Montessori toys different from regular toys found at ToysRus?
All Montessori toys are specifically designed as smaller pieces to a greater puzzle. Montessori toys are as natural as possible — most of the activities are made of wood for children to learn what REAL materials look like and work like. There’s a weight and texture to them that is natural, and I think this leads to a greater appreciation for natural things later in life.
Also, all toys have a ‘control of error’ which means that children can check their work to make sure they’re doing the material properly. This way you never have an adult sitting over a child telling them they’re not right as this can be very discouraging for children to hear over and over. By letting them check the end result for themselves they become intrinsically motivated to learn.
10. What are some go-to resources for families to learn more about Montessori?
Pinterest is an amazing tool for finding ways to incorporate Montessori into your child’s life. As a Montessori teachers we often use Pinterest to liven things up in the classroom. Also, Youtube is a great place to see Montessori teachers put the activities in action.
To learn more about how Madelyn incorporates Montessori into her personal life, you can follow her on Instagram!