What I learned from observing a Montessori Classroom
My first look at Montessori (Courtesy- Ageofmontessori.org)
As Professional Counselor and Parenting Coach, I recently set eyes on a Montessori classroom for the very first time. As a newcomer, I was really unsure what I would find. Honestly, I thought the self-directed learning process would likely involve a great deal of chaos and loudness. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised in my visitation experience. Immediately I was stunned by the slow pace and peaceful ambiance in the room. The children were demonstrating incredible care with the “work” items they chose and moved very slowly and careful between activities. With a room of 20 children and only 3 adults, I found myself soon thinking, “How is this really possible?” There were no rules posted on the wall, or adults keeping the children entertained. To be honest, it was unlike anything I had ever seen.
In a word, Montessori means Respect
Soon after, I was offered a tour by the school director. As she took me around the playground and animal area, she said, “I think if I could summarize Montessori with a word, it would be respect”. “Aha! That is it!”, I thought. Respect is at the center of everything that stood out to me as different and exceptional in the Montessori classroom. Respect was being both taught and caught in the culture and practices of the classroom.
In my Parent Coaching work, parents often come to me when they are frustrated with their child’s lack of respect and they hope that I will suggest ways to get their child’s attention by having more “serious” consequences. Unfortunately, this method of promoting respect is based on the idea that if we make children feel bad enough, they will start to be “good”. Where did parents start getting that upside down idea? Montessori, however, has it completely right! The teaching style involves taking every opportunity to teach children respect for themselves, others, and their environment.
Creating a culture of respect
Any moment where a child was not treating a “work” activity, peer, or property with respect, was a chance where the teacher used guiding words to encourage better behavior, such as “Please show respect for our table by cleaning it off when you’re done” or showing a child how to hold their hand behind their back while watching a project, so as to not interrupt it. Further more, the teachers always guided the children in a way that showed great respect to the child. For example, I saw a gentle hand put on a child’s shoulder, kneeling down to ask a child “how can I help you to…” and times when a child was given a kind listening ear and a hug when he was upset. These all are ways that promote respect, and the proof is in the pudding. I watched it with my very own eyes. When you model respect by being respectful to children, and trade punishment for teaching, a real culture of respect can be created.