What would be the most important advantages of keeping my five-year-old in Montessori?
Montessori is an approach to working with children that is carefully based on what we've learned about children's cognitive, neurological and emotional development from several decades of research. Although sometimes misunderstood, the Montessori approach has been acclaimed as the most developmentally appropriate model currently available by some of America's top experts on early childhood and elementary education.
One important difference between what Montessori offers the five-year-old and what is offered by many of today's kindergarten programs has to do with how it helps the young child to learn how to learn.
Over recent years educational research has increasingly shown that students in many schools don't really understand most of what they are being taught. Howard Gardner, Harvard Psychologist and author of the best selling book The Unschooled Mind goes so far as to suggest that "Many schools have fallen into a pattern of giving kids exercises and drills that result in their getting answers on tests that look like understanding. Most students, from as young as those in kindergarten to students in some of the finest colleges in America do not understand what they've studied, in the most basic sense of the term. They lack the capacity to take knowledge learned in one setting and apply it appropriately in a different setting. Study after study has found that, by and large, even the best students in the best schools can't do that." (On Teaching For Understanding: A Conversation with Howard Gardner, by Ron Brandt, Educational Leadership Magazine, ASCD, 1994.)
Montessori is focused on teaching for understanding. In a primary classroom, three and four-year-olds receive the benefit of two years of sensorial preparation for academic skills by working with the concrete Montessori learning materials. This concrete sensorial experience gradually allows the child to form a mental picture of concepts like how big is a thousand, how many hundreds make up a thousand, and what is really going on when we borrow or carry numbers in mathematical operations. In the Montessori environment, the children are presented with endless opportunities to develop all of their senses and motor skills with the aid of self-correcting materials in a prepared setting. During the third year a child can not only work with these materials in more depth, thus gaining more insights from them, but, using this base, can move into the academic areas.Next, having learned from older children, shared with peers and helped younger children, the students now have the opportunity to assume leadership within the classroom. And, once the child has established critical learning habits -- concentration, self-discipline, a sense of order, persistence in completing a task, creative self-expression and a love for learning, (invaluable preparations for life) – these behaviors are reinforced in a supportive, exciting environment. All preparations for later academic work and for social and emotional development, which have been so carefully nurtured in the three and four year old child, are reinforced in the kindergarten year.
As one parent said, “everything my child had learned up to then seemed to fall into place, and he was ready to meet other challenges once he had this foundation.”
The value of the sensorial experiences that the younger children have had in Montessori have often been under-estimated by both parents and educators. Research is very clear that young children learn by observing and manipulating their environment, not through textbooks and workbook exercises. The Montessori materials give the child concrete sensorial impressions of abstract concepts, such as long division, that become the foundation for a lifetime understanding.
Because Montessori teachers are well trained in child development, they normally know how to present information in developmentally appropriate ways.In many, many American schools, children do exercises and fill in workbook pages with little understanding. There is a great deal of rote learning. Superficially, it may seem that these children are learning the material. However, all too often a few months down the road little of what they "learned" will be retained and it will be rare for the children to be able to use their knowledge and skills in new situations. Learning to be organized and learning to be focused is as important as any academic work. Doing worksheets quickly can be impressive to parents, but there is rarely any deep learning going on. More and more educational researchers are beginning to focus on whether students, whether young or