If you are wondering why you haven't seen this book before it's because it's a new release. Published in 2013 I suggest this is already a Montessori classic. Books of this calibre don't come along very often. I ordered it immediately knowing Susan's other publications The Joyful Child and Child of the World (Michael Olaf's Essential Montessori Series). This book is essential for all Montessori school and parent education libraries. Even for those well versed in Montessori this is a must read because it contains so much of Susan's personal experiences (from around the world) and her valuable insight.
Child of the World is divided into four parts; Age 3-6, Age 6-12, Age 0-24 (Stages of Development) and Parents and Teachers. I found Part One, Age 3-6 the most valuable. It contains so much practical information for school and home. I love this section and I took pages of notes. I particularly appreciate the information on selecting toys, activity suggestions and the discussion on screen time.
Part Two, Age 6-12 is less about what to do at home and more about the 6-12 Montessori school environment. I found this very useful as the mother of a five year old and knowing very little about the next cycle. If you have a child in or approaching 6-12, at a Montessori school, this section is extremely valuable.
I felt a little lost in Part Three. This section contains Montessori theory about the stages of development. It was so refreshing to read about Montessori adolescence and even adulthood, so rarely mentioned in other texts. Perhaps I'll be more engaged when my own children near this age.
Part Four, Parents and Teachers is too brief. This section provides some background to Montessori education, covers the basics and it a nice way to finish what is an excellent resource.
Child of the World is perfect for all parents including those new to Montessori, although it is quite different (in a good way) from existing books. It's not at all prescriptive but if you read the entire book you will have all the information needed to create a Montessori home environment. I would recommend this book to parents of children from the toddler years up. It is a strength of this book that it covers such a wide age range. After reading Child of the World I have fresh ideas and am inspired to make changes to our home!
Those pages of notes I mentioned, I thought I'd share some of them with you!
Child of the World is a complete resource for Montessori in the home for ages three and up.
Have you read it yet? What are your thoughts?
I apologise. I was planning to write about our reference library but I have something more serious on my mind. I'll write about our reference library next. I've been thinking quite seriously about the affects of high drop-out rates.
Does your school have high drop out rates? I feel that it's accepted that many families wish for their children to attend a Montessori pre-school but never intend to pursue Montessori primary. This makes it tough for a Cycle One (3-6 years) class. Children attend at three but leave once the child is five or compulsory school age. Do you think that it's true that Montessori schools, especially Cycle One classes have higher than average drop-out rates?
Of course there are many other reasons children (and their families) choose to leave a school. Small schools must face additional pressure to meet the needs of families. I also feel that Montessori schools face additional pressure to meet the expectations of parents.
I am not going to consider the affects on the child that leaves mid-cycle. The affects must be significant. My personal concern is for the children left behind, for the children that see their friends leave. It's not fair to compare it to workplaces where 'people come and people go' for a child so young it is unsettling to see major changes to their class.
Do you think I am over-reacting? Is this an issue for schools? Are children, at five, old enough to adapt to change? Is there more schools can do to retain children?
P.S. Happy Harmony Day!
I was talking to a friend yesterday and she mentioned some of the fun food preparation activities she is planning to do with her Montessori school children. I am totally envious that this is what she gets to do for her work! I know many of these activities are suitable for home but it's much easier to justify a grain mill when it can be enjoyed so many. Here are some fun food finds for your Montessori classroom.
Apple Slicer - We have one of these at home. It is great for building strength and it cuts the apple into equal sized pieces which is fun to share. I need to get it started though, I push it into the apple slightly and the children can do the rest.
Nut Cracker - Nuts are not allowed in most schools so this is best left for homeschools or out of school activities where all allergies are known. I've been coveting this for a while - I love the screw action to crack the nut.
Egg Slicer - Many schools avoid eggs but think outside the box. This would be great for small pieces of cheese, strawberries or mushrooms.
Juicer - Ok, I know most schools have a juicer but I think this antique looking glass juicer is really cute.
Banana Slicer - This would be fun for those little ones who are yet to wield a knife. Otis still makes a mess slicing his banana (mush) so this would be a good way for little ones to cut a banana that makes it appropriate to share the slices.
Melon Ball Scoop - Fun for scooping seasonal melons.
Spice Grinder - The mechanical action of turning the handle to grind the spices makes this enjoyable for children.
Cherry or Olive Pitter - I haven't used this pitter personally but it looks like it would be easy for children to use, one of the most child friendly versions I've seen.
Grater - We have a cheese grater similar to this and Caspar started using it at three. It was a challenge but so much fun. We started using it to grate soap to make soap balls but of course it would be good for grating all types of food.
Nutmeg Mill - If I had a class this would be on my list. Nutmeg smells divine and this mill requires strength and coordination and is the right size for children.
Apple Peeler - I know a lot of classrooms have a peeler like this. Wonderful for apples and potatoes. This type of peeler makes apple slinkys and you can also make slices without removing the peel.
Grain Mill - I'm convinced that every class should have (or borrow) one of these. It's all about learning the process. Plant to food. Since grain is in so many of our foods I think this one is fundamental.
Compost Pail - Such a lovely way to store compost. This pail is so elegant it would be right at home in a Montessori classroom.
Cold Press Juicer. When I saw this juicer I nearly died with envy. This manual juicer would be a hit with children.
Coffee Grinder - I don't drink coffee but I'm sure it has many other uses. Coffee beans are great deodorises. Again I think it's the physicality, the physical toughness of turning the handle to see the results that appeals to children.
I think a small mortar and pestle should be on the list too! What do you think? I'd love to hear what you use in your classroom.
What is Montessori? By Louise Livingston
There are so many misconceptions about Montessori. Some people say ‘that’s where the children are allowed to do exactly as they like’ others say ‘it’s too rigid – the children have to work all the time and have no time to socialise.’ The reality is that Montessori is neither of these. However, one can be forgiven for being confused. Montessori is not a registered name and amazingly, it is possible to set up a school and call it Montessori even if you don’t have any Montessori trained teachers and not one piece of Montessori material. So any parent looking for a Montessori school may well find it difficult to understand what Montessori is because there is such a wide range of so called ‘Montessori’ schools on the market.
When we think of Montessori we usually think of nursery education but in fact Maria Montessori advocated a form of education right up to the age of 18. Throughout the UK Montessori primary is growing in popularity and the first Montessori Adolescent programme has recently open in St Andrews, Scotland.
In a true Montessori school you will find independent children who are encouraged not only to do things for themselves but also to think for themselves. You will find children who have learnt how to explore and solve problems for themselves. Most importantly, in a Montessori Children's House you will see small children who are often perceived as only being aware of their own needs helping each other and who, without being asked to, will put things away and perform acts of kindness purely to benefit the group as a whole. So how does this all come about? What exactly is Montessori? What should you be looking for if you are looking for true Montessori and what kind of guarantees are there that what you are paying for is the real thing?
The Montessori approach is based upon the natural laws of human development. Maria Montessori observed that children under six absorb limitlessly and effortlessly from the world around them and in so doing lay down all the foundations for later life – they become adults with all the characteristics and language of the culture into which they have been born simply by living. In this huge task, however, they have some help. They have a special kind of mind that she called an absorbent mind, a strong desire to explore everything around them using their senses and a drive to become independent. She identified certain windows of opportunity for the child that she called ‘sensitive periods’ during which the child is irresistibly drawn to the things he needs to help him develop his full human potential.
Everything in the classroom is designed to support these windows of opportunity. The Montessori ‘nursery school’ is called the Children’s House because everything in it is designed to allow the child to become independent – the materials are child sized and the equipment is laid out in an orderly fashion on low shelves that are easily accessible for the children. The equipment is aesthetically pleasing and is meticulously cared for which encourages the children to take care of it too. Children between the ages of 2 1⁄2 and 6 are grouped together in their own mini society. The younger children learn from watching the older children and the older ones benefit by helping the younger children. The mixed age group allows the children to develop socially, intellectually and emotionally – it is an essential part of any Montessori school. When you are looking at schools you need to see children of different ages grouped together in this way otherwise the class is missing an important part of the Montessori approach.
The curriculum is divided into four main areas. Practical Life not only gives the children the opportunity to practise the skills of everyday life but also helps them to develop concentration and develop co-ordination between mind and body. The Sensorial materials capitalise on the fact that children use their senses to learn. Through these materials they are encouraged to order and classify the physical properties of the world they live in. The materials for Mathematics help the children to learn and really understand mathematical concepts because they are presented using concrete materials. Children are prepared to write and read from the minute they come into the class through a series of activities that gradually build all the individual skills required so that when they are ready it is just a natural progression. Geography, history, biology, botany, zoology, art and music are covered with a hands-on approach that is based on the fact that children learn most effectively from their own experiences.
In a Montessori school you will see children choosing their activities independently and moving from one activity to the next – always returning things to the shelf after they have used them. You will experience an atmosphere of calm and see young children concentrating for surprising periods of time. Children work individually, in a group or with a friend. The morning should last for a minimum of three hours – three hours in which there is no fixed ‘timetable’. Groups arise spontaneously rather than at a fixed time every day. Maria Montessori observed that this unfettered period of time was essential for the children to develop the kind of concentration that you see when a child becomes involved with something that is essential for his development. There are no time limits for the child – he may work with whatever he chooses for as long as he likes. What is known as the ‘three- hour work cycle’ is another essential feature of the Montessori approach and if you don’t observe this you are not looking at true Montessori.
In a Montessori school the child is guided by a trained adult who will show him how to do the things that he is ready for after which he can work with them independently. The adult observes the child and will not interfere so long as the child is working with the material productively. When a difficulty arises she is able to step in and give help but is always careful never to give more help than is needed. Children work at their own individual pace and naturally develop their own rhythm and work pattern. Each child’s individual needs are assessed through observation so that he is shown new things when he is developmentally ready and new knowledge is always built on what he already knows. Since everything he does in the classroom also prepares for a later activity the child is able to move gradually through activities developing his skills effortlessly. The ‘directress’ is not teaching the child she is putting him in charge of his own learning through his own exploration. This may seem a subtle distinction but it is a key part of the Montessori approach.
So what other indicators are there that you are looking at a true Montessori school? Maria Montessori set up the Association Montessori Internationale [AMI] in 1929 to make sure that her work would be faithfully reproduced after her death. If you see that a school is being run by an AMI trained teacher you can be sure that the teachers have been trained in ‘Maria Montessori’s Montessori.’ A list of such schools is available on the website of the Montessori Society AMI UK which is www.montessori-uk.org. Montessori Education UK is an umbrella organisation, which represents some of the main colleges involved in training Montessori teachers. This organisation has agreed a set of guidelines for good Montessori practice in the form of an accreditation scheme. Any school that is MEUK accredited obviously adheres to these guidelines and you can find a list of these schools on the MEUK website – www.montessorieducationuk.org.
But finally let’s look to the child to find the essence of true Montessori. Ask any child who has been educated in a genuine Montessori school who taught him to read and he will probably say ‘I taught myself.’
Louise Livingston is an AMI trained Montessori Teacher and Trainer. She is a Teacher Trainer on the AMI training course at the Maria Montessori Institute in London and editor of the Direction, the publication of the Montessori Society AMI UK.
You can find out more about training to be a Montessori teacher at any of the three levels - 0-3, 3-6 or 6-12 by visiting www.mariamontessori.org.
Please visit www.montessori-ami.org to find out more about the Association Montessori Internationale.
A sincere thank you to Louise for permission to publish this article. If you would like further information on Montessori schools be sure to follow the links above. If you are in Australia the Montessori Australia Foundation is a good resource.