You get an inkling that Maria Montessori’s legacy in early childhood education is special indeed, when you consider some facts. Both of Google’s founders – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – went to Montessori schools. And look at some of the schools’ other famous alumni – there is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and legendary author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Music megastar Beyonce’s first talents also emerged in a Montessori school.
What’s so special about the Montessori education that produces these unique personalities and talents? The philosophy is now well known and frequently lauded. But do you really know what the early education approach really is about?
Observations from The children’s house
We take notes from The children’s house to highlight 7 Things About the Montessori Approach that Produces One-of-a-kind Individuals. TCH was the first place in Malaysia ever to introduce Montessori education in 1986. As it has been teaching tens of thousands of children for 30 years, some of its talented graduates also offer their fond memories and thoughts about the teaching method.
1. Each Child Is a Unique Learner, and a Useful Teacher
It is commonplace to compare kids – parents worry about their child’s grades, learning and sociability! But the Montessori approach is a child-centred approach, emphasising that each child is unique. As such – why compare?
The children’s house says it has always strongly advocated that the Montessori approach of learning is to provide the child an education for life. Not to be an A-star student, but an A-star individual.
Josh Lim, a 33-year-old social media expert and entrepreneur, said he definitely had memorable moments as a Montessori child who felt unique. “One of the little details of my happy memories in The children’s house – things like how they would dispense tomato sauce on your plate in the shape of your initials!” It is perhaps not a surprise that Montessori graduates develop a confident and strong sense of self.
The Montessori method also sees multiage groupings that allow children to foster peer learning. The younger children learn from older children, and the older ones reinforce their learning by teaching what they have mastered. They get uninterrupted blocks of work time, and a guided choice of work activity.
2. Make a Difference
Many of the Montessori schools’ alumni credit the free-flowing classes that allowed them to think differently. It made them feel like they could change the world. Dr Montessori always emphasised the importance of presenting a whole view of the world to kids.
She was also possibly one of the best advocates for sustainability in decades past. The pioneer developed a new and advanced curriculum for older children, termed cosmic education. She repeatedly stressed about the great interdependence of everything – the sun, water, atmosphere and the earth, a prelude to the sustainability projects of today.
3. A Strict Self-Discipline
The classes may be free-flowing, but they are actually imbued with a strong sense of self-discipline. The Montessori method believes that children have an inner need for consistency and repetition. This means that its environment of learning is always an orderly place. Schedules are clear and well adhered to. Children have an inner need for consistency and repetition – they feel calm, secure and able to learn as a result.
The Montessori environment is an orderly place that has ground rules. But this sense of discipline and orderliness can be fun, as Fleur Civel remembers. The 19-year-old student of hospitality, currently living in France, says her preschool years in TCH from 1997 to 2001 gave her a sense of ease. “I used to look forward to setting the table every day and I still love setting it now!”
4. All About Those Golden Beads!
Farhan Shafee, an alumni of The children’s house, is currently practicing law at his father’s firm Shafee and Co, but he jokes that he “still (uses) those golden beads to do my math!” He attended TCH from 1991 – 1995. Those Golden Beads he is talking about? It’s a Montessori math material used to give a concrete introduction to the decimal system.
Those memorable beads are like other Montessori materials that introduce concrete learning before abstract learning. They were also brought up by former TCH graduate Alang Aris. Alang, an enthusiastic entrepreneur who founded ‘Workidol’, an online outsourcing marketplace for digital projects, said: “The golden beads were definitely the best form of concrete material that made me understand the abstract of mathematics.”
5. The Child’s Size and Choice
Dr. Maria Montessori designed the educational materials into 5 curriculum areas, namely – Practical Life, Sensorial, Number Work, Language and Culture. In this setting she also started using a method in 1907 – scaling down all furniture, fittings and learning materials to child size. In her first class she first replaced heavy furniture with lighter and moveable tables, chairs, shelves and cupboards. She placed pictures on the walls.
The teaching materials were arranged on the shelves in an orderly way. They classified these into areas, and from simple to complex. In short, the school carefully adapted the prepared environment to children’s size and abilities. Gradually, Montessori saw that the children’s behaviour changed. If they were timid or wild before, the children were now more sociable and communicative.
In the Montessori method, the teacher, child, and this prepared and pleasing environment create a learning triangle. The teacher carefully prepares the classroom so the child has independence and freedom within limits. The child then makes use of that environment to exercise individual choice.
6. Positive Self-Image and Compassion
The first students in Maria Montessori’s classroom thrived on routine, tidiness and communal meals. Above all was also the freedom to move, choose and socialise in a non-competitive, calm and harmonious environment.
The Montessori method introduced the concept that children were capable of educating themselves through autoeducation or self-education. Guided and supported by an observant teacher, the children develop the skills and abilities necessary for effective learning autonomy, as well as positive self-esteem.
They observed good manners, and their social and intellectual capabilities were evident. The children in that first classroom became independent, well-coordinated, self-disciplined, responsible and sociable. These children certainly had a positive self-image and compassion, besides being able to read, write and count.
This continues in Montessori classrooms all over the world and through the ages, as alumni Sheena Siva remembers. “My time in The children’s house was very meaningful and memorable as I was given the privilege of harnessing my talents and knowledge from such a young age.”
The 18-year-old has just started her Cambridge A-levels at Methodist College on a full scholarship offered by the college. She said she wouldn’t be where she was today if it wasn’t for “the art classes, the speech and drama sessions, the sing-along nursery rhymes, and most importantly, my wonderful ‘Aunties’ who stood by me and helped me unleash my hidden potential.”
7. The Absorbent Mind
“I do not believe there is a method better than Montessori for making children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakening their curiosity regarding the secrets of life”.
No less than literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that in 1932, and this is echoed by proponents of the philosophy of Dr Maria Montessori. She believed the unique mind of the child has a real constructive energy and intellectual powers. She stressed that there is a remarkable force in humans. This force, she believed, is most powerful during the first phase of human life – the childhood phase from birth to six. Her belief was that children are endowed with the capacity to learn and they should be provided with a wealth of information to enrich their understanding of all aspects of the world.
For infants and pre-toddlers
This most powerful phase – from birth to six – is now a firm focus at The children’s house. Their infant and pre-toddler programme concentrates on the holistic development of infants in the first three years of life. The award-winning curriculum was developed by Learning Vision Singapore, a member of the Busy Bees Southeast Asia family and has proved to be highly popular in Singapore. It was also well received in Tunas Kijang, Central Bank Malaysia Child Care Centre in Kuala Lumpur when it was launched in 2011. Subsequently, this curriculum was introduced in The children’s house Ara Damansara and a dedicated infant centre in Aman Walk, Mont Kiara.
TCH’s learning environment is designed to respect, support and respond to baby’s sensorial development. There is a focus on their emerging physical, sensory-motor, perceptual, cognitive, language and sociale-motional skills. Its preschools, located strategically in Klang Valley, undergo constant refurbishment to ensure they are always aligned with the ever-changing needs of children.
With 30 years of success in Malaysia, and Montessori’s much-loved and lauded proven track record, parents can find ease and confidence in starting their child on the right path earlier. And the cherry on top? The iconic red and white schools have expanded their usual offering of half-day programme. They now have extended hours and full day programmes to suit the needs of working mummies!
By Nellie Liang
This is a sponsored post presented by Global Educare Sdn Bhd