Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Montessori and the Prepared Environment

It has been ages since I started writing about preschool philosophies and trying to come to a decision about what philosophy to take as I embark on teaching Charlotte at home. Since that time I have done a lot of reading, but not much writing, struggling to find a balance between being a mama and wife, and creating time for "me" to write about everything I have been learning.

I have already written about Reggio Emilia and Classical Education , and today I will focus on Montessori Education. A remarkable woman named Maria Montessori (1870-1952) founded Montessori education. She was the first female to receive a medical degree in Italy. It 1907 she took care of fifty poor children in a slum outside of Rome. She became known for her success in the Casa dei Bambini (House of Children) and her methods of education spread across the globe. According the montessori.edu,

"She believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon. Her main contributions to the work of those of us raising and educating children are in these areas:
  • Preparing the most natural and life-supporting environments for the child
  • Observing the child living freely in this environment
  • Continually adapting the environment in order that the child may fulfill his or her greatest potential, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually."

    There are many, many resources on the web for Montessori education. There is also a local Montessori school in this city, however the wait list is three years for their preschool program! I love reading blogs that base their philosophy upon Montessori education, like Chasing Cheerios. The thing is, the more I read about Montessori, the more I feel under prepared, and not qualified to teach with this philosophy in mind. There are schools to train Montessori teachers and in order to teach at a Montessori school, I believe you have to be trained.

    So how do I implement Montessori in our home environment? I am trying to get a handle on our space, the environment which we work, which is our home. It is a difficult task, and I can not really implement a lot of the specific Montessori toys and tools, as it would cost a lot, as well as take up a lot of space. I picture wooden toys, carefully chosen decorations, things like tongs for sorting small objects, and a shelf of specific activities separated in baskets ready for the child to choose and play on their individual mat. Of course, this is my own perspective, and may not be true to Maria Montessori's vision. Maria Montessori also created tables and chairs and other furniture to fit the child. We have a small table and chair set that my sister refurbished as a gift for the girls. It is lovely! Other than that, I keep Montessori's ideals in my head regarding a beautiful space and I try to observe Charlotte in her play rather than have it "teacher directed" all of the time.

    Another aspect of Montessori philosophy is involvement in every day life: family care, self care and care for the environment. I have been attempting to incorporate Charlotte into more of our daily tasks, which also increases her sense of significance in our family. This includes dressing herself, helping with outdoor chores and indoor chores including raking, sweeping, washing breakfast dishes and cleaning up spills with my vinegar and water solution. She does not do all of these every day, but when she is able to contribute in a practical way, she loves doing it, and always feels a sense of accomplishment and happiness through doing a practical task. It helps me change my perspective a bit about housework! (Although tasks usually take longer of course.)

    What is your experience with Montessori education?
    How do you incorporate a Montessori philosophy into your parenting and/or homeschooling?

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