I have such respect and admiration for Maria Montessori and all that she accomplished during her lifetime. The impact that she has had on education and child development is incredible and she is truly an inspiration! For me, one of the most beautiful components of a Montessori environment is the fact that teachers “follow the child,” and that respect is given to the child to work at their own pace.
A Montessori teacher is a guide who facilitates lessons based upon each child’s unique needs, strengths, and interests, and believes that the child instinctively knows what he or she needs to do. I was definitely skeptical at first that a child had the ability to guide their own learning, but over the years I have seen it proven time and time again: young children choosing an activity and working with it over and over until they “get it”!
Montessori Students and Sensitive Periods: Follow the Child
Several years ago, I remember one of my three-year-old Montessori students who really struggled with using tweezers ... every day she would come to school and work with the various tweezer activities on the shelves, and every day she would struggle and persevere. This went on for weeks, until finally she had perfected the skill of using tweezers ... she was ecstatic! Her birthday was a few days away, and I remember her Mom telling me that she was asking for a pair of tweezers for her birthday and wondering if I had any idea why she might want such a gift. I knew exactly why she wanted tweezers and I’m sure for her, she couldn't think of a better present! To this day, thinking about it warms my heart.
My Montessori preschool student Jordan (who is now four years old,) has been very interesting to observe over the past few weeks. It is clear that he is in a sensitive period for language, as he has become so drawn to learning his phonetic sounds. Not a day goes by that he isn't tracing the sandpaper letters, watching an older child build words with the Montessori Movable Alphabet, or making the shapes of the letters in the cornmeal tray.
A few weeks ago when I reviewed Jordan’s sound card with him, there were only a few sounds that he was able to recognize and identify. Yesterday when we reviewed his sound card, he identified fifteen of the phonetic sounds ... amazing! I invited him to build a few words with the Movable Alphabet today and he was so excited. With immense pride, Jordan carried the Movable Alphabet to a floor mat and one by one, we removed the sounds that he knows. He then sounded out the words, ‘cat’, ‘hat’, and ‘rat’. I suggested he put the work away until next time and he asked if he could keep making words. Of course, I replied that he was more than welcome to continue, and he spent another twenty minutes or so building the words ‘pot’, ‘mom’, ‘hot’, and ‘stop'. I’m sure he would have kept going, but the music came on to signal clean-up time so he promptly tidied up his work.
I once worked with a Montessori teacher who felt very strongly about not giving children the opportunity to build words with the Movable Alphabet until all twenty six sounds had been mastered. I personally have always believed that if a child is showing interest, and you can facilitate that interest while ensuring you set them up for success, then it is a win-win situation for everyone. My experience with Jordan proved just that, and he is definitely well on his way to writing and reading with ease.
I feel so fortunate to have found a method of teaching children that empowers the child and allows them to guide their own learning path!
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, March 11, 2011.