Recently I received an email from a NAMC student asking about working with a family that is quite outspoken as to the precise curriculum schedule they want to be presented to their child. She was concerned about following and meeting the needs of their child within the confines of their demands for him to follow a rigorous and precise academic schedule.
Her question is a tough one. On the one hand, I completely understand the parents’ point of view – they want to make sure that their child does not ‘fall through the cracks’ and miss important information and lessons. On the other hand, I am a firm believer in Montessori’s wisdom of following the child and allowing him to discover his own path, and am secure in the knowledge that the child will eventually choose to work in all areas. I have experienced this firsthand with my own son. (You can read more about my son and his Montessori elementary years in my blog: Making Connections between Montessori and Traditional School)
The purpose of the Montessori environment is to develop the whole personality of the child, not merely his intellect. Montessori said “The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to “learn”; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” (Discovery of the Child)
Sometimes, however, it is not simply enough to follow the child.
Montessori Elementary Teacher Perspectives: Tips for Following and Inspiring the ChildSometimes we really need to know and understand the child and allow her interests and personality guide us to helping her learn. If the child shows no interest in math, ask yourself what does interest her that could incorporate math? Does she like space? Can we learn to calculate planetary years using the Checkerboard? Does she like chemistry? Can we figure out scientific notation based on chemical formulas? What about cooking? There’s addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, measurement conversions.
For very reluctant math students I have incorporated a great series of “real” math works from Rempub publishers. Using the idea of playing restaurant, students quickly learned to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and percents by figuring out sales tax and tips. My students like to play restaurant so much I have to take it off the math shelves for a while so they could explore other areas. It’s always such a great feeling when they come and say “Miss Michelle, can we do restaurant math today?”
What about geometry? The best way to interest students in geometry is to build something. The Montessori environment is full of opportunities for students to assemble a bookshelf, an aquarium or even a sandbox. Construction leads to discovering metric and standard measurement, perimeter, area, surface area, and volume. The best way to interest upper elementary students in anything is to let them touch it, feel it, eat it. In other words, make it real and let them “do it”.
Most importantly, it is up to you to advocate for both your Montessori students and your belief in the Montessori method. If parents insist a more traditional approach (“My child must study all areas of the curriculum each day. They must strictly adhere to the timeline and standard course of study as dictated by the state.”), then, unfortunately, the Montessori environment may not be the best choice to satisfy this demand.
You may also be interested in the following NAMC blogs:
- Montessori Parent/Teacher Communication and Collaboration: An Education for Life
- Spelling in the Montessori 9 - 12 Classroom: Ideas for Better Linguistic Learning
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, September 23, 2011.