Montessori Perspectives on Executive Function - Part 2 of 3There appears to be a lot of talk about ‘executive function’ in children these days. In fact, Adele Diamond and Kathleen Lee have said that the executive functions of a child are better predictors at school readiness and success than IQ (Diamond and Lee). So, what is executive function and more importantly, how does it relate to Montessori?
Executive functions refer to those qualities that make people successful: self-control, discipline, flexibility, and creativity. Individuals with high levels of executive function have increased periods of concentration and working memory and are able to solve complex problems by implementing reasoning and good planning skills while those with low levels of executive function are impulsive, lack persistence, and have poor attention spans.
According to Diamond and Lee, they are also more likely to experience health problems, earn less as adults, and have higher incidences of criminal behavior. (Diamond and Lee)
The description of executive function sounds very similar to Montessori’s term “normalization”. Children who have high executive function are able to work independently. They are respectful and demonstrate awareness and empathy.
Children do not generally just “become” normalized or demonstrate high executive function. These traits must be nurtured in an environment that is created to develop these desirable traits. The Montessori prepared environment is calm and orderly, and encourages patience and self-control. The Montessori learning materials facilitate careful sensorial dexterity and often involve a multi-step process. The built-in control of error in Montessori materials has children focusing intently on the task at hand. The Montessori materials gradually increase in difficulty, requiring the children to remember the process that came before as well as apply the next series of steps. In addition, the Montessori environment has only one of each Montessori learning material on the shelf at a time. This encourages children to plan ahead and develop patience while waiting for a classmate to complete and return the work to the shelf for others to use.
The Montessori teacher must know how and when to guide the child in his own development. Montessori warned of the ill effects of unwanted adult intervention and told her teachers not to help children if they were capable of success on their own. While it may be difficult to watch a child struggle to tie his shoes or complete a complicated Montessori sequence, to intercede is to weaken the child’s self-confidence and self-worth. With unnecessary intervention from the adult, a child may learn to depend on the adult in challenging situations rather than on him or herself. The Montessori teacher and parent must exercise extraordinary patience and their belief that the child will succeed. Many “A ha!” moments happen only after periods of challenge and frustration. A Montessori teacher should only intervene if the situation is dangerous, destructive, or disrespectful.
The Montessori environment is specially prepared to develop the necessary skills not only to succeed in school, but to be successful throughout life.
Diamond, Adele and Kathleen Lee. "Interventions shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4–12 Years Old ." Science (2011): 959-964. Document.
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© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, May 17, 2012.