In response to our recent posts on the different ages and levels of Montessori, one reader wanted to know more about the Montessori adolescent program. As his son completes his 6th year in the Montessori elementary environment, he is faced the dilemma of so many Montessori parents when their child finishes upper elementary: Now what?
The Erdkinder: Montessori Adolescent Programs Support a New Generation of Children of the Earth
The Montessori method primarily focuses on the child’s first twelve years. However, the foundations and principles found in the Montessori curriculum for the elementary ages can be applied at the middle, high school, and even university levels. The basic tenets of the Montessori philosophy remain the same as students advance into the middle and high school levels.
Montessori used the term erdkinder (“children of the earth”) to describe adolescents who are preparing to enter the larger, global community. She observed that the sensitive periods of adolescents are in the realms of social, emotional, and physical well being. In short, they need to learn how to get along with one another and feel accepted by their peers while establishing their independence from their families. Because of this, it can be often difficult for adolescents to concentrate on academics, especially in a conventional setting.
Taking these factors into account, Montessori adolescent programs utilize an integrated, cosmic approach to academics. Adolescents have a strong desire to build and understand connections, and they need to know that what they are learning is relevant to their lives. A major shift from the elementary to adolescent methods in Montessori is the use of Socratic inquiry. In the elementary level, we do not ask children to guess what we are thinking because guessing causes self doubt, which lowers self esteem, takes the joy out of learning, and potentially promotes wrong answers. However, as children become adolescents, they begin to question everything. Therefore, Montessori adolescent programs capitalize on this developmental stage by incorporating Socratic questioning into their teaching. This remains true to the basic Montessori principle of holding children accountable for their own learning.
Additionally, Montessori gave adolescents the opportunity to move out into the community by learning how to work. Today, as children are no longer apprenticed out to learn a trade, Montessori adolescent programs focus on creating opportunities for children to develop skills necessary for financial independence and self-reliance. Developing job skills are the practical life activities of adolescence and are the basis of student-based industries.
Over the past ten years, I have watched momentum build for more Montessori adolescent programs. In fact, I just returned from the AMS (American Montessori Society) conference in Orlando, Florida, where there were more conference sessions dedicated to adolescents than ever before. To learn more about Montessori adolescent programs, check out these links for further reading:
- The Erdkinder and the Functions of the University, by Maria Montessori
- Erdkinder - The Montessori Answer to Adolescence
- Adolescence without Tears
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, April 26, 2013.