A teachers journey from mainstream to Montessori
Miss Gemma wrote this piece almost five years ago when she first started at Rozey Days!
It has been exactly a year this week since I started teaching children through the Montessori approach to education. Up until this time, the only knowledge or experience I had of this approach to education was through brief lessons of alternative approaches to education during my teaching studies. Therefore, when I applied for a role in a Montessori Nursery School this time last year, I didn’t know what to expect. In just one year I have gained an immense amount of knowledge and experience of the Montessori approach to education and a lot of this is due to beginning the Integrating Montessori Practice (IMP) course. It has allowed me to study the views and ideas of Maria Montessori herself, and consider the perspectives of others, attend a practical workshop in order to gain hands on practical experience, and apply this learning and experience to my practical, lived experience with the children in the nursery school. It is true to say that my eyes have been opened to an inspiring approach to education and I feel privileged to now be part of it.
I began working in a Montessori Nursery School six months prior to starting the IMP course and therefore a lot of what I originally understood about the Montessori to education was through practical, lived experiences. However, by being given the opportunity to study the course and attend the practical workshop it allowed me to understand the theoretical side to the Montessori approach and gain a better understanding of the Montessori philosophy.
One of the first things I observed when I started my teaching role in the Montessori Nursery School was the beautiful, structured and uncluttered environment, which differed greatly to the other nursery settings I had experienced previously. The beautiful environment allowed me to feel calm and secure as I knew that everything had a place, which as I learnt through my studies was the purpose of the environment being this way!
Another feature of the environment that stood out to me was the quality of the materials. The materials and activities were made mainly of natural and authentic materials such as glasses to drink from and china plates to eat from, rather than plastic cups and plates, which I was used to seeing in nursery settings. I liked this about the setting as it made the setting feel like a home and also allowed the children to learn the natural consequence of it breaking if it was not treated with respect.
Another quality I observed very early into starting at the school was how kind and caring the children were and how much respect they had for themselves, their peers and teachers and their environment. In studying this through the recommended reading on the course I found that this was fostered in the children through the three ground rules: respect for self, respect for others, respect for environment. I observed it daily in my practice as I observed children; tucking their chairs in so that others did not trip over them, cleaning their work away so that it was ready for the next user and adults who promotes a calm noise level within the setting with the intent to not to distract others with their work.
Another prominent quality of the Montessori Nursery School that stood out to me was how much freedom the children who were as young as two years old had. Through my studying I came across the approach of children having freedom within limits and as I observed the children in the setting, it was clear that as long as they followed the ground rules they truly did have freedom. For example, they had freedom to follow their own work cycle, eat, drink and join in with group activities if and when they wanted to. They also had the freedom to work independently if they wanted to with no expectation to have to share their work or materials if they did not want to.
The freedom discussed above promotes a very important part of the Montessori approach to education. For example, in my practice I observed children developing independence as young as two years old. This was through being encouraged to serve themselves food and drinks, managing their change of shoes and clothes and choosing which activities they wanted to do and when.
This independence is supported through the area of Activities for Everyday Living within the Montessori curriculum. For example, the pouring activities support the children to serve themselves water during snack time and the button dressing frames support children’s button opening and closing skills when they dress themselves for the garden. In addition to this, the activities develop the children’s fine and gross motor muscular strength and control, essential for the foundation of all future learning. The area of Activities for Everyday Living is my favourite area within the Montessori curriculum as I have always been passionate about children having practical life skills.
During my studies I read about the benefits of vertical grouping, in which older or more experienced children could be role models for other younger or less experienced children.
The first time I observed this in the setting it filled me with joy. Since then I will often see an empathetic child support another child who if finding difficulty in putting their shoes on or a child present a Montessori activity to another child. In a busy classroom where teachers struggle to find the time to complete Montessori presentations, this can prove to be very valuable.
The above points that I have discussed so far in this reflective writing are all aspects of the Montessori Method that I believe compliment my previous approach to education. There are however aspects of the Montessori approach to education which have introduced me to new ways of teaching and have challenged my thinking. For example, as I began to study the Montessori approach to education I came across the importance of not giving children rewards such as ‘Well done’ stamps or stickers. Up until that point I thought that these type of rewards were beneficial for children and their self-esteem. It wasn’t until I studied the IMP course and observed children during my practice that this idea was challenged and I now realise that the true reward for children is intrinsic . For example, when I observe a child’s face light up after completing a new activity or from putting on their shoes by themselves. It has certainly changed my perspectives on rewards.
Another aspect of the Montessori approach to education which has challenged my view of teaching is that teachers are not expected to interrupt a child during their work or play at any time, unless they are invited to do so by the child or if the child is not respecting themselves, the environment or others. This was a very different approach to what I was used to, as I would have previously been encouraged to spend time interacting with children throughout their play and work. This approach to teaching that I was familiar with however was challenged when I read upon the negative impact that this can have on the child’s concentration and learning and that the role of the teacher should be to only observe the child, and plan how to further support the child through facilitating a favourable environment.
Prior to my studies if I observed a child attempting to use a knife or climb staircases I would panic and stop them, as my natural reaction to this was that it is not safe. Since reading about the child’s intrinsic drive however, I now think of these experience in a totally different way to before. I now understand that rather than preventing the experience I need to simply put things in place to ensure that the child can complete the activity whilst remaining safe. For example, by providing an adequately safe knife for the child to practice cutting with and by staying with the child as they climb the stairs, remaining behind them in case they fall. This all relates to the importance of an empathetic teacher whose role is to provide a favourable environment and adapting ourselves as teachers to suit the needs of the children in our care.
I have learnt so much from my transition from mainstream to Montessori early years teacher. I would love to see the Montessori method being adopted in schools across the country, to truly give children this wonderful start in life!