Last week, I had the opportunity to visit my son’s preschool for the first time. An almost 3-year old, he’s been attending the same Montessori center since he was an infant. About a month ago, he transferred into one of the preschool rooms. Last week, they invited parents into the classroom to see what the children had been learning about.
When we arrived, each child had their own space in the room, marked by a small name tag. Some were sitting at tables, while others were on the floor. He came over to greet me when I walked into the room. Then, he grabbed a small rug, laid it out on the floor and went to find his first “job.”
Yes, my toddler has jobs. They are different activities that he can choose from to practice a variety of skills. He goes to the shelf, chooses his job, carries it carefully to his mat, then starts to work. When he decides he’s done, he cleans up, returns the job to the shelf and grabs another one. This process repeats until time is up.
At his age, my son’s tasks help him practice colors, shapes, matching, stacking, letter sounds, and motor skills. In the shape sorting activity below, he has to sort the shapes. Some of them are quite small, which helps him practice fine motor skills as well.
Another activity appears to be a simple stacking activity, but the blocks are weighted. This allows him to not only working on the coordination of stacking, but helps him learn body control while carrying the blocks. He can stack the blocks in any sort of configuration, but the classroom rule is that the towers are not taller than the builder (H is still working on this one as the best part of building towers is still destroying them).
I have been consistently impressed with the things my son learns at preschool. Did you know that both the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper were painted by DaVinci? My son does. Or that you can show him a painting and he can tell you it’s the Purple Robe by Matisse. I don’t share this to show you how brilliant my son is (though I’m sure he is and likely gets that from his mother, right?), but to share how impressed I’ve been with his Montessori experience.
The most astounding part of this experience? The fact that my almost 3-year-old was working side by side with a 5-year-old who was ordering numbers from 0 to 20 and working on single digit addition. Multi-age classrooms are a trademark of the Montessori approach, the idea being that social learning is vital and children teach each other. How is my son able to blend in with the rest of the class even though he’s only been learning the routine for a few weeks? Because he watches his peers and copies what they do.
Every single one of the 18 students in the class is working on a different activity simultaneously. Every child works on what they need to work on to develop their own skills. There’s no “lesson plan” for the whole class during Montessori time. Children work independently, so teachers are able to circulate throughout the room to help them as needed. As they notice that the children are mastering certain tasks, they can give them new ones to push them forward.
As I watched the kids working, the parent side of my brain was so amazed and proud of everything my son can already do and excited to think about what he’ll be able to do very soon with the help of his classmates and teachers. The teacher side of my brain was reeling at the implications this has for K-12 education.
Imagine what a classroom would look like if every child could work independently on what he or she needed right then. Because they’re not tied up teaching whole group instruction, the teacher gets to circulate to observe and interact with every child. Teachers wouldn’t spend time preparing lesson plans in the traditional sense, but would develop activities for independent skill practice. Students wouldn’t be held back or dragged along to keep them on pace with their peers.
Some classrooms utilize learning centers or stations that do something similar. But often times they’re missing some of the elements that I witnessed yesterday: individualization for each child rather than for groups, a quiet working environment, students fully engaged the entire time, and one-on-one time with every child.
Perhaps K-12 education could benefit from taking a page out of the Maria Montessori playbook. What elements of Montessori education could you incorporate into your teaching?
This blog post only describes a fraction of all of the amazing things Montessori education provides for kids. Want to learn more? Click here!