Debunking the Myths
The best way to debunk myths is to investigate for yourself and I highly recommend reading her books, particularly "The Discovery of the Child," and "The Absorbent Mind." But if you are short on time then I hope the FAQs will help to start with.
Let me add that prior to becoming involved with Montessori education myself, I thought it was a 'hippy' thing - free thinkers who loved nature and wanted peace (nothing wrong with this by the way - I just stereotyped it [sorry!] and didn't really relate)...and I was sort of right but oh so wrong too. It is so much more. I feel like Neo in the Matrix movie, who took the red pill, only the world I found is beautiful and it makes sense.
In our state schools today, many children are disconnected and 'allergic' to the environment.
Put yourself in their shoes...
How would you feel if you had a wonderful plan of what you wanted to do, or something you wanted to investigate and you came in to work and your boss told you that he/she had a great plan for the day and it was a job indoors all day when you had planned to be outside or it was a special project chosen by them and you did something similar last year or you were not interested in that topic? Montessori based her ideas on what she observed children needed and their stages of development (over a long period of time and scientifically), not on what adults thought kids needed.
Am I rubbishing state schools and teachers? NO!
There are some amazing teachers out there doing a fantastic job in some great schools and I like to think I was/am one of them.
I know I had an impact on some kids but I also know that there were kids that I just did not seem to 'capture' and engage, even in the coolest projects (apart from maybe the really coolest bits) and I believe it's because they are wired so differently to me and that data driven state curriculums do not provide for their learning needs despite the curriculum framework stating this is essential. Also, at times my knowledge was insufficient in their area of expertise and interest and I was not able to give them time in the crowded curriculum to learn what they truly desired.
I came to realise it borders on arrogance that I should determine all that they should learn according to what I think is fun.
I also came to realize that Montessori offers more - it empowers all children to reach their potential, truly. Often this is stifled in state schools and the emphasis is on the curriculum. I'm not sure I would have believed that kids could be so engaged and self-directed had I not seen and experienced it for myself.
I would not hesitate to put my children through a Montessori school if they had not already grown already and I wish I could have found it sooner and not dismissed it when I did.
For all of the great minds that have contributed to our school systems today, remember almost all of them based it on observations that confirmed their ideas. A classic example is when Maria Montessori visited a home where 'idiot' children were homed (this is the terminology used long ago - it is not mine, I mean no offence). She saw them crawl around on the ground after meals. The doctors and staff saw this behavior as evidence of unnatural behavior and chased them away. When Maria Montessori left them there and observed, she saw that the children were in fact playing with the crumbs and came to realize that they were desperate for any stimulation. In the absence of toys, they had improvised! This contradicted doctors decrees that stated such children were 'unteachable,' something Dr Montessori proved false many times in the years to come.
Q: Isn't it a religious thing?
A: Yes and No... it definitely makes you aware of a spiritual connection to everything including the past, the future and the universe. Some centers are aligned with religion, some are not.
Q: So is it a 'new age' 'spiritual' thing?
A: No, it is a philosophy, a way of thinking that allows you to consider the depths of all that is and realise and value your connection to it. It is child-centred but enables children to understand they are part of a whole, so it's also very community -minded. Montessori is not just the method or the materials, it is all these things...materials, methodology, and a way of linking ideas and experiences to learn in a meaningful way.
Q: Isn't it really structured?
A: Initially yes, in terms of the lessons and use of materials but this is for scientifically proven developmental reasons and...no, in terms of the choice that the child has to engage with the materials. The environment is prepared so that everything can be accessed by the child and the way of handling the equipment provides for the child's need for order and develops respect. As the 'teacher' observes the child closely, they are able to invite the child to lessons that the child is ready for.
Q: Don't Montessori kids become selfish?
A: No, when Montessori methodology is practised at home and in the classroom, there is no chance of ending up with selfish kids. The connections explored lead a child to an immense appreciation of their world, of others and their responsibility to care for it (an attitude of grattude!). Initially they may work very independently and at their own pace but in the elementary, primary years they become great collaborators and appreciate rather than merely tolerate their peers differences. As Maria Montessori explained it, society forms "by cohesion.'"
Q: If it is so good, why aren't Montessori schools everywhere?
A: It is that good but misunderstandings and poor preconceptions occur. Some have validity in that anyone can call their centre Montessori and not practice true Montessori methods and this can lead to a poor experience that others hear about. Other programmes are beyond reach due to the cost as the state does not fund this style of education as initial set up costs are high and it does not support a data driven system. Some see it as outdated or take a superficial look and are put off by the initial stages or are worried that their kids won't cope if they are educated in this 'protected' environment. All I can say is take a long and deep look at it and...look again - you'll wonder why the state doesn't support it. To be frank, I think a lot of parents think that the state way is the best just because it's the biggest and most widely done or they are too busy and see state schooling as a proven method.
Q: How do Montessori kids learn to compete in the real world if there are no assessments?
A: In Montessori schools attached to state schools, they undergo the same assessment programme and they do just as well if not better (in my experience, mostly way better) than peers in state schools. They have a broader knowledge as they are not being taught to the tests or on topics chosen for them. They don't have to wait for the class so they get more learning done (we went through twice as many books!). They become self-disciplined, sef-motivated students who can set and meet goals, and interact respectfully without rewards.
To sum it up...
Montessori asks what can the child do, not can the child do this?