The Montessori Method and Modern Child
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In approximately 400 words for each topic, summarize Dr Montessori’s approach and discuss how Montessori’s views on these topics are regarded in child development texts today.
(a)The Role of the Environment
(b)Children’s Diet and Exercise
(c)Nature in Education
(d)Education of the Senses
Dr Montessori also expresses the need for ‘Scientific Pedagogy’, i.e. using scientific methods (especially observation). In the conclusion to this assignment, you should address her theory of scientific pedagogy, and compare it to Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. (a)The Role of the Environment
In Montessori philosophy there are three leading factors that make up the methodology: the environment, including all the materials; the directress, and the child. The prepared environment should be established upon one fundamental base: “the liberty of the pupils in their spontaneous manifestations” (Montessori, 2002). It is in freedom that a child reveals himself and uses his environment to grow. Socio-emotional development also has a big focus in Montessori’s philosophy. McDevitt & Ormrod agree by stating “Environmental influences are evident in the development of self-esteem and motivation (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2012). The Montessori environment also allows freedom in many aspects, including freedom of movement as the children are allowed to move around the classroom as well as outside the classroom. All materials are designed with a self-correcting control of error and the correct sizes.
All the material should be kept orderly and furniture should be child sized, such as chairs and tables so children can move them. Child size washstands, shelves and cupboards should also be provided for Practical Life Exercises. Nature is also a vital part of the Montessori environment and a garden is highly recommended. Lessons about the plants, insects, seasons and fresh food are essential. Montessori strongly believed that “The child must draw from nature the forces necessary to the development of the body and of the spirit. (Montessori, 2002). The Montessori outdoor environment is prepared just as carefully as indoors. Outdoor areas require space for running, jumping, throwing, climbing, lying, sitting, balancing, watching, building, digging, playing with water, sand and exploring. The basic concept behind Montessori’s educational work was that of providing children with a suitable environment in which to live and learn. Numerous theories of development have influenced educational practices during the 20th century (Aldridge, Kuby, & Strevy, 1992).
But most developmentalists agree that the environment is an important force in development. Vygotsky was the first proponent of the contextual view, but Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917), is its best proponent today with the ecological systems theory, based on the nature vs. nurture idea. Bronfenbrenner believed development of a child was determined by the relationships among the environment or environmental systems around them. For Bronfenbrenner, “development is a complex interaction of the changing child within a changing ecological context.”(Mossler, 2011).
Through careful observation of children all over the world, Dr Maria Montessori developed those guidelines for the preparation of the child’s environment. These stimulate the child’s ever growing need to perfect the skills necessary to life and to order the sensorial impressions he has gathered from the environment and put them to use daily.
(b)Children’s Diet and Exercise
Physical safety and a healthy diet are essential in raising healthy children. Children’s growth, behavior and development can be affected by their diet. A balanced diet will help children to remain healthy as well as to grow. When Montessori first opened the “Casa dei Bambini”, the “local standards of child hygiene were not prevalent in the home” (Montessori, 2002). Therefore, Montessori believed that a large part of the at least the child’s diet could be trusted to the school (Montessori, 2002) in order to protect the children’s development. Nowadays a lot of nurseries and pre- schools provide appropriate food to children according to the child’s age and development, includes a wide variety of nutritious foods, following strict Dietary Guidelines.
Montessori also believed a diet of little children should be rich in fats and sugar (Montessori, 2002). Current research has shown children’s nutrition plays a very big role in their development, health, and their food choices later in life. Studies also show that children are being fed diets high in fat, sugar, and salt, and that mothers are confused as to what they should be feeding their children (Venter, C.C. & Harris G.G. 2009). Diets high in fat and sugar have been linked with diabetes in small children, and contribute to the ongoing obesity problem. Parents should feed their children a healthy diet which consists of foods from all five food groups. (Vegetables and legumes/beans, fruit, grains and breads, lean meats and dairy / eggs). Parents should introduce healthy foods in early childhood because in doing so, it allows the child to develop healthy eating habits. Adequate nutrients, supportive social relationships and exploration in the physical environment are essential to normal growth.” (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2012). Being active is important too.
Walking, climbing, dancing, running, swimming and sports build strength into bones and muscles. Being active is also the natural way of balancing the food intake. The more active children are, the more likely they are to have healthy growth. Montessori however did not appreciate gymnastics for psychomotor development, stating “the guiding spirit in such gymnastics is coercion, and I feel that such exercises repress spontaneous movements and impose others in their place” (Montessori, 2002). She designed playground equipment based on child play observation and classroom furniture was all designed with body proportions of age ranges in mind. She also created / offered pieces of gymnasium apparatus such as climbing wires or frames, trampolines (created by Seguin), a low wooden platform for jumping and rope ladders. The Montessori Method is one that supports the importance of play and movement, and is currently being applied to children of varying cultures around the globe. (c)Nature in Education
As our lives become more technologically advanced and driven many children have very little access to a natural habitat in their neighborhood environment. Young children develop their sensory, cognitive, gross and motor skills while in relationship to the natural world. Maria Montessori had a profound respect for nature and believed that it should play a large part in the prepared environment as children are naturally attracted to the nature. “Montessori emphasized the importance of contact with nature for the developing child. Man still belongs to nature and, especially when he is a child” (Lillard, 2011). It is for this reason that all materials used in the environment should be of natural origin as far as possible and not synthesized or plastic. The child needs to have materials that represent the real world, bringing him into closer contact with reality to show him the limits of nature and reality.
The care of plants and flowers with a small garden and animals such as rabbits, gold fish is also recommended in the class for contact and understanding of nature. There is also only one of each activity in the environment, this shows the reality of nature where the child cannot always have whatever he wants but will have to develop patience and respect for the materials and the other children working around him. The Montessori outdoor environment should be designed to appeal the natural desire of the child to explore the world around him. It should be with the natural elements such water, rock, wood, sand, stone , grass and bark to facilitate further exploration of nature. A pond with waterfall can also be made to the children know about aquatic plants and animals, studies about water pollution and water conservation. The key to the success of our outdoor environment is preparing the environment with purposeful, engaging activities that are hands-on, real and practical. We should structure the environment in such a way that children can make discoveries on their own.
“Children appear to have a natural curiosity about their world. Factors such as motivation and confidence in their own abilities, depend largely on experiences with the environment”. (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2012). Following that trend, natural play spaces are currently growing in childcare centers. It is becoming more popular everywhere. A natural play spaces or playground is a space where there are no manufactured play structures. It is all based on nature and using nature as materials for the playground. These may include sand pits, water, vegetation, boulders or other rocks, textured pathways, etc. Current research and books agree with Montessori that “direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.” (Louv, 2008). (d) Education of the Senses
A child’s journey in life begins right from the time that he is in his mother’s womb, increasing in size and developing his physical structures.
Once he is born and he leaves the comfort of his mother’s womb, he must go through a period of reconstruction, to develop in movement, speech and other areas. However, the child does not possess a fixed way of behavior or any natural way of acting or thinking and controlling in advance, like those in animals who are immediately able to walk or even run as soon as they are born. But he has patterns of mental power, unfolding. He gradually unfolds to exhibit the characteristic of his kind in movement, speech, and action, being guided by an inner guide. According to Maria Montessori, this is the real identity of the child, the real revelation. “It is necessary to begin the education of senses in the formative period, if we wish to perfect the sense development with the education which is to follow” (Montessori, 2002). “Infants can learn a lot about the world from their sensory and perceptual abilities” (McDevitt and Ormrod, 2012).
Sensorial comes from the words sense or senses and Montessori believed that “The first of the child’s organs to begin functioning are his senses” (Montessori, 2012). Sensorial education helps develop a child’s intellect and we can further it by education, building upon experiences and thought processes. The aim of the sensorial work is to make a child gain clear, conscious, information and to be able to analyze it. “The development of the senses precedes that of the higher intellectual powers, and in the child between three and six years of age, it is in the formative period. We can then help the development of the senses during this very period, graduating and adapting the stimuli just as we ought, to aid the acquisition of speech, before it is completely developed. All the education of early childhood ought to be based on this principle – to aid the natural development of the child.” (Montessori, 2004). They learn about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing. Through his senses, the child studies and understands his environment.
I would like to finalize this assignment discussing Montessori’s “Theory of scientific pedagogy”, based on her own statement: “Truly there is an urgent need today of reforming the methods of instruction and education, and he who aims at such a renewal is struggling for the regeneration of mankind.” (Montessori, 2004). First, Vygotsky and Montessori have a lot in common. They were both trained as doctors and both worked with children with special needs before they went onto develop their own view of children’s development and learning. Secondly, both of them are very acute observers of children. For Montessori, she made observation a keystone of her method of education. Thirdly, social interaction between children and adults is a key part of learning for both. Montessori focused on the work of the teachers, based on scientific observations of the child’s development, constantly carried out and recorded by the teacher.
These observations are based on the liberty of children, made on the level of their concentration, the introduction to and mastery of each piece of material, the social development, physical health, etc. Teachers created and maintained a work cycle for them to use and followed up with these observations for individual children. This concept is related to an important principle of Vygotsky’s work, the Zone of Proximal Development. This is an important concept that relates to the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner (or teacher). Vygotsky sees the Zone of Proximal Development as the area where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should be given – allowing the child to develop skills they will then use on their own – developing higher mental functions. “Instruction is most effective when it is individually tailored to the children’s unique strengths and limitations.” (Bodrova &Leong, 2007).
Vygotsky also views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within the zone of proximal development. We can then conclude the focus on the importance of the concept of the “zone of proximal development” as a sign to teachers of a limit to their knowledge of children, and an admonition to teachers to be more observant and less directing concerning learning activities of the child, based on “the fundamental principle of scientific pedagogy – the liberty of the pupil – such liberty as shall permit a development of individual, spontaneous manifestations of the child’s nature.” (Montessori, 2002).
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