Magic of Montessori Demystified: No Rewards, Punishments, or Praise, Oh My!

A lot of what sets a Montessori education apart from traditional methods are the aspects of the environment you can’t see upon first glance - the intangibles. There are no punishments, no rewards, and only carefully thought-out respectful interactions, encouragement, and redirection. That’s right. No “time-outs,” no sticker charts, not even grades.

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The Magic of Montessori Demystified: The Environment

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When I moved to Atlanta, I knew nothing about Montessori. I’d come from Massachusetts five years prior, having only heard rumblings about the subject. According to those rumblings, it was some sort of New Age, hippie philosophy.

I’d applied for two jobs: a position with an insurance agency and a school whose ad I found in the depths of somewhere most go in search of their dream job: Craigslist. After spending two minutes at the insurance agency, I left before meeting with anyone. At the time, I was still on my mom’s health insurance. My idea of car insurance was driving around carefully, silently praying I didn’t get rear ended. I then proceeded to the Suzuki School, which advertised itself as a Montessori school. I got the impression that, if they signed their child up for a Montessori school, the parents felt one step closer to being in an exclusive club including posh celebrities like Prince William and Princess Kate. I quickly realized there was more to Montessori than it’s chic name and following. Like love or magic, it’s one of those things you have to experience to believe and once you do; and like a vegan or Crossfitter, you won’t be able to stop talking about it.

Walking through the halls of Suzuki, it’s not uncommon to see parents gazing through the one-sided windows in shock. They watch amazed as their child not only sits at the table eating lunch for 30 minutes without bouncing around, but scrapes her own plate, washes her dishes, sprays, and sweeps under the table when she is finished. Parents wonder what sort of sorcery is this that Suzy is independent, responsible, and focused at school but can’t sit in her chair for 30 seconds at home. They feel like mortals trying to understand this mystical, magical, Montessori world.  

Children have an innate desire to learn. They soak in their environment, positive or negative, like sponges. Rather than interfere and try to mold little people into what society deems as desirable, Montessorians create the perfect conditions where the child can concentrate and explore freely, revealing himself as an individual based on his interests and unique strengths. The classroom has freedom within limits; boundaries not barriers.

A Montessori classroom has no posters decorating the walls or alphabet loudly displayed along the edges of the ceiling where the child can barely see it. The rooms are decorated with framed Van Gogh or Da Vinci paintings, children’s artwork, family pictures, and plants displayed at their eye level so they can revel in beauty without being bombarded with distractions. Teachers minimize interruptions and protect a 3-hour work cycle creating an environment ideal for the child to concentrate. When a child concentrates on interesting, attractive work that is meaningful to him, he can become his best self.

Lessons are arranged on the shelf in order from least difficult to most challenging and every lesson has countless extensions so the teacher can adjust to meet each child’s needs. The teacher presents a lesson to a child one-on-one or in small groups first, but each material has a control of error. When Mark works independently on the Spindle Game in Math he has to count the correct amount of spindles for each numeral 1-10. There are only enough spindles to fit correctly in each space. If he gets to 10 and counts out only 9 spindles, he will realize he made a mistake somewhere earlier. He may not realize or correct his mistake right away, and that’s okay. Children often need weeks or months of practice with the same material before they master it. Good Montessori teachers allow them the time and space to do so. Montessori teachers don’t step in and correct. It is more powerful for the child to correct himself, than be told he has made a mistake or given the answer.

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Traditional settings often require children to sit at a table or desk for extended periods of time listening to a teacher at the front of the room. They also typically deliver a bulk of instruction at Circle Time where everyone is expected to learn the same thing at the same time. Montessori materials are hands-on, require movement, and allow for children to engage in what interests the individual. The Red Rods and Pink Tower, for example, develop the child’s senses. Children arrange the pieces from largest to smallest or longest to shortest, developing their sense of order, refining their movements, and honing concentration. The child uses their brain and body in harmony, directing their energy in a purposeful way to fully absorb the concept. The materials also force the child to cross the mid-line, engaging both sides of their brain.

This week we explored the environment and materials piece of Montessori magic, stay tuned next time where we begin to demystify the idea of concentration, positive discipline, and the child’s path to self-mastery!

 

Look for the Ladybugs: The Best Thing About Being a Teacher

I’m one of those strange sorts who genuinely loves her job.

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Working with emotional 3, 4, and 5 year-old’s is no doubt exhausting. The drama is endless: “Sarah said I can’t come to her birthday party!” turns into “Johnny pushed me!” which is then overcome by “Megan said she’s not going to be my best friend!” And don’t get me started on sugar crashes the day after Halloween... At the end of a long day, I love a glass of “adult juice” with a side of peace and quiet just as much as the next person. But after teaching for almost 5 years in a Montessori classroom, without a doubt, the benefits far outweigh these difficult moments. Watching a 4 year-old’s face light up as he begins to decipher sounds and read his first book is… indescribable. The same can be said for seeing a child beam with confidence as she successfully zips up her jacket, “all by herself.” Watching as two children disagree and work through an argument peacefully - without pushing, hitting, or name calling - and listening to each other’s point of view restores your faith in humanity and possibilities for future generations.

The American Montessori Society teacher education course at the Montessori Teacher Education Institute of Atlanta recently had a class on the spiritual aspects of a Montessori classroom and the role of a Montessori guide. One of the points that stood out as different from something you might hear in traditional teacher training was a slide which purported that one of the teacher’s responsibilities is to nurture a child’s sense of awe and wonder. Teachers can do this by providing opportunities to observe intricate workings of nature, directing a child’s attention to an object of wonder, and marveling with children at miracles. When done with care, children have just as much to teach us as we can ever teach them.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder. You get your fill to eat, but always keep that hunger. May you never take one single breath for granted. And if you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

— Lee Ann Womack

Some teachers joke that the best thing about teaching is having Summer off. For me, it’s something else. Maria Montessori said: “The child, more than anyone else, is a spontaneous observer of nature.” We are a society bombarded by iPads, TV, commercials, music, and constant technological stimuli. These technologies are mind-blowing, amazing, and make our lives much easier. They are incomprehensible intellectual feats when you think about how someone possibly invented them (The internet? A place where you can get the answer to any question in seconds? What?!) But when you spend more than 5 minutes with a 3 year-old outside, you begin to remember the parts of our world that are not quite as loud and perhaps more important because one of the best parts about teaching little ones occurs when you see the world from their perspective. A few weeks ago, on the playground at our Ponce City Market location, I found a ladybug, put it on my hand, and pointed it out to Simon. Watching how mesmerized he was by this tiny bug reminded me how fascinating nature is and to continue to be amazed by things I so often take for granted. Simon continues to ask every time we are on the playground, “Where is the ladybug?” reminding me to come back to Earth, look around, and share in his enchantment and curiosity. In other words, to step away from the noise and the technology of the world and share this singular, unique moment of both education and wonder.

In an urban setting, spontaneous observations are not easy to just find. We’re lucky enough to have a wall of windows looking out into the city. This morning, as the sun was coming up, the sky was painted cotton candy shades of pink, purple, and blue, and I pointed it out to my little ones. They stared out the window, astonished, hushed, and respectful of nature’s wonders. I joined them. Why? Because teaching is not about school vacations or time spent away from the classroom. So, if - for myself - the best part of about being a teacher isn’t “having summers off” then what is it? Irrevocably, the best part about teaching is the sense of gratitude that washes over you when children effortlessly revive your own childlike sense of reverence and wonder for the beauty in the world around us.

Fostering Independence & Curiosity in Children Since the ‘70s

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We at The Suzuki School believe that learning begins at birth; that every day is an opportunity for children to explore and engage. This belief is at the core of everything we do, and it’s the reason why we employ a comprehensive, authentic approach to the Montessori Method — child-centered education for those who are naturally eager for knowledge and capable of self-directed learning.

But Suzuki isn’t like other Montessori schools. We care about your child’s development as much as you do and recognize that the first years are the most critical for growth. That’s why we focus on whole child development from birth to kindergarten in thoughtfully-prepared and supportive learning environments.

Dedicated to Growing Minds

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Our educational approach allows children to work and learn at their own pace; it promotes independence and curiosity in growing minds. Students select their own activities and take their time mastering skills one by one. This is our intentional way of empowering children to take ownership and responsibility for their tasks, creating an effective and supportive learning environment.

We recognize the potential in our students and believe in their ability to exceed expectations and thrive on their own. Our child-directed learning methods exercise the child’s curiosity and critical thinking skills. What may initially appear as “play time” or “unguided activity” is actually independent, self-guided learning taking place — with a trained, watchful eye, of course.

Our teachers are fully trained on this approach and understand their role in guiding children in their development, and encouraging curiosity and self-directed activity. They know when to step in and help, but they also know when to step back and let them figure it out for themselves.

Dedicated to Developing Potential

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To help children realize and grow their potential, they need access to the tools and environment around them. Maria Montessori believed that through coordination of the hands, a child can master their environment.

This is an idea Suzuki fully stands behind. We encourage hands-on learning, and keep all materials and tools at child-level to encourage interaction with the environment, to support engagement, to establish self-regulation.

The classroom makeup is influential, too. While large classes, with children of different ages, might seem unconventional, they actually help children socialize and navigate situations they normally wouldn’t be exposed in smaller classroom settings.

Whole Child Learning in the Heart of Atlanta

Suzuki’s unique approach to early childhood education is unmatched in Atlanta. We’re located in the Northside, Buckhead and Ponce neighborhoods, and have been directly influential in the development of children in the city since the ‘70s.

We’re also recognized by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Pan American Montessori Society (PAMS).

Simply put, Suzuki is dedicated to children’s social, emotional and academic success — and always will be. For more information about our approach to early childhood education, or to schedule a tour, contact us today.