Montessori

Montessori for Alzheimer's patients

Cameron Camp, director of the Myers Research Institute, began looking at the Montessori method as a way of helping Alzheimer's patients some 10 years ago. The Montessori method, developed for young children, is rooted in the senses, and involves manipulating everyday objects and following highly structured activities that engage children but rarely allow them to fail. Camp adapted these activities for Alzheimer's patients, tailoring them to the individual's background and interests. You can read about the program and its success in improving the quality of life for Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers in a number of online articles:

http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/

http://www.nursinghomesmagazine.com/Past_Issues.htm?ID=3815

http://www.vcu.edu/vcoa/ageaction/AGEfa03.htm

Below are several manuals co-written by Cameron Camp. You can also read about these books at the Myers Research Institute site at http://www.myersresearch.org/manuals.html and listen to radio interviews given by Dr Camp at http://www.myersresearch.org/media.html

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Alternatives to mainstream education

Montessori education

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician. After working with retarded children in a psychiatric clinic attached to the University of Rome, she applied the ideas she had developed to children in a slum district in Rome. This was the first Casa dei Bambini ("children's house"). It opened in 1907. Two years later she set out her methods and principles in a book, which was translated as The Montessori Method in 1912. With the success of her method, Dr Montessori opened more schools in Italy, in Spain, South Asia and the Netherlands. Today, schools based on her methods can be found around the world.

The movement has been particularly successful in the United States. It would be hard to say how many Montessori schools there are (and the question of whether or not a school can be called a "Montessori" school is sometimes a difficult one, since there is no legal protection on the name, and any school may call itself "Montessori"), but Montessori Connections lists 4361 US schools and 1595 international schools in its database.

An essential part of the Montessori approach is that of the 'prepared environment'. A Montessori preschool or primary/elementary classroom is immediately identifiable by its equipment, and by the fact that everything is scaled for the children. Children are given the opportunity to learn; teachers (known as directors/directresses, because they direct the children's learning) are facilitators of learning, not dictators.

Although it is the essence of the approach that children learn when they are ready, the design of the environment and the program is such that Montessori students usually learn skills such as reading, writing, mathematics, at an earlier age than usual.

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For more about Montessori:

International Montessori Index

the official international Montessori site.

Montessori Connections

good site for content - a series of articles about the Montessori method; database of Montessori schools; resources for teachers and parents; discussion boards.

Montessori Online

LOTS of articles here.

American Montessori Society

the official site of the American Montessori Society. More for teachers and parents involved in setting up a Montessori school in the US.

Suzuki approach to music

Shin'ichi Suzuki (1898-1998) founded the Talent Education Institute in 1950. The son of a violin maker, and a violinist himself, his teaching methods were originally used to teach violin to children, and his name and method are still predominantly associated with the violin. However, the method has since been adapted to other instruments.

Although most people know the method by the name of the man who invented it, Suzuki himself called it Talent Education, and many of the institutions around the world bear this name. The term "Talent Education" reflects Suzuki's belief that

"Good talent always grows where good method and good efforts are present"

The Suzuki method has been extremely successful in teaching music to young children, and teachers can be found around the globe.

The Suzuki approach to music has some commonalities with the Montessori approach, and many Montessori parents are also Suzuki parents (like me!). For some comments on these, go to my article on Suzuki & Montessori

For more about Suzuki education:

Suzuki method

an article about the Suzuki method from the website of a Suzuki piano teacher

Suzuki Association of the Americas

mainly useful if you live in the American continent and wish to join the Association, but there is an article on the History of the Suzuki method which may be of interest.

European Suzuki Association

there are links here to individual European Suzuki associations

And here's an amazing thing: actual archival videos of the famous violin teacher Shinichi Suzuki giving lectures and master classes: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/Arts/subcollections/SuzukiAbout.html

 

Waldorf or Steiner schools

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) opened the first "Steiner" school in 1919, in Stuttgart, Germany. This was a school for the children of employees of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory, hence the name "Waldorf" schools. According to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, there are now over 800 Waldorf schools in over 40 countries, and over 50 full-time Waldorf teacher-training institutes. (according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001 there are "over 70" schools worldwide, but this seems to me a wild underestimate, since the AWSNA lists some 136 affiliated schools in the US alone).

Steiner was an Austrian philosopher. His career as a natural historian ended when he became involved with the theosophist movement. Eventually he broke with this movement and started his own school of "anthroposophy".

Theosophy ("divine wisdom") borrowed heavily from eastern religions, claiming man could only know God through direct experience, through mysticism, meditation, occult practices, etc.

Anthroposophy ("people wisdom") holds that the key to an understanding of the cosmos exists in man himself and that man's spiritual development has been held back by his too-deep focus on the material world.

Steiner schools aim to develop the child's whole personality. Like Montessori, Steiner education is "child-centered", but where Montessori places a deep emphasis on practical skills and concrete experience, Steiner emphasizes play and creative activity. The world of the imagination is very important in Steiner education, and stories, myth and folktales are an important part of the curriculum.

For more about Steiner education:

AWSNA

there's not a lot of content, but it does have links to affiliated schools in North America, and some brief articles about Waldorf education; I recommend going straight to the site map, navigation around the site isn't overly clear

Directory for Latin America

for a list of Waldorf schools in Latin America

Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship

for schools in the UK and Eire

Christchurch Rudolf Steiner School

has more detail on the Steiner program, as well as links to international directories, and a list of NZ Steiner schools

Steiner Schools in Australia

for more details on Steiner education (probably the best informational content of the Steiner websites I've seen), as well as a list of Steiner schools in Australia

An article about Waldorf education:

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99sep/9909waldorf.htm

"Alternative" schools

Montessori and Steiner are the two "alternative" educational philosophies that have achieved widespread success. Montessori in particular, has almost reached mainstream status in some countries. To look at some other "alternative" schools see the Indigo Schools site, and AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization), which has links to a number of "alternative" schools.

Homeschooling

Growing numbers of parents all over the world are choosing to educate their children at home.

The National Home Education Research Institute is an American non-profit organization which exists to carry out and collect research into home education, and to educate the public about home schooling.

About Homeschooling is a good place to start, with lots of links.

For a perspective of why parents might choose to homeschool see this article in Father & Child

New Zealand

In NZ, some 5055 children (from 2854 families) were being educated at home in 1998, compared to some 206 children thirteen years earlier. The Education Review Office reviewed the quality of homeschool programs in 1998 and you can read their findings here. In general, their findings were favorable.

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The Montessori method

Many parents enrol their children in Montessori preschools because they are an "educational" way of getting childminding - if you're going to put your child in a creche, why not put them in a preschool instead - or because they want to give their child a "head start" on education. Quality preschool education is a rarity and Montessori are certainly leaders in the field.

My own children have been involved with Montessori since they were three.Like many parents, I came to Montessori education more by accident than design, and my belief in the system has grown over the years. When a Montessori primary (elementary) class opened in time for my older child, I was very pleased.

It is probably fair to say that parents send their children to a Montessori preschool because they provide a quality preschool education, but they send their children to Montessori schools because they have become converts to the Montessori approach and/or because they have deep dissatisfactions with the traditional education system.

I admit freely that both are true of me. Would I have been so keen on sending my son to a Montessori primary if I had been happier at school myself (rather than bored out of my tree)? But my sons' involvement with Montessori has only deepened my commitment and appreciation of its approach.

It is interesting that Montessori education seems particularly attractive to parents of sons. The preponderance of boys in my sons' classes may well be an anomaly, but I observe that those children who come to us at an older age, having had problems in mainstream (traditional) schools, are invariably boys. It is a truism today that the traditional education system favors girls. The Montessori environment and program doesn't penalize boys for their difficulty in sitting still; their later maturing; their need to touch and manipulate objects. The Montessori program is based around the individual. Thus, for example, the student determines when they'll do maths and for how long. This doesn't mean the child can choose never to do maths, merely that the child has control within the limits set by the teacher.

One of the most fundamental, and misunderstood, tenet of the Montessori approach is encapsulated in the phrase "Follow the child".

"Follow the child" does not mean let the child do what he wants. It is simply an acknowledgment that the child has her own pattern - that we need to take into account where the child is at, rather than impose our idea of what the child should learn now. Montessori saw the child's development as passing through four developmental phases, with a pattern of intense growth reaching a peak and then declining, within each phase.

Each of these developmental phases is marked by:

  • a specific developmental goal
  • a readily identifiable direction to reach that goal
  • specific sensitivities that facilitate reaching that goal

This scenario is the basis for the Montessori structure of 3-6, 6-9, 9-12 classes. The age-bands reflect the developmental phases, and the program and environment provided for that phase reflects the sensitivities characteristic of that phase.

The color of these triangles reflects the similarity between, for example, the developmental phases at 0-6 and 12-18, a similarity that has been remarked on by many parents and teachers of adolescents.

Maria Montessori was ahead of her time in recognizing that babies were active learners, and it is also instructive to note that she saw development continuing to age 24. However, for the most part, Montessori education has concentrated on the periods 3-6 (preschool) and 6-12, with particular emphasis on the preschool years. This emphasis no doubt reflects the much greater void that existed in preschool education.

It is also partly an historical artifact - when Montessori decided (on the basis of her amazing success with so-called "uneducable" children) to try her methods on normal children, she had no opportunity to work with school-age children, as they were already in school. However, an opportunity arose to have custody of children below school age in a reclaimed public-housing project in Rome. Hence, quite by accident, Montessori's first successes were with preschool children. The success of her methods was of course, also much more obvious with this group of children, since few children below the age of six received any sort of education.

You can now read Maria Montessori's 1909 book online. There is an illustrated edition available at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method.html

References: 

Lillard, Paula Polk. 1996. Montessori Today: A comprehensive approach to education from birth to adulthood. NY: Schocken Books. Toronto: Random House.

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Suzuki & Montessori

Some comments on the commonalities between the Suzuki approach to learning music and the Montessori approach to education.

My sons have both been in Montessori since they were three (they are now 8 and nearly 11, respectively). My elder son started learning the violin from a Suzuki teacher when he was around five, and now learns the piano (again, from a Suzuki teacher). My younger son has been learning the violin for the last two years. Over the years I have been somewhat intrigued by the number of parents who, like me, are both Montessori and Suzuki parents.

It is perhaps indicative that we talk about Montessori parents, and Suzuki parents. It is our children who are in these systems, why do we include the parents? I imagine it’s because both philosophies require the parent to be involved, to understand what’s involved in the approach, and do their part.

Why do these approaches go hand-in-hand? Well, they share a number of similarities.

Both Suzuki and Montessori respect the child, and feel that learning must be approached from where the child is, not where we think they should be.

Both believe in leading by example — not by telling (haranguing) the child to do what the adult thinks best, but by providing an example of the behavior the adult wants the child to copy.

Both provide the child with an orderliness that permits the child to learn. In the Montessori classroom this is expressed in the orderliness of the materials — everything has a place, every task has a sequence. In Suzuki, this is expressed through the set order of music pieces expressly designed to take the student step by step through the techniques necessary to learn the relevant skills.

Both philosophies stress the importance of providing the right environment to nurture the child’s developing character and self-image. Both feel that individuals learn at their own pace, not according to some standard drawn up by educators. In both methods, age does not determine what work the child is doing — they do what is appropriate for their skill level, not their age.

Both Montessori and Suzuki appreciate that repetition is the key to mastery.

Both philosophies believe that education is about bringing out potential, rather than “instructing”. The adult is a director rather than a dictator.

References: 

Thompson, Linda K.: Montessori and Suzuki. The NAMTA Journal, v 15 (2).

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