How to create eager pupils, not complacent ones

08 February 2017

“The secret of good teaching is to regard the child's intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim therefore is not merely to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his inmost core. We do not want complacent pupils, but eager ones.” – Dr Maria Montessori.

Montessori classrooms are very different to the way most adults were educated, and primary aged children usually volunteer little about their learning. This often leaves Montessori parents wondering what their children do each day.

Montessori observed that primary aged children are driven to explore big existential questions, such as “Why am I here?” “Where do I belong?” and “When did it all begin?” They have a fascination with interconnections in the universe around them and relationships between things. They enjoy grappling with thorny moral questions and are no longer satisfied with simple answers.

Mainstream schooling aims to transmit isolated skills, such as reading and arithmetic, through repetitive practice. Montessorians view these as “enabling skills” which make it possible for the child to gain access to the cultural curriculum (e.g. history, geography and biology) which is generally taught in an integrated way that draws their interest.

The Montessori cultural curriculum centres around a series of memorable lessons that provides a broad framework for understanding the universe. These stories give the context on which children can hang the details they discover as they learn to research the specific questions that interest them. This “cosmic curriculum” offers age-appropriate answers to the big questions that motivate primary aged children, and ways of seeing the interconnections between themselves, all other living beings and the inanimate objects that make up their world. Primary students at MIC will receive these five Great Lessons over the next two or three weeks. Parent and local artist Jamie Randall recently completed a mural providing a galactic perspective of the first Great Lesson.

The primary aim of Montessori education is that children learn to concentrate and direct their own activity. Teachers observe children for signs of readiness and offer them lessons from a well-defined and time-honoured curriculum; lessons in particular skills or concepts that may capture their interest. Depending on the child’s ability to manage their learning, children have choice about what activities they focus on and where and with whom they work. This physical and mental liberty can motivate Montessori students to surprising levels of productivity!

Despite the burgeoning reasoning abilities of primary children, the hand (not the ear) is still the quickest route to abstraction. Long periods of uninterrupted time allow them to work with aesthetically pleasing and carefully sequenced manipulative learning materials which represent concepts concretely, until they realise they no longer need them.

Interruptions that may puncture the child’s state of “flow” are minimised. All subjects — even art and music — are integrated as much as possible to draw out connections that maximize the child’s motivation. Child or teacher-planned field trips extend learning beyond classroom walls.

Written by

Mark Powell

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