International Montessori School of Beijing (MSB) is a Kindergarten and Elementary school which has provided education in English and Chinese for Beijing’s international community for over 20 years. Caroline Chen, MSB’s founding principal, and a qualified qualified AMS Montessori teacher herself, answers our questions about the Montessori Method. Click here to read part one.
Is Montessori education good for children with learning disabilities?
A Montessori based education is universally applicable. The environment and methods used in the Montessori classroom are designed to ensure the holistic development and success of all children. All children benefit from individualized and child-centered instruction. Every child has areas of special gifts, a unique learning style, and some areas that can be considered special challenges. The Montessori teaching approach, which believes that each child should be allowed to develop at his/her own pace, is designed to allow for these differences. It allows students to learn at their own pace and is quite flexible in adapting for different learning styles. In many cases, children with mild medical or physical handicaps, behavioral issues or learning disabilities may do very well in a Montessori classroom setting.
The Montessori system has been used successfully with children from all socio-economic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, children with developmental delays, and children with emotional and physical disabilities.
What about gifted children?
A Montessori based education is universally applicable. The environment and methods used in the Montessori classroom are designed to ensure the holistic development and success of all children. All children benefit from individualized and child-centered instruction.
The multi-age classrooms also allow children to excel. Children can easily advance in the complexity of their work without waiting for the group as a whole. With higher-grade level materials easily accessible, and the possibility to teach children at different levels, students with a high aptitude in a subject matter can easily work above grade level.
How are parents involved at Montessori schools?
The biggest factor to consider is if Montessori philosophy is right for the parents – can you support it in your home, and work for good partnership/relationship with your teacher and your school on behalf of your child? Modeling respectful, courteous behavior, reading, discovering, and sharing your interests/passions with your child promotes a love of learning at home that translates to a love of learning in the classroom – a love of learning for life.
Parents are often in dialogue with their child’s teacher so that they can be involved in supporting and helping their child at school and at home become more able to follow their interests and responsibilities with care and passion.
Montessori parents can support their child by helping to foster Montessori principals in the home: respect, choice, accountability, responsibility and follow-through-to-completion in an effort to nurture their ability to make responsible choices. The more compatible the philosophy and practical application is between home and school the better support your child has to develop that ability to be cooperative and independent.
Is early learning a good idea? Or should young kids just play and have fun?
Yes, early learning is good idea as children up to the age of 6 are “sponges.”
Dr. Montessori’s research (based on her direct and extensive observation of children in diverse cultures and in many countries) showed that there are four key developmental planes in the journey to adulthood. The first one takes place from the age of 0 to 6, and focuses on the development of the self as an individual being.
Every child also has specific ‘sensitivities’ or ‘windows of opportunity’ where learning comes with ease. Dr. Montessori pointed out that the young child has a natural sensitivity for language development, which follows closely on the years when he/she learns to speak his/her native language. Young children have a unique fascination for words and dialogue.
When Dr. Montessori opened the first Children’s House it was full of pretend play things. The children never played with them as long as they were allowed to do real things – i.e. cooking instead of pretending to cook. Children are instinctively drawn to want to carry out the activities they see adults performing. The Practical Life activities in a Montessori classroom are based on the child’s desire to repeat that which he/she sees adults doing. They are meant to reflect the child’s interest and teach him new skills required for his life.
These exercises are not only designed to teach children independent self-help skills, but also support the development of very important fine motor dexterity and concentration skills that will be so integral to future academic work. Montessori students also tend to take the things they do in school quite seriously. It is common for them to respond, "This is my work," when adults ask what they are doing. They work hard and expect their parents to treat them and their work with respect. But it is joyful, playful, and anything but drudgery.
All children explore new things playfully. They watch something of interest with a fresh open mind. Dr. Montessori believed that the real world is full of wonder and that children before the age of six should be deeply rooted in the reality and wonder of nature. Story telling and reading should revolve around the wonder-filled life of the animals, people, and plants on our earth, so that a child’s absorbent mind is filled with real impressions of what is true.
All Montessori classrooms incorporate art, music, dance, and creative drama throughout the ages and curriculum. Imagination plays a central role, as children explore how the natural world works, visualize other cultures and ancient civilizations, and search for creative solutions to real-life problems.
Can parents do Montessori at home with their children?
Yes, Montessori principles are easily incorporated into home life. Many of the Montessori approaches are directly applicable to the development of your child at home.
Children need a sense of belonging, and they get it by participating fully in the routines of everyday life. The Montessori approach strives to create independent children who are able to of themselves and their environment. Providing opportunities for independence is the surest way to build your child’s self-esteem and to build the skills needed for life-long learning. As a parent, you can find ways for your child to participate at home for example meal preparation, cleaning, gardening, caring for clothes, shoes, and toys. This builds a child’s self-esteem and their willingness to participate as a meaningful member in the life of the family at home and school.
Can children from Montessori schools be accepted into any elementary/high school (e.g. local Chinese elementary schools, American-style junior high schools)?
Yes. A Montessori environment naturally fosters inner discipline, self-motivation, love of learning and a sense of order, the skills necessary for successful learning. These skills accompany them throughout their academic journey in any environment. A child’s first educational experiences affect the type of learner they will be throughout their lives.
Montessori children usually adjust readily to new classroom situations. This is because they have developed a high degree of self-discipline and independence in their Montessori environments. Also, children have a high degree of adaptability and can assimilate into and accommodate different situations, including sitting at desks arranged in rows.
MSB offers a strong academic program and expects the children to meet the high academic standards. Our curriculum fully meets the requirements of national curricula and allows students to go well beyond grade level in many subjects. This strong academic base gives students a great start as they later transition into traditional schools or return to their home countries.
Are Montessori children successful later in life?
Success in today’s world is not only measured by grades and degrees. Strong study and work habits, self-motivation, independent thinking and excellent communication skills are essential for academic and career success and are an integral part of MSB’s Montessori based education. At MSB we are laying the groundwork for future innovators and leaders by teaching the children to be Independent thinkers, problem solvers and team players from an early age.
On the Barbara Walters ABC-TV Special "The 10 Most Fascinating People Of 2004" Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of the popular Internet search engine Google.com, credited their years as Montessori students as a major factor behind their success. When Barbara Walters asked if the fact that their parents were college professors was a factor behind their success, they said no, that it was their going to a Montessori school where they learned to be self-directed and self-starters. They said that Montessori education allowed them to learn to think for themselves and gave them freedom to pursue their own interests.
It is quite an interesting collection of people throughout history who have gone to Montessori schools, sent their children to Montessori schools, or supported this method of education in one way or another. The short list includes: Alice Waters, Friedrich Hundertwasser, Julia Child, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud, Buckminster Fuller, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, John Holt, Ann Frank, the Dalai Lama, Jacqueline Kennedy, Prince William and Prince Harry, Yul Brynner, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Yo Yo Ma.
Photos courtesy of International Montessori School of Beijing