Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Educating children through the Montessori method

(This article was originally published by Sun Star Cebu on May 16, 2005)

By J.C. Kintanar, Ph.D.

While a lot of people have heard about the Montessori method of educating children, not too many fully understand what it is. In an interview made by Barbara Walters in the ABC-TV Special "The Most Fascinating People of 2004," the two founders of very popular Internet search engine Google.com, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, admitted that their Montessori education was an important factor in their success.

Montessori education "has allowed them to learn to think for themselves and gave them freedom to pursue their own interests." Since then, a lot of televiewers started to get curious about Montessori education. What is it?

Dr. Maria Montessori, the first Italian lady physician, established her revolutionary method of teaching in 1907. Taking full advantage of the child's innate desire to learn, her approach was based on scientific observations of children from different countries and cultures.

She observed that children have an "absorbent mind" and thus, have the ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings "almost effortlessly," somewhat contrary to the traditional concept of a child being "tabula rasa" upon which knowledge is impressed. Much of the system of education-obtaining today, which emphasizes rote learning, spoonfeeding and teacher-oriented curriculum, derives from this view of the mind as being a blank tablet.

So, how does a Montessori school differ from a traditional school? Even a casual observer will notice a different classroom environment in which the rooms are divided into curriculum areas filled with instructional materials easily accessible to the pupils for them to manipulate and experiment on with much freedom. Most of these materials have built-in "control of error" features enabling the child to self-correct with little adult intervention.

In a Montessori school, the education of movement and of character comes before the education of the mind. Children are taught how to take care of themselves, their environment and each other. The child progresses at his own pace and rhythm.

Several studies in different countries have been conducted on the effects of Montessori education. Among the salient findings were: (a) Montessori children were more creative and kept things in order; (b) Children did better in mathematics when they used didactic materials; (c) The Montessori method is a favorable prerequisite for language development; (d) Children developed positive attitude towards school and learning; (e) Children concentrated and cooperated better than those without Montessori experience; (f) Montessori children were more independent.

The researchers concluded that the Montessori method of education has a positive long-term impact on children.

Today, there are more than 7,000 Montessori schools established worldwide. Most of the Montessori schools in the Philippines operate in Metro Manila. Not too many of these type of schools are in the Visayas and Mindanao, although many traditional schools have integrated some features of the Montessori education into their curriculum.

There is a common misconception that a Montessori school is for the elite. While the Montessori method is more demanding in terms of teacher-student ratio and instructional facilities, it need not be overly expensive in the Philippines where personnel cost is way below compared with the foreign counterpart. Many Montessori schools in the Philippines and Cebu, in particular, have a large base of middle-income families as their clientele.

For more information about the Montessori education, the following websites may be visited: www.montessori.org or www.montessori-ami.org or www.montessori.edu.

The writer, who is the president of the Association of Montessorians in Southern Philippines, will be pleased to receive inquiries about the subject matter at her office at Oneworld Montessori House on Salvador ext., Banawa, tel. nos. 253-3191 or 418-5552.

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