Big Rock School Montessori Education: Focus on The Whole Child

Dr. Maria Montessori

…we all see the benefits when we respect the developmental needs of the whole child and teach thinking on different levels as opposed to simply swallow facts for later regurgitation…

I was tickled to read the student comments regarding their experience in Big Rock School’s Montessori program. (http://gatewaygazette.ca/montessori-according-to-the-kids-in-big-rock-montessori/). Maria Montessori herself felt that education should be a liberating experience, not a limiting or confining one. It appears 100 years later, students at Big Rock School are realizing what she had envisioned based on their comments. They are not the only ones who benefit from such an enriched learning environment: Indeed, we all see the benefits when we respect the developmental needs of the whole child and teach thinking on different levels as opposed to simply swallow facts for later regurgitation.

Dr. Montessori was a physician and educator who understood that children learn best when placed in an environment that meets their physical, emotional, social, and intellectual needs. This by definition requires flexibility in instruction, which is sadly lacking in our neo-traditional instructional models of today that emphasizes a one-size-fits-all approach that is more centered on tech than teaching. The Montessori approach has been modified and refined over the years, and has fallen in and out of favor among educators for varied reasons.

…it is refreshing to see an alternate program available to parents who want something different and for children who are not suited to learn ‘in the box’…

From my own perspective and experience, that is, as a student of child development who practices developmental optometry, it appears Dr. Montessori was on the right track regardless of the fickle nature of educational theorists. I’d written recently about the need for an education counter-revolution to correct some relatively recent changes in school priorities, and to overwrite some antiquated ideas around what children need to succeed. FSD38, like most other school divisions in Alberta, falls short when it comes to meeting the needs of the whole child in the classroom, so it is refreshing to see an alternate program available to parents who want something different and for children who are not suited to learn ‘in the box’. A more inclusive education is much preferred to taping kids mouths, or tying them down, or ‘quiet rooms’ where kids are forced into isolation when they are in distress, or drugs to keep them still.

Imagine the child who is not ‘designed’ to succeed in a ‘sit down and read’ environment, and there are many out there. Many have basic vision impediments and the schools for their part are disinterested in addressing these and are happy to ignore the problem, even when shown the problem exists. When, inevitably, the child struggles because they do not fit in the learning ‘box’, we call this learning disability or attention deficit, instead of taking a critical glance at how we teach. As one pediatrician told me with a grin, ‘Oh, we can get those kids to be still alright’, referring to the use of medication. This strictly medicalized view of child behavior gave me the chills and reminded me of the bad old days of psychiatry, or the management of prison populations through drugs and food additives. Dr. Montessori would also shudder at the current state of ‘child incarceration’ in our schools and the quick resolution of complex issues by calling behaviour problems ‘diseases’.

In Dr. Montessori’s own words, “And here, in the case of education, shall man place the yoke upon a man? The principle of slavery still pervades pedagogy, and, therefore, the same principle pervades the school. I need only give one proof – the stationary desks and chairs. It behooves us to think of what may happen to the spirit of the child who is condemned to grow in condition so artificial that his very bones may become deformed (that is, sitting at a desk, hunched over). The moral degradation of the slave is, above all things, the weight that opposes the progress of humanity – humanity striving to rises and held back by this great burden.” (From ‘The Montessori Method’, Maria Montessori). It seems extreme to refer to the learning environment as ‘slavery’, but I can appreciate her perspective; perhaps it is not far off the mark when we realize we are forcing children to conform to a very limited instructional model, then punish or medicate when they ‘don’t fit’.

I’ve seen too many cases of ‘learning disabled’ children who simply struggled with difficult vision in a reading-based classroom to know we can do better for them and their families. Montessori instruction goes a long way to making school much more accessible even to these children.

Dr. Montessori continues, “We know only too well the sorry spectacle of the teacher who, in the ordinary schoolroom, must pour certain cut and dried facts into the heads of the scholars. In order to succeed in this barren task, she finds it necessary to discipline her pupils into immobility and to force their attention. Prizes and punishments are ever-ready and efficient aids to the master who must force into given attitude of mind and body those who are condemned to be his listeners.” Indeed, it is not so much the teacher who is the culprit, but a school system that requires him to follow certain narrow parameters in instruction. Rather than liberate, our traditional model of instruction limits outcomes and discourages creative thought while marginalizing an ever-increasing number of children.

Big Rock’s foray into alternative instruction is a hopeful sign and should be applauded and supported. Parents of young children should strongly consider the Montessori option for reasons too numerous to fully elaborate in one short blog post.

Big Rock’s foray into alternative instruction is a hopeful sign and should be applauded and supported. Parents of young children should strongly consider the Montessori option for reasons too numerous to fully elaborate in one short blog post. FSD38 for its part is taking a chance with their meager Montessori beginnings, but it a gamble worth taking; this sort of programming is much more likely to answer the needs of the whole child, is arguably much more interesting, and leads to better thinkers than the current industrial standard.

This ‘real life’ approach to instruction is also much more sound scientifically as it acknowledges the physical needs of children where the reading-based instructional model does not, especially where children have visual impediments. We can only hope that this basic wisdom takes hold and we see a more inclusive education for more children in more schools.

This ‘real life’ approach to instruction is also much more sound scientifically as it acknowledges the physical needs of children where the reading-based instructional model does not, especially where children have visual impediments. I’ve seen too many cases of ‘learning disabled’ children who simply struggled with difficult vision in a reading-based classroom to know we can do better for them and their families. Montessori instruction goes a long way to making school much more accessible even to these children. We can only hope that this basic wisdom takes hold and we see a more inclusive education for more children in more schools.

For more information regarding registration for the Montessori program, contact:

Big Rock School, 33 Hunters Gate, Okotoks. 403-938-6666.

http://bigrock.fsd38.ab.ca

Director of Early Learning. Cathy Bonnaventure. 403-652-6513.

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