At Montessorium, we’re firm believers in opportunities that help children grow and accelerate their learning. We also think that technology can help augment that, in thoughtful and well-designed ways that a boutique app company like ours does. In total, our philosophy here is that we have an opportunity to follow the child and encourage them to pursue the “jobs” or occupations (including play and more structured learning) they wish and then guide them to growth in that work.
Last week, I ran across this New York Times piece about more rigor in preschools and got excited because it speaks to a couple of dimensions of Montessori – and similar educational philosophies like Reggio Emilia and Steiner-Waldorf – and also creates an opportunity for us to speak about what does and doesn’t constitute classroom learning in the Montessori environment.
The piece says, quite simply, that creating environments where Pre-K children learn valuable skills such as writing, reading, and math is necessary and completely unstructured free play may not provide the same benefit as dedicated “work time.” That dedicated work time, sometimes upwards of half of the day or more in the Montessori classroom, is the place where we can both follow the child and create rigorous learning environments that position our children for success beyond Pre-K education.
Some food for thought:
- The Montessori classroom is engineered to have a limited number of activities, all of which have an identified academic and social benefit. This “work” in the Montessori classroom – numbers, letters, or cleaning – build essential skills that produce real outcomes. It’s rigor, but it’s guided by what the child wishes to do at the time and metered by the child’s interest, engagement, and mastery.
- The Montessori classroom is not “free play” but it relies on freedom. Here is a critical distinction from the “black and white” thinking (e.g. “Free Play or Flashcards”) in the New York Times piece. The child in the Montessori classroom is guided, given a clean and simple environment to navigate, then gravitates to work that helps them grow. Montessori guides facilitate that growth.
- The key intersection between Montessori education and the rigor of “flash cards” is that children facilitate their learning rather than being forced to sit for a “flash card” or similar learning time. Teachers and older children serve as mentors and assistants and the rigor and learning are emergent rather than prescribed. That emergence is what fosters the child’s interest in growth and mastery on their own. The child is more likely to be intrinsically motivated to learn rather than externally “driven” to learn.
In addition to the classroom – and again as someone who believes that good technology time can be augmentative and good for the child – encouraging children to learn with great apps that encourage mastery and intrinsic motivation can extend the classroom. A topic for another time, but well in alignment with the ideas from the Times piece.
What are you thoughts about free play vs. flash cards? Is it one or the other, or are approaches to Pre-K education like Montessori classrooms successfully threading the needle between “free play” and “flash cards?”
About the Author
Bill Anderson is a father of 4 who shares his experiences about parenting and life with Guidepost Parent.
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