‘Childhood has shown me that all humanity is one.” Maria Montessori
Thirty-one years ago, world leaders made a historic commitment to the world’s children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international agreement on childhood.
It’s become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children’s lives around the world.
The Rights of the Child according to the United Nations, are the right to life, health, education, play, family life, to protection from violence, to express themselves, to not be discriminated against and to have their voices hear.
The rights of the child are something that sits at the heart of the Montessori approach.
Throughout her life, Maria Montessori championed the rights of the child on a global scale.
In her book Education and Peace, Montessori wrote that “the child, that forgotten citizen, must be appreciated in accordance with his true value. His rights as a human being who shapes all of mankind must become sacred.”
She understood that childhood and education would influence the leaders and citizens of the future. In 1947 she wrote to all governments saying: “childhood has shown me that all humanity is one” and “the child is the forgotten citizen, and yet, if statesmen and educationalists once came to realise the terrific force that is in childhood . . . I feel they would give it priority above everything else. All problems of humanity depend on man himself; if man is disregarded in his construction, the problems will never be solved.”
We truly believe that Montessori is an excellent option for children. Beyond that, we believe the philosophy has the power to change the world. Montessori was an advocate for peace, equality, and respect for human beings, no matter their age or abilities.
Maria Montessori’s earliest work cantered on children who were marginalized by the society they lived in. She believed that lifting up all members of a society was best for everyone. Today, the vast majority of Montessori schools across the globe are independent schools, leaving access to this important model generally limited to those who can afford it.
What can we do to ensure Montessori is available for everyone? The search for a solution is ongoing, but the journey is a critical one that we must continue to work toward.
How It All Began
At the onset of the twentieth century, a newly graduated Dr. Montessori was put in charge of the Orthophrenic School in Rome. Prior to her arrival, the children who lived there were essentially tucked away from the rest of society in a dull and unstimulating environment. Physicians today may have diagnosed these children with learning disabilities, autism, or other disabilities that caused them to present slightly outside what was considered ‘acceptable’ at the time. These disabilities were not understood, so the solution was to simply send the children away.
Montessori and her colleagues would not accept the environment as it was left to them. They quickly began observing the children, learning more about their needs, and developing activities and materials that helped develop and nurture the senses as well as teach valuable practical life skills. The children soon learned to master activities such as preparing their own meals, and eventually moved on to academic pursuits within the school. After some time, many of these children were able to perform as well as ‘typical’ students on standardised tests.
Shortly after her time at the Orthophrenic School, Montessori was called upon to begin a school in a low-income neighborhood in Rome. The resident parents of young children had to work long days, and since the children were too young to attend grade school, they were left to fend for themselves at home. This resulted in general disruption and chaos, so the manager of an apartment complex thought a primary school could be the answer.
Casa dei Bambini was established in 1907. Once again, Dr. Montessori set to creating materials and lessons that supported the development of the children’s senses and practical life skills. This soon expanded to math, language, and other subject areas. She found it critical to meet with the children’s mothers on a regular basis, so that they may be informed about the learning that was taking place.
It quickly became apparent that not only was this education a positive experience for the children, it was having a profoundly positive impact on the families, and in turn, the entire neighbourhood.
Montessori is for ALL children
Today, the positive impact of Maria Montessori on the rights of the child, can be observed in every Montessori environment around the world.
We believe that Montessori education is a great fit for so many children, and that includes children with exceptional needs.
Whether a child has a learning disability, has difficulties with focus and attention, has sensory needs, is an accelerated learner, or many other areas of need, Montessori could be the perfect learning environment.
The inherent nature of this style of education caters to each child as an individual. This means that no matter how your child learns, Montessori will meet them where they are.
Montessori environments, teachers, and even the curriculum are incredibly flexible. At the same time, the structure of these classrooms gives kids with exceptional needs to organisation they often require.
Perhaps the greatest benefit is that this approach helps children cultivate internal confidence. They will experience success and the experience alone will be their reward. Children will learn to recognise their own unique needs, and they will be given the skills to advocate for themselves.
Any parent considering Montessori for their child is sure to have lots of questions. Perhaps one of the most prominent is: “Is this the best setting for my child?” Parents of exceptional children have specific learning needs to consider. Montessori schools can be an excellent option for many kids.
General Points to Keep in Mind
Montessori teachers are trained to differentiate learning for each individual child. Children work at their own pace. Many families find that accommodations listed on IEP documents are an easy fit in a Montessori classroom, or they may already be a natural part of the daily structure – for all students.
All children learn at their own pace. When a child has trouble processing information in some way, they need teachers who will work with their strengths and support them where they need it most.
One of the benefits of the multi-age classroom (as is found in Montessori schools) is that a child never has to feel left behind. With a wider range of ages and abilities, your child will never feel the pressure of sticking with the group. A single student can enjoy advanced math work and also get targeted lessons in reading if that’s where they need more support. Chances are, they’ll have a classmate to work alongside who will be doing the same thing.
As a bonus, most Montessori materials are self-correcting, so a child knows immediately if they’ve made a mistake without teacher intervention. This allows them the chance to work through their problems and find solutions independently.
Most lessons are given individually in the primary level, and either individually or in small groups at the elementary level, so your child is guaranteed to receive the personalised instruction they need to feel successful.
Most children who have trouble with focus and attention just have a different style of learning. Many children need to incorporate movement breaks into their day. Some need guided structure. Both of these opportunities are available to all children in Montessori classrooms.
Physical and movement breaks are inherent in Montessori schools. When a child has the freedom to work independently, they get to decide when they complete a work and are ready to move onto the next. This gives them a chance to listen to what their bodies need and respond accordingly. Many Montessori classes have in-room gross motor opportunities, or direct access to the outdoors.
As children get older and academic expectations increase, Montessori teachers give students tools and strategies to manage their time and work. Many children rely on a work plan to give them direction throughout the work cycle while also allowing for a measure of free choice. This way, students feel empowered through their own decision-making while also feeling the comfort of a basic structure.
Various seating options are helpful for children with attention and focus issues as well, especially as a child gets older. Sometimes input from nearby peers can be distracting and having the option to sit independently for at least a portion of the work period is a great solution for many children. This is another area in which children in Montessori classrooms are able to figure out their own learning needs and adjust their day accordingly.
There are a wide variety of sensory needs in children. One important factor to consider is that sensory development starts in very young children. Maria Montessori recognised this over 100 years ago and worked to create a series of materials that helps children refine this development. One entire portion of the primary (ages 3-6) curriculum is called the ‘sensorial’ area. Children use materials that help them refine their use of the five senses: tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory.
Some children have other types of sensory needs. Students with proprioceptive needs will appreciate the ability to move around their classroom frequently, use different types of seating, and practice walking on a line as part of Montessori’s control of movement lessons.
For children with vestibular needs, Montessori’s walking the line activity will also be helpful. Many Montessori classrooms incorporate yoga, and while all the poses are helpful for kids, inversion poses are particularly helpful for children who crave certain types of sensory input.
Some children tend to understand concepts at a faster-than-typical rate. For these children, it is critical to find work that inspires them while also keeping it age appropriate. When Montessori teachers are trained, they learn about curriculum that goes several typical years beyond the level they plan to teach. They always have lessons ready for accelerated learners. This helps keep kids engaged and happy. Having a wide range of materials available is yet another benefit of the multi-age classroom.
Confidence is Key!
When children are made to feel successful at school, they feel good about themselves. While Montessori education doesn’t provide students with external rewards, it sets them up to learn and achieve their goals while respecting who they are as individuals. Gaining the confidence in themselves as learners is one of the greatest gifts, we can give a child, and it sets them up for a lifetime love of learning, regardless of how they navigate that process.
Every child has the right to an education that brings out their potential.