Competition in Montessori

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We thought we would take this opportunity to address the role that competition plays in Montessori. There's a misconception that Montessori students don't compete.

We think this is the farthest thing from the truth. Montessori students are fierce competitors. As a matter of fact, we think that, in many respects, they're more healthy competitors than those traditional students they're often compared against. Why? Because Montessori students compete with themselves. They're not trying to measure up to their peers. They're trying to meet, and then excede their own expectations.

Imagine, for instance, two students locked in a heated race to see who could achieve the results of an activity the fastest. The winner only needs to beat their opponent. They don't need to beat themselves. Our own personal best is what keeps us striving. Not to mention, in Montessori, no one has to fail in order for our students to succeed. Another way to say the same thing: Montessori students don't set each other up to fail. They set each other up to succeed!

A Walk Through a Montessori Classroom

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Let's take a walk through a Montessori classroom. Are you ready?

On any given day, at any given moment, you'll notice that no one in a Montessori classroom is doing the exact same thing. The only thing that they are doing the same, is following their own interests.

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You'll notice that a teacher isn't standing in front of the class, orchestrating the daily activities to a large group. Instead, our directresses are providing one-on-one presentations, specifically geared towards the individual abilities of the student. After all, no one is the same, and everyone, most certainly, learns at their own pace. 

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Our main task is to inspire the children to actively explore the environment, becoming their own teachers.They paint and draw, cut and sew, engaging in a plethora of different art activities. They're not instructed what to illustrate, or put to paper. Instead, that comes from within. They're developing their own imaginations, their own creative lines of flight, and no one knows better than them. Our job is to observe. To follow their interests.

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There are no heirarchies in a Montessori classroom. Students are always free to work in any part of the classroom that they please. They're not confined to a desk or table and chair. They don't need to raise their hands, and wait to be called upon. As a matter of fact, the classsrooms are mixed age, so everyone has the opportunity to learn from each other. 

Here, you'll notice that a few older students are working together, collaborating on a math activity. They formed a group spontaneously, having decided, collectively, to tackle this adventure with some friends. They don't compete with each other, they only compete with themselves. They're here to support one another, to help one another learn. There are no judgements, or giggles if someone makes a mistake. Mistakes, they understand, are part of the process.

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There are no heirarchies in a Montessori classroom. Students are always free to work in any part of the classroom that they please. They're not confined to a desk or table and chair. They don't need to raise their hands, and wait to be called upon. As a matter of fact, the classsrooms are mixed age, so everyone has the opportunity to learn from each other. 

Here, you'll notice that a few older students are working together, collaborating on a math activity. They formed a group spontaneously, having decided, collectively, to tackle this adventure with some friends. They don't compete with each other, they only compete with themselves. They're here to support one another, to help one another learn. There are no judgements, or giggles if someone makes a mistake. Mistakes, they understand, are part of the process.

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Why is Montessori so successful? Why does it work? Because the children are happy. They want to work. We have a saying at Baan Dek. Social success leads to academic success. Here's the trick, and our society treats it like a secret: Montessori students are doing exactly what they want to be doing, exactly when they want to be doing it. They're following their own interests...

Transitioning to Public School

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One of the most frequently asked questions that we receive, especially from prospective families, is: "How do Montessori students transition to public school?". We thought we would take this opportunity to address this question, identifying some of the misconceptions about Montessori, and also highlight want makes Montessori students so adaptable when they transition to new environments.

If there is one goal at Baan Dek, it is to help children to learn to think on their own: to invent their own questions, and find their own solutions. Bascially, to foster independence. Montessori famously said that conflicts with children arise, only when children start to think on their own. The problem, then, is not the children, but the way their inquisitive minds, accompanied by questions, are handled.

Montessori students learn to think, on their own accord, in their own capacities. They don't just take everything for granted. They want to understand what is at work. As independent individuals, they question what they're doing. Not in a disrespectful way, but in a thoughtful, meaningful way."Why do I need to raise my hand and be dismissed if I need to use the restroom?"

Socially, and academically, Montessori students are extremely adaptable to new situations. One of the strengths of Montessori is the focus on social success, prior to academic success. More precisely, academics is social in Montessori, so when our students transition to new environments they're prepared for new encounters.

Of course, each and every child and their family is entirely unique, so there is not one generic answer, but these are the tendencies that we have experienced. Our students, and Montessori students in general, adapt to new situations extremely well, primarily because they've learned how to think on their own. They know how to do things for themselves, as simple as hanging their own jacket.

Architecture Matters

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We've been thinking about architecture, and how it affects learning, for quite some time. Can architecture play a role in learning? What 'affects' can the building have on the ways in which we engage the world? These are tough questions, questions beyond the scope of this blog post, but we thought we would take a few minutes to articulate a few key points.

One of the fundamental tenets of the Montessori approach to education is aesthetic in nature. You'll notice that in Montessori schools, all of the materials are displayed, in an orderly and beautiful manner. They serve to seduce the children, prompting their curiosity and wonder. The materials are carefully positioned, so as not to dictate education, but to help support and foster a love of learning by enticing the student to discover them.

The Montessori classroom, otherwise known as the prepared environment, is always neat and well presented, conditioned on a principle of an architecture of learning. There's a simple reason for this: In Montessori, the aesthetics compliments and supports the pedagogy. One doesn't happen successfully without the other. But, what about architecture, as it applies to the building? What did Montessori think about architecture?

While not every school has the opportunity to implement a child-friendly architecture, we feel very fortunate to be able to put these ideas into practice. We consider ourselves very lucky, and we're looking to make the most of it. With our new building, we tried to always keep the perspective of the child in mind. One example, and we'll offer more in time, is that we created windows, just for children. You'll notice from the photo above that we've incorporated them at varying heights, allowing different amounts of light into the classroom.

Here, at Baan Dek, we want children to gaze upon the building. We want children to encounter architecture, to inquire as to why the windows are positioned at different heights, and why the light emanantes in the afternoon, as opposed to the morning. Architecture matters. Architecture can help children learn.

My First Week of School

One of the biggest concerns for prospective families is how their children will transition into the Montessori prepared environment. Will they be welcomed by their new friends? Will the Montessori guides take the time to meet with them, and care for them, especially if they need it? Basically, will their child have any difficulties entering the classroom.

We offer parents a number of tips to help encourage a smooth transition. Tips include talking posititively about school, driving by the new location, reminiscing about your time at school, etc. We also have a phasing in schedule, in which we recommend, depending on the child and their needs, that they start out only an hour for the first day, and progressively stay longer.

Transitions are always different, unique to each individual student, but the Montessori classroom has a wonderful way of accepting new faces: with care, generosity and interest. Last week, the student featured above, completed her first week of school. So many of her new friends offered to help, showing her around, asking her if she needed anything.

We have a phrase that we employ, and that so many Montessori schools have ingrained in their philosophy: "Believe in the child, and the child will believe in you." They'll feel comfortable. They'll feel welcomed. Said another way, "Trust the children, and they will trust you." Establishing trust often takes time, but transitions are always smoother when this is understood.