Montessori: Educating for the Future

Architect and mum-of-two Rosita Niknafs Foster trained as a Montessori teacher in London before moving to Edinburgh. Here, she delves into its history in Scotland and reveals what a Montessori education really means…

Scottish education is not without its innovators, so it is perhaps not surprisingthat two of the first Montessori demonstration schools were in Glasgow and Edinburgh from as early as the 1920’s. Eighty years ago, as the world teetered on the brink of the second world war, Dr Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was invited to Edinburgh to address those eager to hear about her theories of ‘peace education’.

As a physician, Dr Montessori’s passion for children sprang from helping those with special needs and the disadvantaged. The test-bed for her method was the “Casa dei Bambini” classroom on a workers’ estate in Rome in 1907. Unexpectedly, she found her young pupils were soon attaining at equal or higher levels than children in schools.

Dr Montessori continued to refine her ideas of how a responsive environment at an early age can affect the lifetime attainment of all children, not just those with special needs. Her method arose out of studying children themselves. “It has nothing to do with any educational method of the past… It stands alone as the contribution of the child himself.” Essentially, Montessori educators respond to each child’s natural drive to learn what they are ready for at a given stage, rather than taking them through a curriculum decided by administrators. It is in the truest sense, ‘child-led’.

But how can child-led education change the world? Look into a Montessori nursery and you will see tactile teaching aids laid out on shelving from which children are encouraged to choose based on their interest. All activities are sampled from a wide range of human knowledge and culture so that over time children build up an awareness of the interdependence of nature and human civilisation, and of themselves as people with agency. Dr Montessori calls this ‘education for peace’, arguing that a child whose sense of self is meaningfully linked with the real world is more likely to live a life that respects nature and other people.

It doesn’t stop there. Montessori classrooms typically group children in three-year age ranges, so they have plenty of opportunity to learn from older children, to develop empathy and caring for those slightly younger than themselves and to work together to serve as role models. When children choose their work, they always have plenty of motivation and develop deep concentration. Under these conditions children retain their in-born love of learning and gain valuable ‘soft skills’ for life. Perhaps because of this, the method is of great interest to anyone focussed on cultivating character.

Dr Montessori gained international attention because of the success of her first schools, a success that continues to be reinforced and driven forward by modern research to this day. The method enables every child to benefit even more when parents are on board. Today, Montessori education providers come in many forms and sizes. Specialist training is available through accredited organisations including the Montessori Partnership and Montessori Centre International. In Scotland, capacity is increasing with Mulberry Bush Forest School & Nature Kindergartens and West End Montessori in Glasgow; The Montessori Nursery School in Murrayfield; Edinburgh Montessori Arts School for children up to age 12 (with an 11-16 programme in the works); and the accessible classrooms of Montessori Mornings, where parents are guided to work with their child. The team behind Montessori Mornings are also planning to open a day nursery in central Edinburgh this summer.

For parents, Dr Montessori had special messages. First, value children’s play, which is the essential work of childhood. Allow time and space for purposeful play and prevent interruptions to a child who is concentrating. Second, give children activities (not necessarily toys) that reflect the real world and prepare them for a role in society. Finally, “Help me do it by myself.” Prepare your home so children can do things for themselves and build in time for practicing. Even tiny children derive a huge boost of confidence from putting on their own clothes, pouring themselves a drink and wiping up spills, and they are usually more capable than we expect. These are counsels which all of us with small children can bring into our daily lives, and for those who want to delve deeper there are numerous websites and parent trainings available. Although not all children can attend a Montessori setting, every child (and every parent) can benefit from the Montessori approach to the extent that the environment is prepared – physically and emotionally – for the child.

Montessori Nursery School: A Hidden Gem

The Montessori Nursery School is the best kept secret in Edinburgh! Located close to the city centre, in beautiful, leafyMurrayfield, this hidden gem has been providing outstanding Montessori education for 27 years. They offer a warm,engaging and happy learning environment for children aged two-and-a-half-years to six.

Children can explore their own interests as well as choose from a range of sensorial, practical, cultural, language and maths activities, all beautifully presented in their indoor and outdoor classrooms. Curious young minds are nurtured, inspired andgently guided by highly qualified and experienced staff. With a focus on developing skills at the right pace for each individual child, teachers help build confidence, focus and resilience that is of lifelong benefit.

Daily outside free-play is an important part of the day and includes regular outings to nearby woodland and riverside areas. Drama, music, cooking and nature activities, as well as opportunities in French and Spanish, are seamlessly woven into the children’s daily experiences.

Their parent testimonials are a tribute to the high level of care, compassion and community that families experience. Visit themontessorinurseryschool.com for more information.

Montessori Teens Hub: Coming Soon to Edinburgh

The EMAS Foundation is working to develop a Montessori Teens Hub; developing personal, community and academic growth, as teens strive to answer the questions, ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is society?’ and ‘What is my role in the future of society?’.

Adolescence is a time of great change andreflection upon one’s own place in society is akey driver for this age group. Teens are learning to reason, plan ahead, understand analogies and construct metaphors. It is vitally important to engage young people authentically and deeply, so they may discover and share their passions.

The EMAS Foundation invites teens, teens-to-be and their respective adults to join them in exploring the possibilities of a new learning place. A Hub where discovery and experience are seeded by interest-driven studies. Utilising Montessori’s educational philosophy, teens are supported by specialist guides. Learning for REAL life; now.

Join the conversation: 2pm Friday March 22 @ Edinburgh Montessori Arts School. For more information email: development@emasfoundation.co.uk

Montessori Partnership: Building on Children’s Ability to Learn By Themselves

Just think! Everything children experience physically and emotionally from birth to six is indelibly imprinted on their developing minds and personalities. It determines who they will become. Pre-school children build their own brain power unconsciously and they teach themselves.

These three facts are central to how the Montessori approach understands children’s development and education. It builds on their innate ability to learn by themselves, but equips teachers, parents and carers to understand the developmental processes involved, in order to help realise this immense learning potential in the best way, and at the right time, for each child.

Whether you’re at the beginning of your baby’s path through education; wondering how to give an older child additional support;or looking for a different way toteach, check out what Montessorihas to offer.

Chat to the team on Tel: 01620 861 733 or visit the website montessoripartnership.com for information about courses and workshops.

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