Social and Emotional Learning

Bursting the Montessori Bubble

“At what point do you burst the Montessori bubble?” a friend recently asked.  She has two young children in Montessori, but is considering enrolling them in a traditional private school after they finish Primary.

My first thought (as a former Montessori child and current parent and teacher) was, Why would you want to burst it?

Why leave Montessori if you don’t have to?Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 8.20.05 PM

But my friend is not alone in her concern: many parents feel that Montessori shelters children from tests, grades, and competition.  Based on their own childhoods, these parents believe that only a conventional approach to education can provide the tough experiences that will prepare children to be successful when faced with the hardships of real life.

Finding myself at a loss for a coherent answer, I posed the question to pediatric neuropsychologist and Montessori parent Dr. Steve Hughes over dinner.  He looked at me from behind his glasses for a moment, and then asked:

“Which is the real bubble?”

His question was all the answer I needed.

Because the truth is, success in life is not built on a foundation of standardized tests, but on the freedom to make difficult choices and experience their consequences.

Success in life is not built on grades and percentages, but on self-awareness and self-improvement.

Success in life is not built on artificial competition among same-aged peers, but on genuine collaboration between generations.

Success in life is not built on cheating the system, but on having the wisdom and courage to transform it.

In Dr. Maria Montessori’s words…

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?… The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future.  If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities.” 

Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Science, Social and Emotional Learning

Letting the Child Lead the Way

You might be familiar with the idea that children learn best when they are following their interests.  But you might not know that by “following the child”, you’re also helping them develop executive functions: skills like impulse control, delayed gratification, problem-solving, strategizing and concentrating, which are much bigger determinants for success in life than IQ.

I recently attended a talk by Dr. Steven Hughes, where he focused on the development in childhood of executive functions.  I learned that when a person engages in work that challenges them, satisfies them, and gives them a sense of purpose, their brain produces just the right amount of a hormone called dopamine, which is responsible for managing drive and motivation, and regulating executive functions.  This explains why children rarely misbehave or make bad decisions while doing productive self-chosen work.

I did a little more research after his talk and discovered that boredom is related to a lowered production of dopamine, which explains why most children have to be bribed to do uninspiring school work (receiving bribes increase dopamine, but also leads to a bribe addiction because the motivation isn’t coming from within the child).  It also explains why children act out when they’re bored at school; they are not producing enough dopamine to remain in control of their behavior!!

Meanwhile, even low levels of stress (like those caused by threats, assessments, and externally-imposed deadlines) lead to a dopamine flood that shuts down the prefrontal cortex – the rational part of the brain that regulates executive functions.

In other words, when we pull the child away from his self-chosen explorations and force him to do the work that WE thinks is beneficial for him, along with killing his love of learning, we are also impairing the development of his executive functions. 

So, please, it’s time to start listening to Dr. Montessori and to modern science.  Let’s stop thinking we know what’s best for the children and start allowing their creative and productive energies to lead the way.  Are you ready to follow the child?  I know I am.

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How School Should Be

I must admit I have mixed feelings about Trevor Eissler’s newest video.  I find the first half   a little harsh and melodramatic (and hey, I’m clearly not a fan of traditional education).  Some public and private schools are making an effort to think outside the box and buck the testing trend, and they’re having some success.

I also don’t understand the title of the video. Seems a bit over-the-top, as if saying that Montessori children are somehow “better” than children educated by other method.  Really, Montessori doesn’t need this kind of elitist image…

I do think that many parents and educators need to be woken from their stupor, though, and if this is the way that we’re going to achieve that then Trevor gets my vote.  Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think!