Many parents think of Montessori as being an excellent method of education during the preschool years. They then prepare to transition the child out of Montessori and into a traditional K12 school when the child is 5 years old. As an educator, I always help the parents and their children prepare for this next step. I do, however, think that the child should complete a full Montessori cycle. Want to know why?
The real potential of Montessori education is only unlocked when the child completes what Maria Montessori conceptualized as a plane of development.
So, what is a plane of development? The Montessori method is a multi-age and multi-dimensional education framework. It is perfect for the uncertainty that we step into as we grapple with a pandemic. The World Economic Forum talks about critical 21st century skills that go beyond memorization and extend to application and problem-solving abilities. A Montessori education offers an environment for children to develop these skills.
Montessori is Not Restricted to Preschool
Many of us understand Montessori as applying only to the preschool years but when Maria Montessori was in India, she proposed her idea of elementary Montessori, continuing even to the university level. The Montessori system is based on multi-age groupings of students rather than the traditional one-grade level per class. These environments result in peer-based learning that is rich and varied. Most Montessori schools define the levels in the following age groupings:
0 – 1.5 years : Infant
1.5 – 2.5 years : Toddler
2.5 – 6 years : Primary
6 – 12 years : Elementary
12 – 18 years : Erdkinder
The Montessori Cycle
Maria Montessori conceptualized the planes of development as four distinct periods of growth for her education program:
0 – 6 years
6 – 12 years
12 – 18 years
18 – 24 years
This is not a random grouping. Each plane of development is categorized by the diversity of cognitive, social and emotional growth of the child. Each plane is divided into sub-planes. (The crucial 0-6 year-old plane is divided into 0-3 and 3-6.) Completing each cycle unlocks the child’s potential to the fullest and makes him or her ready for the next stage of development.
These environments result in peer-based learning that is rich and varied. In our Montessori in North Dallas, we have seen such a cross-pollination of ideas and sensibilities because of the rich mixed-age program.
Take the example of children in the elementary Montessori level. They begin to understand social structures and find purpose in working together. They mature to higher-order academic and life skills, as well as imagination and reasoning, because of their foundation in the 0-6 age group. Many parents say this is the sole reason they decide to continue with the Montessori school beyond age five, even well into the higher grades.
The Leadership Year (Age 5-6)
Many parents enroll their children in a Montessori school when they are three, yet withdrawn them after completing only two years, at age five. When a child turns five in a Montessori classroom, it is an important year known as the “leadership year.” During the kindergarten year, children are given many responsibilities in which they learn how to get along with other students and be good leaders. The little children want to be like the older boys and girls, to do the things they do. However, if they leave at age five, they miss this opportunity to be the leaders, the age of self-confidence and readiness for the elementary level. It is the culminating year where academic learning and social competence come together.
Preparing for Advancement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)
Completing a full plane of development is important for many reasons. For example, in the math curriculum, children are introduced early to addition with large numbers with the aid of materials to grasp the concept of addition. Similar steps with Montessori materials spark their interest in subtraction, multiplication, and division. Science lessons include the study of botany, zoology, earth science, and the human body, providing the basic knowledge to be explored at a higher level in the elementary Montessori classroom. These basic concepts are crucial for subsequent math and STEM skills. If a child leaves at age 5, before these concepts are firmly in place, they miss the full benefit of that plane of development and the foundation is incomplete.
Teacher – Student Connection
Children in the Montessori school stay with the same teacher for an extended period of time. forming a strong unit. The Montessori teacher who has been with the children for two to three years knows each child well and is able to understand and assess his or her strengths and opportunities to move forward. The third year in a Montessori environment is truly a gift and certainly sets the child up for success, both in academics as well as social learning.
Sensitive Periods in Learning
Many parents argue that “children follow their natural course of development, wherever they may be.” Yes, they do. However, there is a difference in the way Montessori recognizes and works on these stages of development.
As a parent, have you ever noticed when your child is suddenly interested in reading or is able to recognize words on signs or is trying to categorize experiences and find meaning in them? For instance, a few children who are still working towards blending sounds will suddenly get it right. It’s like a light turned on! The student’s natural disposition towards learning suddenly comes to the fore as all the senses mature for a certain learning.
During sensitive periods, they exhibit great capacities because of all their intense work. The Montessori method and its many planned, designed, and carefully created activities all coalesce to encourage these sensitive periods in a child. In fact, Dr. Montessori designed her material to correspond with the sensitive periods in a child’s life. The primary school student, for instance, derives meaning in order and applies it. The elementary child is slowly moving to abstract thinking, and the materials reflect this transition. The adolescent is on a quest to understand himself or herself, and this is exactly what cosmic education does, which is to show a child his or her place in the world. All levels of growth from birth through adolescence have these sensitive periods which propel the child from one plane to the next.
Montessori Respects Each Child as a Global Citizen
I know many parents who have transitioned their children at age 5 from a Montessori school to a traditional school. As children who have mastered basic concepts at an early age and are self-motivated, steadfast learners, Montessori children do well everywhere. The just need time to adjust to the routine of the new environment. Parents do, however, wish they had continued in a Montessori school for a particular reason: Montessori respects each child’s individuality, and this really produces extraordinary results in the higher grades.
In a Montessori classroom, each child independently looks for stimuli from his or her environment. In careers, the workplace of the future requires self-direction, initiative and adaptability. Montessori children understand their sensitive periods and realize their capabilities with enthusiasm to work at their own pace. Five-year-old students, for instance, learn to run their classrooms and community.
Intellectual Capacity Gets Stretched to the Fullest
While children in a Montessori school learn basic concepts, their intellectual capacities get stretched to the fullest. While children in a kindergarten work with letters and numbers, Montessori children step further to immerse themselves in literature and build their mathematical minds with problem solving activities. In mathematics, Montessori children work on trinomial cubes, far more advanced work than in kindergarten. At an early age, they explore cultural geography with colorful maps rather than restricting themselves to coloring books. Through the study of land and water forms, and other geography topics, they learn about the continents and oceans of the world and the connection of societies.
The Montessori Teenager
Montessori also understands the teenager and his or her intense physical and social needs. Since the student’s intellectual capabilities have been stretched in adolescence, they now need physical work to channel their energies usefully. Children understand how life came into being, why they are in this world, and how to build relationships.
They learn to identify their strengths and work to expand their interests. They learn to use equipment to be better observers of nature. They explore cause and effect. They understand why they feel a certain way and navigate their emotions. They work in groups as well as independently.
Continuing Montessori Education
Any amount of Montessori education is better than no Montessori, but as an educator who has worked extensively with children of all age groups, I find that the Montessori environment, when extended beyond preschool, is invaluable and holistic education. I have seen children grow up in a Montessori classroom, delving deep into problems and analyzing solutions. They exercise their independence and become intelligent and empathetic individuals. For parents and teachers, it is truly rewarding to witness their journeys.
Our Montessori school in Frisco & Plano, Texas has seen children grow up in our environment, delving deep into problems and analyzing solutions. They exercise their independence and become intelligent and empathetic individuals. For parents and teachers, it is truly rewarding to witness their journeys.
What do you think about Montessori for early education? Let me know in the comments below.