Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is a Montessori classroom really social?

As a Montessori teacher I am often confronted by parents who “want to know!” more about Montessori.  The questions usually follow the same lines.  Is a Montessori classroom social?  Isn’t a Montessori classroom very structured, how can kids be kids if they aren’t interacting freely?  Does a Montessori classroom promote socialization or individualism?  With all the freedom in the classroom, isn’t the atmosphere too chaotic to allow for appropriate social interactions?  These questions, contradictory in nature, are frequently asked, and remind me that Montessori is a relatively unknown philosophy, especially in regard to socialization. 

In a Montessori classroom individuality comes first and through the discovery of oneself, the child discovers the magic of friendship.  A child entering a new environment must first feel safe before he/she can develop relationships with other children.  With the beginnings of these social interactions comes a respect for each other, the materials, and the environment.  A desire to take care of themselves, their classroom and their friendships is developed.  The social interactions amongst the children are healthy, imaginative and exciting.  A true Montessori classroom provides the tools for children to discover for themselves the joys of learning, both academically and socially.

Socialization is based on freedom and cannot be forced on anyone.  If someone was placed in an over-stimulating environment it might be detrimental to the socialization process.  When people cannot feel comfortable with themselves in foreign situations, they tend to alienate themselves. In the structured environment of a Montessori classroom, where children have liberty within limits, they feel secure and confident.  Within the boundaries of the classroom, children are free to discover themselves, their minds and their friends, safely.  They make solid friendships that they carry with them for a lifetime.

Socialization in large groups also occurs in the Montessori classroom. During circle time the children enjoy sharing special stories of their lives with their friends, while learning how to listen and respect what their friends have to share.  They enjoy singing and playing games with each other.  The playground offers a wider freedom where kids run and play, where imagination and discovery soars.
During my course of teaching, I have seen the socialization process form confident and independent young children who enjoy each others company but are not dependent upon it.  They strongly influence each other in a positive manner, taking on the role of teacher, assisting each other in all areas of the classroom.   In all of my years of teaching, there was one child who exemplifies the success of this process.

Julianne was new to Montessori, but not to early childcare.  In her prior experience she was labeled shy and was not provided with a nurturing environment that promoted her individual growth.  Her first two weeks at school were spent in virtual solitude.  Any approaches made towards her were gently but consistently rebuffed.  She spent all of her time discovering the carefully designed materials in the classroom and observing the class.  During line time, she remained mute and declined any attempts to include her in the activities.  Gradually, as she discovered her place in the classroom, her confidence began to flourish and she started to seek and cultivate relationships with her newfound friends.  Her comfort with teachers took longer.  She saw us as an intrusion to her peace and actively avoided any direct involvement.  Eventually, through observation, she became trusting of the adults and began initiating conversations, opening the door to communication and academic nurturing as well as socialization.  Julianne gradually discovered herself and her potential, and made the classroom her own. 

Before Julianne became socialized in the classroom, she became individualized.  Both of these qualities are in evidence in normalized adults and are considered assets.

As Julie Washington, parent, once stated “These Montessori kids are so social, but it is more than that.  Even at birthday parties, you can see that they really enjoy each other and know how to play together. Never before have I been to a kiddie party where the children are playing so beautifully that the parents can sit down and relax without having to interfere in the children’s play, or rather, their conflicts.  That is so nice to see.”

“A classroom in which all the children move about usefully, intelligently and voluntarily without committing any rough or rude act, would seem to me a classroom very well disciplined indeed.”  - - Maria Montessori.  The Montessori Method, p. 93
Joanne Shango is a certified Montessori Teacher and Mom with 20 years experience.

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