Montessori: Taking Ownership

Since making the decision to home school my children, currently ages one and three, I have been researching various methods of home schooling.  Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share with you some of the benefits I’ve seen in each of those methods.  If you are considering home schooling, this may help you decide where to start.  If you are already home schooling, this may provide you with some ideas to enhance what’s working well for you or re-work something that’s been a struggle.  To see all posts in this series, please click the tag “home schooling methods.”

One of the most famous — perhaps infamous — aspects of the Montessori method is the “follow the child” philosophy.  Much maligned by traditionalists who imagine child-led learning as akin to letting your kid do whatever he feels like doing (in the case of my kid, that would probably mean watching the “Elmo’s Ocean” episode of Sesame Street on a loop for a week and a half), allowing a child’s education to follow his interests is actually a very sound approach.  It gets right at the heart of one of my deepest frustrations with school.

Kids think school is pointless.

All over America at this very moment, kids are sitting in classrooms being told things.  Many are things they have neither the interest to pursue nor the context to understand.  Daily, kids are asking their teachers and parents, “Why do we have to learn this??”  More often then not, nobody has a good answer for them.  Sometimes parents are openly vocal about their opinion that kids don’t need to learn things.  I’ve got one student in my Algebra class who was just bragging the other day about his dad’s “awesome” beer koozie that declares: “Yet another day goes by and I haven’t used Algebra.”  One of my fifth graders was struggling with fraction operations recently, and as I tried to discuss options with his parents, dad replied, “Well, once you learn about decimals, you realize fractions are a f-ing waste of time anyway.”  Thanks for the support, dad.

I teach Catholic school, remember?  So when this stuff happens to me, I just try to imagine what parents are up to at the public schools.

There is an epidemic in this generation of kids taking absolutely zero responsibility for their own education.  They think knowledge is something that their teacher is supposed to hand them, and if they don’t understand it, they 1) blame the teacher and 2) don’t pursue it anymore because it didn’t matter to them in the first place.

I see Montessori’s child-led approach as the most sublime of answers to this problem that has me banging my head against walls daily.

We must teach our children how to learn — how to independently explore the world and seek knowledge.  It is lovely when they look to us for guidance, but we cannot train them to rely on us.  In the same way that we want them to dress themselves and feed themselves, we have got to let them have a role in shaping their own education.  This doesn’t mean they get to watch Sesame Street all day any more than saying we let them feed themselves means they get to eat cookies at every meal.  In the same way that we set nutritious food in front of them, we have to surround them with opportunities to pursue those things that are intellectually nutritious and then encourage and support them in their interests.  That is following the child.

P.S.  Fractions rule.

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