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Montessori Kids Become Self-directed, Confident Adults

Here is an article I wrote two years ago. If you haven’t read it, you might enjoy the insights provided by Montessori alum.

Montessori Lifers by Aimee Allen

Fourteen years ago I was teaching in an Upper Elementary Montessori classroom at the Elementary Workshop (EW) in Wilmington, Delaware. The children in my classroom who were nine- twelve years old are now in their early to mid-twenties! I am still in contact with several of my former students. What strikes me about each of these young people is their consistency of character. The things that I loved about them fourteen years ago are still part of their personalities today. When they were my students they were always willing to pitch in, to help others and frankly they all loved to sit around and chat. This too, has remained the same. In fact six of these students have agreed to share their thoughts on Montessori and how their education continues to influence who they are today. I also included our own HMS alum, Parker Olive. Though Parker is younger than the rest of the crew, his insight and his direct link to Harbor Montessori seemed like a good fit for this article. They had so many great thoughts, it was hard to choose which to include. Though each contributor had unique things to say, there seemed several common threads. Four major themes seemed to consistently appear in their responses:

1. Lifelong Learner

2. Self-directed/self-paced learning

3. Sense of Community

4. Understanding/appreciating diversity

1. Lifelong Learner

I tell people all the time how awesome Montessori school is! The first thing that comes to mind was how hands on our materials were. I found that once I moved to a more traditional school, and then into college, the ability to approach problems in multiple dimensions really helped. I am now a graphic design student, and I build a lot of 3D work (package design, exhibits, storefronts, etc) and getting that hands on education early gave me the ability to look at something flat and see it 3 dimensionally and vice-versa. –Caroline, Syracuse University Student

I love to learn and really dig into a topic, and stick with it until I am ready to move on. I don’t like to view learning as a check list. I can remember in high school not wanting to leave English because I was excited about what we were learning. I loved my next class, but I just wanted to do it later:). –Dana, Academic and Career Advisor

While many people hate learning, the fact that I know it’s ok to take my time to learn something, and learn it right, makes me love to learn. I don’t mind taking extra time on something I don’t understand, because I know that understanding will come, and once it does, I’ll remember it better because of the work I put into it! –Joel, AV/Event/Tech Services at The Family Center of Gap Pennsylvania

Because we had the influence of two teachers in any given classroom, I always felt bolstered by the adults around me. One of the most important things I took with me beyond EW was the fact that I’d had allies on my educational journey. The one-on-one interactions I had with my teachers bolstered me as I made the move to middle school, then on to high school and college. –Maja, Gallery Assistant at Robert Klein Gallery, Boston

Montessori education instilled an innate curiosity and a desire to learn everything that I possibly can. I do not see learning as a chore but rather as a pleasure and a luxury. We were always encouraged to learn the details about a subject but then had to take that information and integrate it into a more holistic understanding. The ability to look at a subject in different ways and to then take that knowledge and make it useful is a remarkable lesson. My mom always said that when she put us in EW that what she wanted was to have three very curious children and she definitely got her wish! –Mary Nash graduate student at University of Delaware

The independence of Montessori teaching offered me the chance to be excited about learning. I was able to take subjects in my own hands and learn them on my own level, and appreciate aspects of each topic that I enjoyed. My desire to learn was nurtured to grow rather than forced to follow one strict path. –Witt musician and recent graduate of Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA

2. Self Directed Learner

The biggest thing that I learned is independence and a “self-teaching” style, which has been a phenomenal asset at work. My boss knows that he can give me a task to do, and if I don’t know how to do it, I’ll teach myself to do it using the resources I have, he doesn’t have to take time out of his busy schedule to teach me, and I know that’s something he appreciates.–Joel

Another skill that has stuck with me is time management and timing my work. Because we learned at our pace in Montessori school, we knew when to push forward and learn more, or when to spend a bit more time on things we do not understand right away. –Caroline

I was a slow-start learner when it came to reading. Today I love reading, am a fast and good reader; however, at 3rd grade I got pulled out of class for tutoring. That never defined me. I have always wondered if I would have been a different person socially if I had been in public schools-where I would have been put in separate classes, or the “lower” reading groups or such. I know 8-year-olds today who know what reading/math level they are, and they judge each other on that. That doesn’t happen in Montessori, your work is the only work that matters. –Dana

The one-on-one time spent in my life at Montessori was also an instrumental part of my educational experience in elementary school. I really struggled at a young age with learning. Rather than being held back because the rest of the class was moving along, I was able to work individually with my teachers to work through my obstacles and eventually catch up and in some cases pass my peers. It also instilled in me a sense of what a teacher truly does, rather than be seen as an authoritative figure. I, as an individual, felt important enough in this person’s life that she would sit down with me and help me through something that I found difficult, rather than sending me to another room to work with someone else because I wasn’t able to “catch up” on my own. –Witt

What I liked about Montessori as a child was the ability to be able to choose what I was going to work on (for the most part) instead of being forced to do certain things at times. When I got into elementary and had to do a work plan, it added a little more structure while still retaining that feeling of freedom of choice. Now that I am in high school I think I’ve learned to organize my time better so that I can prioritize the work that I need to do and get it all done on time. –Parker, senior at Tacoma School of the Arts

3. Community

I actually did a short stint as a board member at EW and got to see things from the ‘other side’, so to speak. What struck me most was how much love and care people bring to the school. Every parent, student, teacher, and board member committed themselves to making it a better place. Whether you are a primary class student, a parent with a high-paying job, or a single mother working to support your children, everyone is treated equally and everyone is expected to give the same amount of time and effort to keep the school going. Each person had his or her assigned duty for that day or week. I remember cleaning the classroom at the end of every day. As children, it was just a fun game, but looking back it is pretty amazing how everyone involved in the school came together to help out. Cleaning the school is just an example, but placing that level of accountability on each individual taught us all how to be good citizens and stewards of the world. It wasn’t until I became a working adult that I realized how essential that example was to my own personal development. Learning to be a good member of a community and the importance of working together have been two life lessons that I have come to cherish. –Mary Nash

Collaboration between peers is perhaps the most important thing Montessori taught me. Knowing how to work in a group, ask for help, or give it is a valuable skill to have. As a college student, so much of my work is dependent on working with others. I am also part of an improv troupe at school, and I don’t think I would be very good at it if I didn’t have as many hours of social work time as a kid. –Caroline

It’s difficult to articulate how completely Montessori influenced my life. I learned respect for the natural world during our many trips to the Ashland Nature Center and Cape Henlopen State Park. I credit my perspective on political and social issues to the emphasis my teachers placed on learning geography and valuing the contributions of peoples around the world. I seek balance in my work and personal life because my Montessori school taught me how to take care of myself. –Maja

The essence and importance of community was such an emphasis in each class room. From relationships with each other as peers, with our teachers, and also the materials in the class room really made me feel included in a larger family, rather than a stiff, hierarchical atmosphere. You learned to trust your class mates, your teachers, and that everyone should pull together to get things done. –Witt

I liked how they gave us freedom and responsibility. Like freedom to get up and go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, or choose where we wanted to do our work. We also had responsibilities in the classroom and around the school like watering plants, taking out the recycle, or raking leaves. I think that having those kinds of responsibilities made us take more pride in our classroom and school and have a little bit more respect for it and not want to abuse the freedoms. –Parker

The other thing I noticed about Montessori and appreciate now that I am older; is being in the classroom with different grades. We also have this at my high school and I can see how it was helpful to have the juniors and seniors helping me out when I was a sophomore. Now that I am a senior, I’m helping sophomores and juniors. I can see how kids helping kids can have a different kind of benefit than just being helped by a teacher since they are more at their level. –Parker

4. Appreciating Diversity

One area that had a HUGE impact on me was the diversity of our school. We learned about all sorts of different religious holidays, customs, and cultures. Our friends and teachers were from different neighborhoods, countries, religious background, and orientations. I can remember the first time I heard MLK’s voice in a tape recording of “I have a dream” (I still get goose bumps when I hear it). I could write a lot about this topic and diversity of our school’s affect on me. Simply, it influenced how I viewed people, what I choose to get involved with, what I studied in school, and what my undergraduate thesis was on. I still draw on that today in my community, at my job, and in my graduate school decision making process. –Dana

The last (though, arguable most important) thing has been a sense and exposure to community and diversity, and being accepting and embracing people’s differences. The work we do at The Family Center is about bringing the community together, and being “people serving people”, so we are people from all different economic levels, and different belief, and different lifestyles. And the idea that these people might be less than me never crosses my mind, and I think a lot of that has to do with the experience we had with all the different people at EW. –Joel

Whether your child is three or thirteen, the Montessori Education you have chosen for them is a gift. Not only is it helping them be the best person they can be today, it is setting them up to be happy, successful, appreciative, well-adjusted adults. I’ll leave you with a quote that Maja had written when she responded to my inquiry, “What happens when kids don’t dread going to the place where they spend much of their waking lives? Beautiful, beautiful things.”

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