Maria Montessori is one of history's greatest educational thinkers. Among her many significant observations is to - in all regards - follow the child. This doesn't mean just doing whatever the child wants to do or literally walking around following the children. It means that we constantly need to be observing, debating, analyzing, and researching child development. We need to be aware of and interested in modern science just as Maria Montessori was in her time.
In other words, the Montessori Method is timeless. Our understanding of the child is not.
Meeting Progress with Progress
We humans are all still learning more and more about our little ones - and thus ourselves - every second that time passes on Earth. So in essence, what I'm referring to above is that "traditional" is constantly changing - evolving - just as humans are, and it is true with every subject area. Even history changes with modern perspectives and cultural awareness. As Montessorians, it is not our duty to stick to dogma just because it's the way things have always been done. We need to understand and believe in why we are doing them.
Maria Montessori was a system bucker herself! She was constantly challenging convention. She wanted us to look deeply within our hearts to truly see the child, and we can only do that if we are aware of our own child raising traditions and we are challenging them often in order to come to a deeper understanding of our practice.
There are many, many interpretations of Montessori's work, but if you want to understand Montessori education on the deepest level, there's no better place to look than in a copy of one of Maria Montessori's own books. If you are wondering what real, authentic Montessori "looks like", I encourage you to pick up that copy of The Secret of Childhood or The Absorbent Mind and study it. I don't think I've ever read a more insightful commentary on the nature of and future of humanity.
That's where you'll find authentic Montessori.
Montessori traditions are always evolving as new generations of Montessorians discover the method, but the real deal, what Maria Montessori herself actually believed, is blessedly preserved for all of us to meditate on.
To come completely clean, here are a few popular interpretations of Montessori education that many people see as "traditional Montessori" that I believe need to change in the Montessori community:
- The idea that newborns (or a child of any age for that matter) must be taught to sleep alone, apart from their parents - in order to develop independent sleep habits.
- The idea that extended breastfeeding - past 9 months - has no benefits.
- The idea that babywearing or carrying one's child once the child is able to walk automatically creates an unnatural dependence.
- The idea that a Montessori education begins and ends in the classroom and has no relevance for parents.
- The idea that one must be formally trained and certified in order to touch, use, and understand Montessori materials.
- The idea that all technology must be banned - because Maria Montessori did not have iPads in her classroom.
- The idea that Montessori cannot be fully implemented in the public sector, and if it is only partially implemented it must not worth the effort at all.
I'm not here to tell you that these ideas are all completely false. Every tradition has some good sense in the background! Yes, we want our children to eventually become independent beings. Yes, we want children to have lots of opportunities to move in order to develop their muscles. Yes, Montessori teacher training is important. Yes, too much technology and at the wrong age can be harmful. Yes, it's difficult to implement Montessori techniques into public school classrooms that are used to different methods.
These are things worth challenging so that we can decide if they are relevant for today's children, parents, and teachers. We don't know until we look at the research, and research is always giving new insight.
Everyone is entitled to have their own interpretation on how Montessori works in practice. Just because I have my own does not mean that I do not respect the opinions of others.
Instead of becoming a Montessorian in order to do what Montessori did, for me, becoming a Montessorian means aspiring to live as Montessori lived -- with a deep admiration for the development of children and the desire to constantly re-evaluate preconceived notions about the nature of humanity.