Can you describe the Montessori approach in 3 sentences?
Montessori is a method of teaching that focuses on the child as a whole, addressing children as individuals rather than age groups. Every child works at their own pace; they’re never pushed or pulled back. We respect their innate tendencies, and let them naturally gravitate towards them, so you see children of different age groups in the same classroom or activity group.
"We have no concept of passing or failing. If a child needs to repeat a class, it’s because it makes them more comfortable, not because they failed."
Why did you decide to start a Montessori nursery in Lebanon?
Growing up in England, I was a Montessori child myself and felt the difference as an adult. That was the departure point. The other factor is my interest in child psychology which examines the different stages of child development, and upon which the Montessori Method is based.
" Learning to count is equally important to learning how to pour water, or how to capture and follow a rhythm."
When did the first Montessori school open, and when did it become a recognized system and franchise?
In 2007 Montessori celebrated their 100 years. The first school opened nearly 110 years ago. The system started to become known during Maria’s lifetime as she went all over the world advocating it and opening schools. It only became a norm in the western world in the 70’s and 80’s though.
Is it possible to take the Montessori approach beyond the nursery stage and into the schooling stage?
Yes of course, it’s a method and ideology that can be adapted to all grades. But in reality this is rare because schools follow national curricula which are organized by age groups. This is contrary to our principles. We have no concept of passing or failing. If a child needs to repeat a class, it’s because it makes them more comfortable, not because they “failed”. This is essential to the idea of every child moving at their own pace. The few Montessori schools that have opened do adhere to national curricula but marry it with our approach. There’s a lot of Montessori educational material that extends to the elementary level, so this is not an area of concern.
What effect does the method have on children?
A Montessori room is an open space with different material in different areas of varying degrees of difficulty, and children choose where to be and what to do during classroom time. Children learn from each other better than they learn from adults- they see a fellow learning to count to ten and understand where this is going, in contrast to the traditional class approach where things are dictated to them. Our approach has great social and emotional consequences on the child, in addition to the pedagogic benefits of course. Maria Montessori noted that emotional development affects cognitive development and vice versa. In a Montessori environment, learning to count is equally important to learning how to pour water, or how to capture and follow a rhythm. Very early on in life, the children are building the skills that deal with all areas of life and we insist on giving them a comprehensive foundation. By choosing where to be, children never feel left out and this obviously affects their self-image and self-esteem. They learn to accept that they cannot be the best in all areas, and that they all have a set of strength areas that is unique to them; it’s a reflection of a real human society. While it takes adults a lifetime to accept the adage “it’s okay to be me”, Maria Montessori wanted to infuse it in children since a very young age. The sooner you’re comfortable with yourself, the sooner you can better yourself. In a Montessori classroom there is no competition, there are no rewards in the classic sense. Accomplishing the task at hand, finishing the puzzle for example, is the reward.
Is this the social “everyone is equal” direction typical to Scandinavia and Japan?
Not really. It’s more of an “I want to do better than what I did yesterday”- the constant striving to better oneself and excel within ones capabilities. Focusing on what people love to do is what eventually makes them successful- emotionally, socially, physically and by default probably financially as well.