Independent and stress-free

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Independent and stress-free

SET IT RIGHT The Montessori method does not believe in  emphasising the wrong. It is the teacher’s job to identify the reason behind a mistake . PIC BY AUTHOR.Sonal Bhatia educates us on how the Montessori method helps children learn concepts naturally

 “Understanding a concept is like a gift box, from which insights emerge like pleasant surprises,” says Aparna of the Indian Institute for Montessori Studies (IIMS). “That is what a child feels, working with developmental materials.”

Indeed, at the workshop held jointly by Sutradhar and IIMS, surprises emerged for the teachers present.

So, teachers were told that education should meet the needs of the child — and not the requirements of the school syllabus for a particular year. “Think of the child as a worker — a being who wants to learn and grow,” Aparna explains. “For the first two years, consider how much effort the child has put into growing. Right from learning to breathe, kick, eat, walk, talk... the child has done it all. If that process could continue naturally to adolescence, learning would be stress-free and actually fun!”

The Montessori method takes into account the child’s past achievements, current needs and future requirements.  These are identified by recognising ‘sensitive periods’ of development, and creating materials to match those periods with the subjects that should be learnt.

“Sensitive periods were first noticed in caterpillars,” explains Gautami of IIMS. “Caterpillars who have just emerged from the egg have delicate mouth parts. They then develop sensitivity to light, which helps them move to the tips of branches where the most tender leaves are. As their mouth parts develop and can eat tough leaves, the sensitivity to light disappears.”

Similarly, with human children, there is sensitivity to order, sensitivity to precision, and so on. A school environment which caters to these needs is an environment where a child learns independently, where the reward for learning is internal — eliminating the need for external disciplining or punishment.

Take, for example, the need for precision. If a child is told, “He has more chocolates than you have,” the child immediately asks, “How many more?” This leads to learning arithmetic — counting, comparing, addition and subtraction, and, ultimately, the decimal system. Materials like beads, number-rods and blocks help make these concepts concrete.

“It is important for the body to do what the mind needs to learn,” emphasises Gautami.  “If you need the child to differentiate sounds in language, start with ‘sound boxes’.  Fill boxes or tins with different objects and let the child rattle them. The child has to match those which sound the same. This makes the child sensitive to nuances in sound.” As a child cannot intellectualise a concept, the idea needs to be made concrete, so that the senses act as scouts for the mind.

When the child sees, hears and touches, the mind can make connections and move to the abstract. If you start with the abstract instead, it involves going against nature, and could lead to impediments in learning. For example, a child who starts by writing the numbers from 1 to 100 in his notebook is probably not associating these with quantities or counting, they are just meaningless symbols on a page, making the subject of Math boring or scary.

What, then, is the role of the teacher?

“The teacher becomes a guide and an observer,” says Aparna. “A guide shows the child how material is to be used, a silent observer who watches the child’s progress.”  Immediately, the question arises — ‘What about mistakes? What if the child gets an answer wrong?’ Well, according to the Montessori method, it is wrong to use the word ‘wrong’! The teacher needs to watch carefully, and identify the reason for the mistake. Then she helps the child re-trace steps to the point where he can correct the mistake himself. The child repeats the process as many times as he wishes to, with minimal interference.

The process of learning can be compared to cooking — making upma, for instance. To make upma, you need: ingredients, a recipe, a stove, vessels, some space, and some freedom. If you have your mother-in-law breathing down your neck, telling you that you are putting too little oil, too much salt, cooking for too long, and so on, chances are you won’t want to make upma again! You need to make the dish yourself a few times till you ‘perfect’ it.

This translates into tools, training, environment, freedom and time to assimilate concepts.  The child works at his or her own pace, not according to a set time-table. “Freedom comes with limitations, of course,” says Shahnaz of IIMS. “The child has to use the material appropriately, and may not disturb other children.” Montessori teachers model the behaviour they expect from their students. Instead of yelling, they model speaking in soft tones.

Students are allowed to talk and share their learning experience. Given the right lesson at the right time, with the right purpose and in the right manner, any child can enjoy the gift of true learning!

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