Montessori and Social Development

Montessori explains that first we must consider the child from the point of view of love. She reminds us that the child has no control over and does not care in what condition of life he is born- only that she is born into a loving environment. The needs of the child quickly move from a foundation of love into a need for a supportive social environment. When the child enters school she is introduced to new people and rituals that do not belong to her family. She adapts her actions to suit the new needs of this social environment and slowly builds up her personality, gradually acquiring special characteristics that are both a mixture of genetics and her environment. Within this prepared environment she learns to be a member of a community, finish an activity (and prepare it for someone else’s use), offer help to friends when it is needed and show respect for those who are concentrating on a material. The child is also given opportunities to show sympathy and understanding for others. The guides in the Montessori classroom help children tap into the innate love humans’ posses and share that love within their community.

“As he grows, he should not limit his life to the family around him, but find an environment which is always growing wider and wider.”- Maria Montessori

Through extensive observation, Montessori discerned that children within the first plane, birth to age six are working on the development of their entire being. Scientific research now supports that the personality is almost wholly developed by age 6. The quality of the social development that takes place during this crucial period has strong implications on how children will work later in groups such as families, the workplace and community members. Any group is only as strong as the individual members.

The Montessori principles present within our classrooms help hone the necessary skills children will need to be productive members of their communities as adults. Montessori classrooms for younger ages consist of many children so that they learn how to get along with others, respect the rights of others, and to share the materials within their environment. The mixed ages present in the classroom is another way that children are naturally prepared for a healthy social life. Exposure to different personalities and levels of experience models the tasks adults are faced with in real life and naturally teach the children flexibility and acceptance. Let’s look at this concept of the mixed ages a bit deeper and examine its’ importance. The possibilities for a deeper relationship can grow when a child get’s the opportunity to see the adult working with older children. The younger child is exposed to a plethora of exciting lessons and material that would not be present in a classroom of only his or her age group. What some skeptics may not realize is that the child is effortlessly absorbing information, simply by being in the social environment. Even if a younger child in the Primary classroom did not touch a lesson in a full day- they are in awe of the work and social cohesion unfolding around them, and absorbing this information through the work of the absorbent mind. As chidlren move out of the first plane of development, the conscious collaboration between mixed ages can take place. On all levels of Montessori education, it is the indirect learning that occurs among children that is the beauty of having mixed ages in one classroom. The younger children are given models for more mature behavior. The older children are given opportunities to develop their potential for leadership and social responsibility. This not only helps socially but academically as well. Montessori believed and insisted that young children must be in a community of others to develop to their full potential.

Traditional schooling often overlooks the development of the personality in order to focus on academics or to ‘teach to the test’. Human development is the result of an unconscious creative activity of the individual, and this process is possible only in the association with others, in a social setting. What Maria Montessori discovered is that both academic successes depend greatly upon giving children the freedom to allow their personality to unfold naturally. If, for instance, an extremely social child is in a constant state of ‘trouble’ in their classroom for behavior that is a natural part of their personality, it will be impossible for that child to excel academically. If we support the child socially she will develop trust, gratitude, respect and confidence that will help her excel both academically and socially.

A positive tie between teacher and child, exhibiting a foundation of mutual respect must provide the basis for a child’s education. For this reason Montessori called her style of education a technique of love. When adults interfere in the development of a child’s social life, we tend to make mistakes. When given a good model for communication, children can solve their problems, and gain valuable practice in conflict resolution and acceptance. Montessori educators act as ‘guides’ to the children and observe conflict closely so we can step in to help resolve issues when help is completely necessary. This kind of conflict resolution among the children can be an amazing thing to witness. Often, the children have unique solutions that are greater that what the adult would have suggested. If the adults can step back a bit and let the children’s natural personalities unfold a wonderful community begins to emerge.

There are so many benefits to collaborative learning! I feel like this extends beyond academic learning but also improves the social climate of the classroom. Helping others can alleviate problems of insecurity and help children feel more connected. There is nothing that helps you learn more then teaching yourself!

By: Ashley Thome, Primary Lead