From toddlers to teens, the Montessori way
The founder of the world’s first Montessori farm school for adolescents graced a symposium on Montessori pedagogy recently at the College of Education, University of the Philippines Diliman.
Dr. David Kahn, whose Hershey Montessori School farm campus in Ohio is Exhibit A for the erdkinder (“children of the land”) program, shared his expertise with local Montessori school administrators, teachers, parents and teacher education students during the “Montessori, from Infancy to Adolescence and the K-to-12 Program” symposium.
The education method bequeathed to the world by Italian visionary Maria Montessori focuses on a prepared environment chock-full of learning materials that inspire self-directed learning for toddlers and tweeners. Montessori schools have multi-age classrooms and give neither tests nor grades.
“Let us see how we can be assisted to be more discriminating and how we can determine whether an institution is truly Montessori,” said College of Education dean Rosario Alonzo at the symposium’s opening.
Toward that goal, Chris Barrameda, an engineer who later gave his full time to running The Abba’s Orchard Montessori School System (eight schools) he founded with his wife Ann, talked about the learner-centered education philosophy, its core principles, prepared environments and planes of development.
“There is a lot of misconceptions about Montessori education—it’s only for special learners, it’s only for preschoolers, the students are too free to do what they want to do, there’s too little academics,” said Barrameda.
He belied the bad press by citing recent studies that found Montessori children did better in executive functions, were more socially adept and more likely to engage in positive play.
Barrameda also acquainted the audience with the creative group in the United States that journalist Peter Sims has christened “Montessori Mafia” in a Wall Street Journal story. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, SimCity video game creator Will Wright and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have credited their early Montessori education for their being self-motivated and their lack of fear in bucking the norm and taking risks.
Ann Barrameda, Montessori-trained and herself a trainer of teachers, talked about the prepared environment for young learners.
“It must be clean, well-lit, well-ventilated, fit for the child’s size, and with ample space for movement that is necessary for development and for meaningful work, cooperation and collaboration,” she said.
In 1996, according to Kahn, all legacy trainers (those who trained under Maria Montessori directly) came up with a general definition of the adolescent. Although they look like they want to have a good time and even try to experiment with what they’re seeking, he said, adolescents are fundamentally serious.
“I’ve worked with teenagers and I’ve found they are no exception when it comes to asking the same big questions,” Kahn said. “What am I here for? What am I good at? Who am I in relation to human society? Where do I fit in this society? How can I serve the other members of this society?”
Kahn said Montessori’s positive psychology—joy, selflessness, optimism, confidence, dignity, self-discipline, independence, cooperation with others—are all noble characteristics that teenagers have and can experience more intensely.
Kahn used the phrase “social newborns” for adolescents.
“How do we deal with social newborns? They want to experience moving into adulthood, into society. They have a compelling drive that had never been addressed educationally,” he said.
If Maria Montessori had given children the world-famous casa, she gave the adolescents their own optimal engaging environment and it is outside the classroom.
She gave the adolescents the farm, according to Kahn. “But a farm school is not about farming. It is a place for you to think about the past and the future. The farm is a place that is physical. It involves a small society, a social group where needs are being met. We have an entrepreneurial, economic operation on a farm. There is energy, air, water, land, plants, animals which constitute nature. And there’s a human community.”
On a farm, Kahn noted, teenagers learn about something else that is important in today’s world—sustainability.
“Every aspect of knowledge is on the farm. It’s a teaching machine,” Kahn said.
The challenges on a farm increase and get tougher as the operation gets bigger. Such challenges feed the adolescent’s need for social energy. “Otherwise, teenagers become lethargic.” Hence, the general impression that the teenage years are a difficult, rebellious time.
In the absence of a farm, adolescents could be taught to work with their hands, heads and hearts in a natural park. “Convert it into a new forest,” Kahn suggested.
Kahn showed pictures of Montessori farm campuses from all over the world, of which there are about 500 now. He ended with a video of the Barramedas’ farm school in the 4-hectare La Granja Estate in Bukidnon.
“Something really dynamic is going on there,” Kahn said. “I am astounded. They have accomplished something that no other school in the world has done.”
Reacting to the talks, Dr. Chiqui Suarez of the UP College of Education, said she was inspired by what she saw and heard about the Montessori farm school. The Montessori method has withstood the test of time and cut across generations, she said.
Dr. Elizabeth Ventura of the UP Department of Psychology suggested a partnership between the Department of Education (DepEd) and Montessori inasmuch as the goals of the K-12 reform program are to implement a curriculum that is learner-centered and developmentally appropriate.
DepEd’s Jesus Mateo, assistant secretary for planning, gave a snapshot of the K-12 basic education reform.
Mateo said that K-12 is not adding two years to basic education. In the new curriculum, learning is interrelated.
Through the spiral progression approach to teaching, he said, the K-12 program aims to make learners “ready for trabaho, negosyo o kolehiyo.”
To some extent, he said, some of the Montessori principles have been embedded in the K-12 program.
“I’m happy to report to you that we have started with the kinder classrooms,” Mateo said, referring to the department’s partnership with Agapp Foundation.
“Agapp classrooms are comparable to the Montessori casa where children teach themselves through learning materials and are lively, engaged and self-motivated,” Mateo said.
The challenge, according to him, is in equipping the public schools with Montessori materials, given budget constraints. Another challenge would have to be posed to teacher education institutions like the UP College of Education.
“We should no longer look at the teacher as the fountain of knowledge,” he said.
According to Kahn, the Montessori method has a collective heritage of 22,000 schools all over the world.
The Abba’s Orchard Montessori offers infants program, casa program (3-6 years old), elementary (6-12) and erdkinder (12-18) at the following sites: Blue Ridge, Quezon City; McKinley Hill, Taguig City; Vista City, Las Piñas City; Cebu City; Davao City; Cagayan de Oro City; La Granja Estates, Bukidnon; and Antipolo City. Visit www.theabbasorchard.com.