How is Montessori Approach Different

This article is part of a video series with Sharon Rajan, a teacher at Montessori School, Bali. Sharon has over 3o years of experience teaching children 3-6 years in Montessori schools in the US and Canada.

Dr. Linnea: So how do you think Montessori is different in its approach in all of this?

Sharon: Well, I think partly, first of all, it’s not a teacher standing up in front of everybody and we’re all gonna do this now, and they’re not teacher directed. It’s very much following the child’s interest as we talked about, and basically, our philosophy is here’s the prepared environment to come in when you’re three, I’m going to show you some things that you can use, once I’ve shown you how to use it, you’re free to use it whenever you want to. And that’s basically our ground rules is you have to know, we have to show you the materials because…and the reason that we do that is because, first of all, they have to be ready for that particular material. But we show very specifically how to use a piece of material because each piece of material is scientifically designed, and it has a purpose. So when I present a piece of material to a child, I’m presenting it such that the objective of that material is clearly there for the child to be able to see and develop towards. So that’s a really important piece of it.

Dr. Linnea: How is Montessori difference in its approach with regards to respecting the time of the child and its development and what are the key differences?

Sharon: Right. So because the child is free to choose their activity…in this age group, we have a three-hour work cycle and that three-hour work cycle is very important. We try not to have any interruptions in that cycle. And that three hours has been…Dr. Montessori showed a chart of the flow of the work that can happen.

And you’ll see that a child will choose a work that’s comfortable, uncomfortable, uncomfortable, and all of a sudden, they’ll choose something that goes up like this. The way, they’re concentrating a bit more, or just inputting a little bit more and then comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort, and there’s this false fatigue, where they’re kind of, “Ugh…” And then they will choose this work that will be this kind of a spike where they’re so concentrated, and they’re so focused and they can sit there for half an hour and anything can go on around them, and then it’s done.

And they put it away and then they do this again, and they have a snack or they do something else, then that’s their processing time. And then we go outside and we play, and the day has flowed for that child the way it needs to. So it’s not a forced…

Dr. Linnea: It’s not about…

Sharon: There’s no time limits, you know, apart from if they’re disturbing somebody else or they’re damaging some of the material, otherwise, we don’t generally interrupt anything, as much as possible we don’t. I even say to the other children, “Please don’t go there because look, can you see this child is concentrating and really enjoying what they’re doing right now? Don’t interrupt them.” So even the children know that. You know, it has to be a really sacred time.

Also because for them to be able to go on to primary and secondary and all those things, if you can’t concentrate, you cannot input, right? So for me, that concentration is sacred, and I teach all. If you see that, you know, I know you wanna go and say something to them, but just give it a minute. Wait until they move or they look up, and that, you know, they’ve kind of broken out of that reverie that they’re in.

So important. And so it’s very much the flow of the child. And then as they progress through the materials, you know, my job is to sit back and watch. I gave a presentation and then I sit back and I watch, how did it go? Was there something they had difficulty with and was it because I didn’t present it properly? Or is there something they’re not understanding? And so I will just watch them and see how that develops, and they can have the time to develop through it. It’s not gonna be me going back and saying, “Okay, I’m gonna show you how to do that again because you didn’t get it.” I’m gonna encourage them to take it out again, and I’m gonna sit back and watch again. I’m also watching for what else are they interested in? Whose shoulder are they looking over, right? That’s my signal to say, “Okay, that child is really interested in that piece of activity. Let’s get them there. Let’s get them the steps that they need to get there.” So I’m very much following what their cycles are. And that, that’s how it should be.

Dr. Linnea: So I have two questions. One, for a mother who is, you know, like, has no time for anything and feels like the day’s too short to do anything, what can she actually bring home of these principles? Because then at home, she has to take care of the house, she has to take care of another child, she has to take care of herself, she has so many things to keep into consideration. So what’s a good balance between, you know, trying to bring these principles at home and surviving?

Sharon: Yes. Well, I think…and being happy. You know, having happy times with your children is so important, and I think that for me the difference came when I convinced my husband that we needed to set up our house. Like our living room was, you know, we would entertain, people would come and I said to him, you know, “We need to have a little shelf there where she has little activities that when people come over, if it’s all adults, she has her little thing, she can stay in the room with us but she has her things that she can go to take what she wants, come back, sit down,” and we would rotate and, you know, change the activities. And her room was very much set up the same way as well, where everything had its place. So there’s always this feeling of organized, yeah, organization…

Dr. Linnea: That you have to entertain them?

Sharon: Yeah. Then this way, you can be sitting with one of your other children, and you can say to this one, “Well, look, I see that puzzle is sitting there, why don’t you bring it over? Come sit next to us.” So you’re not necessarily engaging with this one, you’re engaging with this one, but this one can be close by and sometimes they just need to be near you. And the other thing too, I did a parent education afternoon once and I had a woman who was pregnant with her fourth child, and she actually fell asleep in the presentation because she was exhausted. She was like eight months along and she had three boys at home. Anyway, the one thing she said to me at the end of that day was she said, “The one thing that you said to me that really stuck with me is you said, “I don’t always have to be doing something with them.” I can read…

Dr. Linnea: I don’t have to entertain them?

Sharon: I have to entertain them. I can be in the same room as them, I can be doing my things and they can be doing theirs, right? So for her, she had been feeling that to be a good mother, she constantly had to engage with each of the boys. And here she is having her fourth and to think, “How do I do this? I can’t. I have a newborn coming. How do I continue to engage? I just can’t do it.” And so for her, that moment of me saying, “You don’t have to engage.” And see the thing is, the more you engage with them as well, if you’re constantly engaging with them and then you can’t, they can’t engage themselves. They’re stuck. And what we want to foster is independence. So we’re all in the same room, we’re all here together, I’m doing my thing, you’re doing your thing. You wanna be near me? Come sit near me and me and do it. You do yours and let me do mine. So it’s side by side as opposed to engaged.

Dr. Linnea: I think there’s a lot of pressure on mothers, and I hear this a lot from mothers around giving each child an equal amount of time or enough of their selves and there’s a lot of stress around that. So I think this is a response, right? You don’t necessarily have to think in terms of, “What should I do to develop their brain as much as possible?” Or you should just take the time to…

Sharon: Have the activities available that you are okay with and that help them in some way to foster their interest, and keep adding to that. And, you know, I mean, here it’s different but if you’re living in North America or Europe, the library is a great place. You go in and get a stack of books and take them home. There’s always a book to read, or there’s always a puzzle to do. There’s always something that can engage them and, you know, have lots of art materials around.

Dr. Linnea: Like what?

Sharon: Like, you know, we used to have…there was always elastic bands, popsicle sticks, and there was always a wall, and there was always glue, and there was always scissors, and there was always paper, and they could just create whatever they wanted to, you know, the guidelines were, “You know where everything is, when you’re done, you can put everything back.” And it wasn’t always perfect, and once in a while, I’d have to go in there and sort of sort through. But generally, there was order, and I didn’t have to engage in it because they knew, right? And they both went to Montessori school, so they knew, “This is the place for that when you’re finished with it, you put it back.” But if you develop that straight away, right, as soon as you’ve set up your environment, and you say, “Okay. We’re gonna go get this puzzle, come and let’s take this puzzle and when you’re finished with it, put it right back here. When you come in tomorrow after school, it’ll be right there. Everything is right there. Everything that you’ve taken and that you need is right there on that shelf. And okay, today, we’re changing everything on the shelves, let’s take everything off, I wanted to put new things on, and now, let’s look at it. Okay, that’s where that goes. That’s where that goes.” So there’s always this feeling of not control, but…what’s the word?

Dr. Linnea: Order.

Sharon: Comfort, order, right? Because this is one thing that children need, is order. And when they don’t have that, when you’re sort of saying, “Well, go in that closet, somewhere in there, there’s a bag in there that has glue sticks in it,” that’s hard for a child, right? Because there’s just too much. It’s too much information. But if you say, “Look on the shelf in that basket, there’s the glue sticks right there.” It’s there, it’s available to them, and as they develop, it doesn’t have to be as organized, in fact, when they get into the second plane, it’s gonna be a mess but they know what their mess is, right?

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Written by Dr. Linnea Passaler

A surgeon and mom of a three, all currently under the age of five, Dr. Linnea is MamaDoctor's founder. She believes healthy virtual spaces where people can share their honest concerns and get help from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, change lives for the better. She is an advocate for maternal mental health and wellbeing.