Monday, June 7, 2010

Deliberations on Homeschooling with the Montessori Method

Eight months ago a wrote a post titled "Things I Don't Know and my Search for the Answers." In that post I complained about exposed some difficulties I have encountered in my attempt to homeschool the Montessori way. All of my difficulties stem from the same predicament: Montessori at home is different than Montessori at school. This difference creates questions for the homeschooling Montessori Mom that are difficult to answer. The majority of information available about Montessori is about Montessori as it exists in a Montessori school. Even if we went through traditional training and student teaching we would have many of the same questions because we would again be trained about how the method is applied in a school. What we need to know is precisely how the method differs when in is applied at home and what best practice is under those conditions.

I considered most of these questions to be unresolved until I read a message on the Yahoo! Group "Montessori Online". A mother, a former teacher like myself, who is already homeschooling a 5 year-old and one year-old recently discovered the Montessori method. She was wondering if it was possible to self-train or if she needed to become Montessori-certified through either a traditional or online course of study. Did she need to buy albums? She also wondered if Montessori was an all-or-nothing method of homeschooling, "Is it only worth doing if I do it all?"

These questions very similar to those I once had, and as I considered what I might say to her I realized that I had actually had (some) answers. I didn't respond to the Mom's questions because a brilliant response had already been written by Sharon Caldwell. If reading the question made me realize that I had found some answers reading Sharon's response made me realize I had also found peace and confidence in those answers.

Sharon is perhaps uniquely qualified to answer these types of questions because she was a traditional classroom teacher who later discovered Montessori, went through training while homeschooling her own children, and went on to teach in and found a Montessori school. You can read Sharon's bio here at the website of the organization she is involved with, The Montessori Foundation.

I wrote to Sharon and received her permission to re-publish her reply here on my blog. I find that I have a lot I want to say about some ideas that she was only able to touch upon briefly in her group message. Since her post was such a jumping-off point for me, I thought it was only appropriate to present it as a jumping-off point here as well. I am presenting her reply in its entirety so that her words can be taken in context at all times. If you are a Montessori Online group member and would like to see the message in context of the question and replies it is message number 21652.

Sharon Caldwell's reply:

You are asking valid questions. I was in your position 16 years ago and wish
that I had had someone to guide me. I took Montessori training while trying
to teach my sons (and opened a small school) and only with hindsight do I
realise how much I messed up - how many things I misunderstood, misapplied
etc. They have both turned out fine so it was not a disaster and with no
other alternatives would probably do the same again.

The Montessori Foundation has been looking at ways of supporting mothers in
your situation ... but it is complex. You simply cannot create a fully
Montessori School environment in a home, and a Montessori Home is
different from a
Montessori School. Maria Montessori did not design any
program or method specifically for home-schooling and you can't simply
transfer the principles of the school to the home as the home environment
lacks many of the essential components of the Montessori classroom. On the
other hand, you have other opportunities and possibilities to incorporate
the *principles* of Montessori at home. Unfortunately, what often happens is
that parents who homeschool inspired by Montessori tend to do far more
direct teaching than is really desirable (but ends up necessary in the
absence of the social grouping of the multi-age class) and spend an
inordinate amount of time making materials - far more time than the children
will spend using them - because it is almost impossible (in the high
adult-child situation) to get the level of interest, repetition and thus
concentration you would get in a Montessori classroom. This is a simple
reality. The Montessori approach works the way it does simply because it is
an integrated approach - all the facets work together.

Another challenge is the ages of your children. What age are you going to
study? Are you going to take a Toddler training so you can best support your
one year old? Or do you take 3 - 6 to be ready? Do you take elementary
training at the same time to support your 5 year old who is moving into the
second plane? These are important issues to address.

I would not suggest you simply buy a series of albums. There are some really
good albums and lesson videos available for free on the internet (although
separating the good from the downright dangerous could be a challenge if you
don't know what to look for.) The thing you will be needing most is a good
understanding of the philosophical principles which underpin the approach
and support in adapting those to your particular situation.

All of the above does not mean, however, that you do not do those parts you
can. Some Montessori is better than no Montessori.

Having said the above - the Montessori Foundation recently began offering an
overview of Montessori to non-Montessori trained heads, a course which I
could easily adapt to make applicable to a homeschool situation. This would
not be a teacher certification, but a much shorter, quicker overview of
those factors which would be important to understand in a home situation,
but could allow for looking at aspects that relate to your children where
they are now. I am interested to know how much support there might be for
such a program. I am thinking of something that is quite intensive for about
12 - 15 weeks, focussing mainly on method and theory as it can be applied to
home and giving guidance on the full age range 0 - 12 with access to a
support network/forum and file sharing resource and mentor support on an
ongoing basis for a nominal monthly subscription.
Anyone interested in such a program - please contact me directly.

Sharon Caldwell
Montessori Foundation and IMC Representative: Africa
Editor: Montessori Leadership and Montessori Leadership Online
Instructional Guide: Montessori Leadership Institutes

In the following weeks I plan to publish a series of posts that I have been working on that come back to Sharon's words. Some of the topics include: the advantages and disadvantages of Montessori in the home, downplaying our disadvantages, capitalizing on our advantages, the unique dynamic between "teacher" and "student" at home, what a Montessori training program for a homeschooling mom might look like, the best Montessori language approach for in the home, and whether to buy albums. At the same time I know I have some other promised posts lingering, and did I mention our house is for sale? Yikes. I have been thinking about all of this for a couple of months and dragging my feet on getting started because it is kind of "heavy." However, as I find myself responding to comments, commenting on other blogs and returning e-mails I keep coming back to these same topics. I have come to the conclusion that it would be prudent to just finish writing the posts so I can link instead of writing individual lengthy discourses.

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  1. This is exactly what I'm wanting to know. I'm very new to Montessori and don't know if I'll ever be able to find an appropriate school (we're not looking yet as my child is still quite young). So I'm hoping to integrate Montessori principles into a homeschooling approach until/unless I can find a school we like.

    What is Sharon Caldwell's contact info? I'd be very interested in a program like that if I could do it via email or ichat or something similar.

  2. I am curious to know, with all the experience behind you, and all the thoughts you already have put into this, are you still considering following this course given by Sharon Caldwell?
    Thanks for this follow up post. As you know, I am also working on this in my reading and preparing. Canno wait to read the rest!

  3. Bileen,

    You can contact Sharon through the The Montessori Foundation link provided in the post :)

  4. Neptune,

    No, It will be the subject of one of my posts, but I won't be. The course she was referring to is an overview course of Montessori philosophy for people like public school principals who have a Montessori K-5 being started in their school. Sharon's point is that the most important thing is to be grounded in the philosophy. I feel that having read all or nearly all of Maria Montessori's books and every other book about Montessori I could find I am already past most of what I could find there. It would be a good option for a parent who hasn't done that though and needs some direction to learn well. If you are a good self-directed learner I think you might get more out of simply reading and watching whatever you can. What I find most interesting is that they are interested in developing a course that would be complete Montessori training specifically for homeschooling parents.

  5. I've just stumbled upon your blog and have really enjoyed reading some of your posts. Our oldest attended a Montessori school for preschool and kindergarten. We're still deciding for next year. I do many activities with him and our younge two and completely see your point. I'm looking forward to reading more.

  6. Oooh! Your upcoming posts sound fantastic! Can't wait to read them!

  7. I am eagerly awaiting the rest of your posts on this subject matter. As you know from my blog I don't do pure Montessori. I find that it is hard sometimes to motivate Bear to want to do a Montessori activity, yet I know in a class setting seeing the other children choosing certain works, she would be choosing them too. Her Montessori work is much too Mommy directed. I know this, but at the same time, my interaction with her throughout an activity is what keeps her interested since there aren't other children for her to see using a work. It's a constant dilemmna and some days I tell her, "You know, if you were in a real Montessori school (she's visited one) the directress wouldn't be sitting next to you like Mommy is. She would be watching from afar." So occasionally Bear will tell me, "In a real Montessori school the teacher be far away. You go do work Mommy. I finish alone."

    I love your blog,. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  8. I'll be waiting eargerly for your posts. I'd still say I am pretty green with Montessori and have struggled with many being just getting my kids to actually do any work as opposed to lying around on the floor and 'fluffing about'.

    It does sound interesting and I think there is a definite need for something for homeschool parents. :)

  9. I'v been wondering whether you might ever write a book about about Montessori in the home. All of the books I've read on the topic seem to be missing something. I've wondered if it was because they were all written by trained teachers who taught in schools, then at home, so by the time they got to that point, they took some things for granted.

    In the mean time, I look forward to your posts. I'm also interested to see what Sharon's program for homeschoolers will look like.

    It took me two years to figure out that I had been going about things all wrong and I misunderstood the theory and the methods. I found the most useful thing was to read Montessori herself, try to understand what she was trying to accomplish, then find my own ways to apply that with my family. I think it's going to look different in every family because of pre-established family dynamics and personalities. It also helps to watch/read a lot of different versions of the pressentations, I think.

    In the beginning, Montessori did what came naturally to her. I think that may be one reason it worked so well.

  10. Looking forward to reading your future posts. I'm at a point where I need to read/understand more about THE MONTESSORI PHILOSOPHY.
    Many Thanks for the iniciative.

  11. Thank you for this interesting and thought-provoking post.

    Something I often think about is that Montessori's ideas were developed through her work with poor children, and most of the children taught using her methods today come from almost opposite backgrounds. I wouldn't say that this means her methods don't apply - but I do find it a little ironic that we worry so much about the "disadvantages" our children have with such nurturing home environments. I know that there are disadvantages, but I guess I'm trying to say that when you take a step back it's easy to see the advantages as well.

  12. I can't wait to read more! Thanks so much for sharing!

  13. I am enrolled in the Montessori Foundation course and cannot recommend it highly enough. With or without Montessori training, it has plenty to offer and the flexible timeline means that when life gets in the way you can have extra time. Meeting participants from around the world has been fantastic and having direct access to all the staff at the Montessori Foundation makes it worth every penny. I encourage anyone who is interested in the proposed course for Montessori homeschoolers contacts Sharon as this would be an invaluable resource for anyone considering homeschooling as a viable and realistic option for their family.

  14. You may be interested in this discussion, which also addresses support and education for Montessori homeschoolers:

    I read your blog regularly and look forward to reading your upcoming posts on this topic! Thanks!

  15. I'm an ex 3-6 teacher but new to homeschooling 6-9 (he's just leaving public school at 9) and I would agree that it's hard to apply what you know form the classroom at home. What is so important is understanding what was intended by any of the materials or their uses and then using that understanding to seek similar learning at home.

    I agree an introductory course would be very beneficial. Being trained in 3-6 and there being little to 6-9 classes where I live I really have very little idea how to 'do' 6-9 so I keep going back to principles.

    I view Montessori Homeschooling as a partnership between parent and child with less standing back than I would do in the classroom. I feel it is important for my son to see me learning as a model for his learning and so I try to sit down and do my learning alongside him. Sometimes it's doing my university (I'm studying by distance) and sometimes it's just learning about a topic I'm interested in in the same suite of topics he's exploring at the moment.

    For example, I didn't learn much about the Big Bang when I studied science in school, it wasn't a well developed teachable theory at the time. Right now we're doing the Great Lesson 'The Story of Time' and so I'm enjoying the chance to fill gaps in in my knowledge too. Anyhow, all that to say - your homeschooled child will have a lot less chances to learn from peers, so you need to be their peer too.

  16. My oldest (6) attends a Montessori school. She attended a traditional childcare center during the baby/preschool years. We've always done Montessori "lessons" in the home to enhance learning. We are doing the same thing now with the 2 year old (very gently) as we prepare her to enter Montessori school later at age 5, just as our oldest did. I found it to work wonderfully (creating an environment) in the home and she was able to transition very smoothly. I read several books on Montessori, including her hands books and feel that I have a fairly strong understanding in the philosophy. I would be interested in hearing more of your thoughts.