I first heard of Montessori when I was in high school. I made some close friends at that time who had gone to Montessori through their elementary years. One of my favorite quotes about Montessori education came from one of them– it was a friend who said he figured out at one point that his Montessori teachers had “tricked” him into learning!
That right there was one of the things that drew me to Montessori.
Learning and school have a bad rap in our society as being boring. And when you look at how school classrooms and most lesson plans are structured, it’s no wonder. Learning in school usually involves reading dull text books, filling out long worksheets, and listening to teachers lecture on subjects of their choosing (or, really, the district’s– teachers hardly even have any power over what they teach anymore). I’ve often read that it’s somewhere in 3rd grade that young children get over their excitement about school and start dreading it as the boring, brain-dulling experience it often is.
Instead, my friend had gone to a school where he “played” all day. He got to use interesting materials, work on projects that were interesting to him (like writing his own comic book series), and just have fun. Little did he know that all that time he had been learning stuff!
One of the main aspects that sets Montessori education apart from the traditional model is that it allows for the child to lead in his learning and discovery. Learning, through use of the materials and the child’s own imagination and work (as opposed to sitting in a chair and having someone else tell him everything), makes learning actually *gasp!* fun. And because of this, the desire to learn doesn’t get squashed the way it so often does in traditional schools. Instead, it is fostered and grows.
When learning is exciting and fun, it means kids (and adults) seek it out and even crave it. I remember when I was in school, the thought of reading “for fun” seemed so foreign, because I had to spend so much time reading things I didn’t like for school. If that’s your association with reading, who’s gonna want to spend any of their free time on it?
One of those former Montessori students I made friends with back in high school turned out to be the man I would eventually marry. And in many ways he is a classic example of a Montessori student. In high school he didn’t spend much effort on his classes because they were boring (he also was smart enough to not need to put that much work in and still do well… yes, I did resent this somewhat at the time). Yet he was still ravenous for knowledge. He would stay up all night reading books, on all sorts of topics. He basically just did his own independent studies outside of class. Free time is much shorter these days (especially since we had our first child about 2 years ago…) but he still spends a good bit of whatever free time he has on outside learning, and has a deep internal motivation for it that I myself (a student of traditional schooling) lack. I fully believe that his early Montessori education is at least partially responsible for his continued love of learning.
Education and knowledge are power. Societies, as a general trend, tend to improve as their populations become more knowledgeable and better educated. If you watch very young kids, they soak everything in and get so excited about learning new things. As we get older, that somehow fades away… and I think a lot of it is due to our education system. Imagine if all children could retain that love of learning, and bring it into their adult years. Imagine if learning were fun instead of a chore. How incredible would our world be then?