Educating the Whole Child in the Montessori Environment

November 29, 2018
NAMC montessori educating the whole child teacher and child.

Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions.
—Maria Montessori
To Educate the Human Potential, p. 5.

Montessori education is not segregated by topic, curricular area, or grade level. Because we teach the whole child, the method we employ must be that of a generalist rather than a specialist. We must become proficient in all subjects not just isolated disciplines. The mind of the child is not compartmentalized, so we should not teach as if it is.

Montessori Is About Teaching the Whole Child

My initial training was as a French and English teacher. When I accepted my first position in an upper elementary Montessori classroom, I was told that I would be responsible for teaching math and science as well as language and social studies. I will admit, I was nervous. I had not studied math since high school, and I certainly was not a “math” teacher. However, my upper elementary Montessori training had prepared me for this. After my initial trepidation, I began to relax and even grew to love teaching math. What’s more, because I had personally struggled with math as a child, I was diligent in my observations, making sure that all my students understood the concepts.

Teaching all subjects gave me greater insight into my students than if I had only been the language and history teacher. I was able to see each child as a complete, unique individual rather than just a math student. They were whole children, not subjects in a curriculum.

If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going.
—Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

In all four of NAMC’s Montessori diploma programs, students begin their program by studying the Classroom Guide. As expected, NAMC’s Montessori Classroom Guide provides students with background about how Dr. Montessori developed her method and a strong foundation in the philosophy and methodology of Montessori. However, the Guide also provides developmental information about children from birth to 12 years of age. It does not focus solely on the age that that student is studying. Discussions cover all the planes of development and look closely at the physical, developmental, social, and emotional growth of children from infancy to adolescence.

NAMC montessori educating the whole child teacher and children working together.

Why would we ask students to study the development of children in other age groups? Why not just focus on the age that they will be teaching. It is because, as Montessori teachers, we teach the whole child, and to understand the whole child we must know what comes before we teach them and what happens after. Before we can understand the needs and abilities of the lower elementary child, for example, we must understand what transpired in infancy and the early childhood years. Similarly, we must understand the next plane of development and the child’s future developmental needs in order to prepare him to meet those needs.

Over the years, I have become a better Montessori teacher — and parent — because I have studied the needs of children at every developmental level. I was able to understand children who came to my classroom with developmental delays because I knew what had come before. And I was able to work with and effectively prepare academically precocious children because I knew what was coming next. So, while it may seem superfluous to learn subjects and information that do not directly pertain to what you are teaching today, remember that you are pursuing your Montessori training for your students — for who they are now, who they were, and who they will become.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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