Seven Strategies for Embracing Montessori’s “Follow the Child” Philosophy in the Public School System

August 01, 2023
Montessori in the public school system
So there are two plans: one is to disseminate knowledge, to follow a syllabus. The other is to look to the life of man and serve it, and in serving it, help humanity.
—Maria Montessori
The 1946 London Lectures, p. 31.

The Montessori philosophy has garnered significant attention for its emphasis on child-centered learning and the philosophy of “follow the child.” NAMC students learn about "following the child" in all four of our diploma programs when they study NAMC's Montessori Classroom Guide. Montessori schools provide a unique environment to implement this philosophy. But what about Montessori teachers working in the public school system? How are they able to follow the child in the constraints of a system traditionally focused on standardized collective education? 

Understanding “Follow the Child”

Following the child in the public school system. Two students working at a desk.
Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education revolves around the belief that each child is a unique individual with their own interests, learning style, and pace of development. “Follow the child” encourages educators to observe and understand the needs of each child, fostering an environment that supports their natural desire for exploration, independence, and self-directed learning.

Integrating Montessori Principles in the Public School System

While not without challenge, it is possible to implement Montessori’s philosophy in a standardized public-school environment. Teachers must take extra care to prepare themselves and the environment to create a path of least resistance to working with children who are used to a standardized curriculum.

1. Create an Engaging Classroom Environment

Incorporate elements of Montessori classrooms by organizing materials in a visually appealing and accessible manner. Allow students to move freely within the classroom, choose their work space, and engage with learning materials based on their interests.

2. Individualized Learning Plans

Develop individualized learning plans for students, taking into account their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest. Provide students with choices in selecting topics for projects and assignments, fostering a sense of ownership and motivation.

3. Self-Directed Learning Opportunities

Design lessons that allow students to take charge of their learning journey. Incorporate inquiry-based activities, research projects, and hands-on experiences that encourage students to explore topics of personal interest within the framework of the curriculum.

4. Flexible Schedules and Time Management

Allow students to manage their time and tasks to some extent. Provide flexibility within the schedule to accommodate independent work, collaboration, and reflection. Encourage and work with students to set goals, plan activities, and monitor their progress.

5. Student-Led Conferences

Replace traditional parent-teacher conferences with student-led conferences, where students take responsibility for showcasing their work and discussing their progress. This approach empowers students to communicate their achievements and challenges, fostering self-reflection and self-advocacy skills.

6. Collaborative Learning

Encourage collaborative learning opportunities that promote peer-to-peer teaching, group projects, and critical problem-solving activities. Give students the freedom to choose their partners or groups for such activities, allowing them to collaborate with like-minded individuals and develop interpersonal skills.

7. Reflection and Feedback

Incorporate regular opportunities for self-reflection and student feedback. Create activities and lessons with built-in controls of error. Encourage students to evaluate their work, set personal learning goals, and provide suggestions for improving the learning environment. This feedback loop empowers students to actively participate in shaping their educational experience.

While the public school system often follows a standardized approach to education, Montessori public school teachers can embrace the “follow the child” philosophy and introduce agency and choice in various ways. By creating an engaging environment, personalizing learning plans, fostering self-directed learning opportunities, and promoting collaboration, teachers can empower students to take ownership of their education. Even within the constraints of the system, the principles of Montessori can inspire a more student-centered approach, ultimately nurturing a love for learning and personal growth in every child.

Learn more about Montessori philosophy and "following the child" in NAMC's Montessori Diploma Programs and Curriculum.

Michelle Zanavich — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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