Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius

Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius

by Angeline Stoll Lillard

One hundred years ago, Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, devised a very different method of educating children, based on her observations of how they naturally learn.

Lillard presents the research behind eight insights that are foundations of Montessori education, describing how each of these insights is applied in the Montessori classroom.

Lillard, however, does much more than explain the scientific basis for Montessori's system: Amid the clamor for evidence-based education, she presents the studies that show how children learn best, makes clear why many traditional practices come up short, and describes an ingenious alternative that works.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Education
  • Rating: 4.22
  • Pages: 432
  • Publish Date: March 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA
  • Isbn10: 0195325265
  • Isbn13: 9780195325263

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I do think a lot of Montessori is really fantastic, though. But there's also plenty that irked me because it seems misleading or outright wrong -- it reminded me of reading books about children's behavior, the way you'll see a statement that says, "All children are like this," or, "If children do this bad thing, then this thing will take care of it." Neither of those can ever be true for all children. First, I think it's disingenuous to suggest that Montessori preschool materials provide that much more physical movement than a regular preschool. I'm almost offended the author things she can make an argument that labeling parts of a flower on a piece of paper is somehow physical while sitting in a desk and doing work on paper is not. I also think it sucks that Montessori (and the author) apparently thinks that the physical and social activity done during work time is sufficient. For instance, in games such as the thermic tablets or fabric matching where the child is not supposed to see but is instead supposed to use other senses, I see children either outright looking or peeking all the time. The outright looking could perhaps be explained by the child not understanding the point of the work or forgetting the lesson. Certainly, we don't ever tell the children, "You're cheating!" and instead talk about how the work is far more fun if you do it the way the lesson goes -- matching them based on looks is so easy! But I have seen children choose the work from the shelves, set it up, close their eyes, feel around, open one eye and peek (without knowing they were being observed), and then close their eyes and match. (The words used to be written on the back of the word-building picture cards; too many children were cheating by simply copying the written word, and they had to be removed.) Regarding Montessori's views on fantasy and the statements in this book . I agree that purposely filling your child's head with fantasy pretending to be real is not a great idea, though I don't think parents do it under the guise of cultivating creativity. Every once in a while, I'll throw out a, "Was that book about something that could be real or not?" about stories that are realistic save for animal characters -- there are always multiple hands (4s and 5s more than 3s, however) that say, "Not real because animals don't talk and wear clothes." Finally, about the sentence, "When children play house, they are expressing a desire to really keep house," and all the other statements about children shunning toys or pretend play unless adults force it on them: Maria Montessori may have made accurate observations, but they are not observations that last, untarnished, to today. So unless their parents forced pretend play on them so much that they're taking it to school, it's something that the children want to do -- despite having Montessori materials on hand all day! Lillard argues that because the same sort of things are talked about in later Montessori classrooms, there's a connection. I assume it also has to do with reducing the play factor (even though according to Montessori, children shun play!). It's not "the science behind the genius" but rather: let me pick and choose and interpret science so that Montessori always comes across looking good.

It included numerous citations of scientific studies which support the Montessori method. Depending on the disability I can imagine scenarios where it would be better or worse for the child.

This book offers an extensive compilation of research that is based in the wisdom of Maria Montessori. No study can replace the overall understanding that she had of children through working with them on a daily basis. As a soon to be parent, who has worked with children in many settings, I was happy to see that Montessori is so in line with what I believe. The absence of grades is not to avoid "hurt feelings" as in many progressive schools (Montessori children also do not receive praise for their work) but that they believe grades are detrimental to the learning process. These concepts were particularly interesting to me, although there are many other elements to the program that are thoroughly represented in the book. Overall, I think that this book does a good job of representing Montessori for what it is.

One thing I liked that the author pointed out in regards to people who elevate Montessori education to an almost cult is that the goal of Montessori is to help children, and children are not best served by blind adherence to a particular view but by careful evaluation of what helps them the most. Dr. Montessori saw two horrific world wars and truly desired what's best for children in order to help humanity as a whole.

In this book Angeline Stoll provides extensive research background to fill the voids of scientific support of the famous educational method. In her book, Stoll addresses each of the eight principles of Montessori Education, providing support with specific research and expanded with actual Montessori practices. 1.Movement and cognition 2.Choice and control 3.Interest 4.Motivation 5.Collaborative learning 6.Meaningful context 7.Adult-child interaction 8.Order and the environment In most of the cases Montessori proved being in line with science, upholding the value of the method. Maria Montessori recognized that children are born with dispositions to learn and each child is different, therefore the education method should facilitate that. From Stolls work we can conclude that Montessori is a superior education system than the standard offer for families and society. However, Stoll explains that Maria Montessori had a limited understanding of play, reduced to toys that may sound opposite. Some of the critique to Montessori are its rules that Stoll explain is a balance that give freedom in some areas and structure in others. People need rules to operate either in play, school, society and work. In play children are agents in the definition of rules maybe more than in a Montessori school, but both offer way more freedom than traditional schools. The role of playworkers is quite similar of the role of the Montessori teacher, their goal is to disappear and provide the right amount of clues to provoke children. Playworkers carefully observe the child at play just like the teacher observe the absorbent mind at work. It seems like children dont find Montessori materials as alternative to toys but as engaging. Finally advances in neuroscience could open a new door of research to connect the benefits of a Montessori method as well as all other alternatives that are popping and challenging the mainstream institutionalized education system.

We are a country so unwillingly to accept unconventional educational methods, yet are jobs and how we work continue to change.

If you want to know why Montessori is so effective, read this book!

I found this book to be an interesting overview of the learning and cognition research related to Montessori pedagogy.