The most important component in early learning is making sure children stay inquisitive, stimulated, and most importantly happy. This means play. Fearless, boundless play, because when you play you learn. The benefits of early education are often only measurable later in life, which makes picking the right type of education system tricky. We’ve always been huge advocates of Maria Montessori’s hands-on learning principles, and followed them carefully throughout the development of our own coding toy for preschoolers. A sterling report from a Montessori educator within our community even made it into Montessori monthly, but we realise that not every parent in our community is fully aware of the learning principles behind a good Montessorian education. There’s no such thing as one size fits all. Indeed there are many wonderful educational methods out there, but given Dr. Montessori’s influence on our own products, we thought it worth your while sharing what we think is good about her work, and how it can help in everyday life.
A focus on key developmental stages
Early development is a unique process for every child. We witness our children grow and change every day, yet when we imagine what their lives will be like between the ages of 3 and 5, we tend to think of these formative years as a unit, and just call it “early childhood”. This is particularly true for first time parents with little to no experience, but contrary to perception, what the brain of a three year old is focused on developing, hugely differs from that of a four year old. Montessori identifies different needs for different age groups, subsequently creating developmentally appropriate play experiences and classroom activities that foster key developmental milestones. For example, younger children focus on honing large muscle and language skills. Four-year-olds on the other hand, work on fine motor skills while completing everyday activities that require sequencing, such as cooking, arts and crafts, even getting dressed.
Creating the conditions for cooperative play
Education systems around the world are mostly based on control. A teacher is in charge, deciding who does what, when, and how. Strict classrooms leave little room for children to experiment new collaborative structures, or ways of working (playing) together. In these sort of systems, children just follow orders. In a Montessori classroom the teacher is still in charge, but the teacher doesn’t “run” the classroom. A Montessori classroom is divided into stations freely explored by the students. Children are encouraged to choose their own activities throughout the day, exploring stations at their own pace. Surprisingly, this loose dynamic actually encourages children to share and work cooperatively, slowly forging a natural structure in which they exchange, negotiate, debate and play. By the very nature of this seemingly chaotic, but free environment, children naturally learn to respect one another and build a unique sense of community.
Encouraging child-centered learning
Most systems we know are designed around a curriculum that progresses at single speed. Children either keep up, or fall behind. They’re either bright or slow. The “slower” children end up consumed by the thought of catching up, and left unable to discover what she or he might like to play with, learn about and be good at. The faster child is equally left unable to move beyond activities and information fed by the curriculum. For the most part, this system produces children that are either bored, or forever discouraged. Montessori preschool students on the other hand, enjoy an unassuming curriculum designed around their specific needs and abilities, breaking away from the “One-size-fits-all” model. Great emphasis is put on discovering every individual child’s natural proclivity for a subject, activity, or toy, leaving children free to explore and learn at their own pace and terms.
We’re taught to think of children who exhibit impulsive behaviour and/or have difficulty following rules or directions as strong willed, but the truth is actually the opposite. Inability to show restraint is symptomatic of a child that hasn’t yet developed good control over her or his emotions and actions. Montessori calls this “self-discipline”. Traditional philosophy on parenting and educating often believes that punishment and incentive, administered by adults, is what encourages children to obey and become disciplined, but Montessori believes the drive for discipline should come from within the child, hence the term “self-discipline”. In Montessori, the adult’s role is to design environments in which children can explore physical control independently and safely. Self-discipline is what ultimately leads to proper moral development as children grow into responsible and happy adults.
For too long, too many children, from the moment they enter education, are crushed under pressure to perform. They’re constantly tested and confronted with their own results. They delight or disappoint. Succeed or fail, with little regard to the process that led to the result in the first place. This system rewards those who memorise, and obey, not those who problem solve creatively. In Montessori, children are allowed to choose the activities they wish to work on, and enjoy them on their own terms, at their own pace. Children work at tasks for the joy of the work, rather than the end result, which allows them to focus more on the process instead of the result – a natural path to creativity. By removing the pressure of performance and judgement, children create their own ways to play. This type of freedom inevitably leads to much happier and confident children. All children are geniuses waiting to happen, don’t stifle them!
Favouring hands-on learning
Young children learn little from reading, memorising or studying. At least not from books and facts forced on them. Children learn through play. We keep repeating this, and for good reason! The path to a child’s mind is through her hands, and physical play is key to effective, meaningful learning. One of the greatest benefits of the Montessori Method, particularly in early learning experiences, is a key focus on hands-on play, because physical experiences tend to engage all of a child’s senses, not just sight or sound. Huge emphasis is placed on concrete, rather than abstract learning because it is fun, dynamic, engaging. Moving, laughing, tugging, pushing, screaming, sharing, breaking, fixing and learning. This tactile approach is applied to activities that teach language, math, culture and practical life lessons. Ultimately, hands-on play is about children being happy, stimulated and entertained. A happy child makes for a happy learner.
Coding and play in Montessori
We strived to incorporate all of the above principles into an award winning coding system for pre-schoolers. Through research, we’ve managed to create a tangible programming language made of tactile and hard wearing wood capable of teaching children computer programming and computational thinking without screens. Making code tangible enabled us to transform the experience of programming into a collaborative, active and physical one, reflecting our appreciation for the decades old learning principles set out by Dr. Montessori. Coding with Cubetto is about trial and error, self correction and expression through creative storytelling. There is no right or wrong way to play, which makes coding with Cubetto fun, no matter what you do, because you can’t “fail” at playing with Cubetto, you just play!