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Positive Reinforcement: a Montessori Perspective

Positive reinforcement, the idea that external rewards must be used to build a child’s confidence, is believed by many to be the best tool for guiding the growth and development of children. This is not entirely true. While positive reinforcement is a helpful tool in giving children feedback, it’s not the only means of development for them.

The Montessori method has proven to be an excellent guideline for teaching children to reach their fullest potential, but the Montessori perspective on positive reinforcement may surprise you.

The Montessori Method

Dr. Maria Montessori realized that the key to a child’s full development is intrinsic motivation. She noticed that, when left on their own to learn at their own pace, children have a natural desire to understand the world around them.

The Montessori method of teaching explains that the job of parents and teachers is to guide this desire to learn. Children motivate themselves to work towards intelligence, and we must not distract them from their path. In other words, there is no need to excessively offer children rewards for something they should motivate themselves to do.

Does that make Positive Reinforcement bad?

Not necessarily. While children need to drive their own learning, they still require your feedback. It is beneficial for children to receive some form of reinforcement, such as guidance or affection, in order to remain motivated. However, the Montessori perspective recommends avoiding certain methods of providing feedback.

Saying, for example, “Good job!” is a natural reaction to let your child know you approve of the work they have done. Unfortunately, this creates an emotional connection between your child and the task. Though seemingly innocent, this sets a precedent for your child to measure their own worth by the completion of objectives.

This can have a few negative consequences. Your child may begin to feel insecure about themselves when they fail, or they may become overly confident in their abilities. If your child is afraid to fail or take risks, they might avoid challenges and unintentionally stunt their own growth. If your child feels they can do no wrong, narcissism may present itself and hinder development as well.

To avoid these outcomes, the Montessori method proposes a different approach to positive reinforcement.

Positive Reinforcement, the Montessori way

According to the Montessori perspective, the ideal use of reinforcement comes in the form of descriptive praise.

This is a form of verbal reinforcement that focuses the evaluation of praise on the effort a child places on a task, rather than completion. This is done by describing the actions the child took and their consequences in a positive light.

For example, when your child shows you a drawing they made, a descriptive form of praise would be, “Wow that’s so creative! You put a lot of work into that.”

Instead of biasing the completion of the task, the praise reinforces your child’s ability to think freely and put effort into an objective. Reinforcing the work ethic, not the work, can be much more helpful in guiding your child’s development, and can have lasting positive effects.

 

How Silverline guides growth with the Montessori Method

At Silverline Montessori, our authentic approach to Montessori helps to guide students towards academic enrichment. With the help of dedicated and carefully trained teachers, students are able to reach their fullest learning potential and develop long-lasting skills.

Teaching Your Child Grace and Courtesy

Good manners are essential in a Montessori education. Along with being respectful towards others, a child who has good manners is more confident and has higher self-esteem. They are also able to develop happier and healthier relationships with others. Here are some ways that you can teach the Montessori manners of grace and courtesy.

Setting a Positive Example

Young children have the ability to absorb information very easily. Every time your children are near you, they are watching what you do and listening to what you say. This is why it’s such a good idea for you to practice good manners yourself. If your children frequently hear you say “please” and “thank you,” then they will begin to model their behavior after yours. When your child hands you something or does something nice, you can say “thank you” to your child to show them that it is important to be polite to everyone. After making a conscious effort to exhibit graceful behavior, it will start to come very naturally, and your child will recognize this. Setting a positive example is a simple way to show your child how easy it is to be courteous in any situation.

Roleplay

Choose a specific manner that you would like your child to learn and demonstrate the proper behavior. If you would like your child to learn how to greet someone, for instance, break the behavior into steps. Explain to your child that they should make eye contact with the person, shake their hand, and say, “It’s nice to meet you.” Demonstrate each step to your child and then allow your child to practice them. Pretend that you are introducing your child to a friend of yours and give your child the opportunity to demonstrate each step. Repeat this roleplay activity as many times as it takes for your child to learn the proper behavior. If your child is struggling, you can review the lesson at another time.

Learning Gracious Behaviors Takes Time

Every child learns at their own pace and is influenced by their personality. Some children are very shy and have a difficult time speaking with adults, while other children love meeting new people. Certain manners may be easy to pick up on, while others take a lot more time to learn. When a child exhibits a gracious behavior, recognize that you are proud of this behavior by acknowledging it; for example, “I liked how you introduced yourself to our neighbor.” When your child forgets a behavior, try not to criticize or embarrass them. Instead, repeat the lesson again in private to reinforce its importance.

At Silverline Montessori School, one of our main program goals is to help children understand social relationships. In our specially designed Montessori environments, children develop a strong sense of respect for themselves, for others, and for their environment. Grace and courtesy lessons are given on a regular basis in the classroom in order to reinforce their importance.

History of Montessori

Many parents considering a Montessori education for their child may wonder about its origins. Some are surprised to learn that the program has been around for over 100 years and was developed by an Italian physician. Also an educator and innovator, Dr. Maria Montessori spent years researching children and how they learn best. Her research led to the form of education known today as the Montessori Method.

Pre-Montessori

At the age of 13, Maria decided to enter an all-boys technical institute to study engineering. However, she soon had a change of heart and realized she wanted to become a doctor instead. She then applied and got accepted into the University of Rome’s prestigious medical program, which opened the door for future women in the field of medicine. In 1896, Dr. Montessori graduated from the University of Rome and became one of Italy’s first female physicians.

During the early years of her psychiatry-focused medical practices, she began to develop a strong interest in education. She started taking classes on pedagogy and immersed herself in educational theories. Through her extensive studies and observations, Dr. Montessori began to question the established methods of teaching children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Montessori Movement

Dr. Montessori was appointed co-director of a new training institute for special education teachers in 1900. Through this institute, Dr. Montessori was able to experiment with different teaching methods to see which had the best results. Her program ultimately proved to be successful when several of her children made unexpected developmental advances.

In 1907, Dr. Montessori opened her first Montessori school, the Case dei Bambini (Children’s House), in an underprivileged district of Rome. Implementing her prior observations and scientific experiments, Dr. Montessori created a high-quality learning environment filled with various learning materials that fostered a child’s innate desire to learn.

Dr. Montessori published a book called The Secret of Childhood in 1936. In her book, she wrote: “Before elaborating any system of education, we must therefore create a favorable environment that will encourage the flowering of a child’s natural gifts. All that is needed is to remove the obstacles. And this should be the basis of, and point of departure for, all future education. The first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of a child and then assist him in his normal development.”

For the remainder of her life, Dr. Montessori worked on perfecting her innovative, child-centered approach to learning. She wrote several articles and books, held a lecture series, and created a unique program to train teachers in the Montessori method. These actions resulted in Dr. Montessori developing a large following that helped her spread the new educational method internationally.

Living Montessori

Today, there are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the United States and around 20,000 worldwide. The fact that Montessori education has spread all over the world aligns with what Dr. Montessori wrote in her book The Montessori Method: “Today, however, those things which occupy us in the field of education are the interests of humanity at large and of civilization, and before such great forces we can recognize only one country – the entire world.”

Although the majority of Montessori schools in the United States are privately owned, many public-school systems have begun implementing Montessori programs. Montessori programs and Dr. Montessori’s influence can be found at every age level and stage of development – in small infant or early-childhood classrooms as well as in larger elementary, junior high, or high school classes.

The Role of Guides in Montessori Schools

In a Montessori classroom, teachers play a unique but important role. We refer to our teachers as guides because they do more than just teach. Montessori guides do not stand at the front of the classroom reciting facts to the entire group of students. Instead, they migrate around the classroom, observing and interacting with students individually. Our guides at Silverline Montessori are specially-trained to detect what each child needs in order to reach their full potential.

Creating the Perfect Learning Environment

One of the roles of Montessori guides is to ensure that their classroom is properly organized with specially designed learning materials that are accessible to children at all times.  Montessori materials are interrelated and follow a sequential order.  Guides serve as a link between the environment and their students. Through observing their students, a guide learns which materials a child is ready to be presented so that students are constantly challenged.  A guide also makes sure that the classroom is neat and everything is in order. This sense of order is important because it establishes consistency and independence, as children are able to find learning materials on their own.

Helping Children Discover Their Strengths

Since Montessori guides typically stay with children for multiple years, they are able to form a connection with their students and an understanding of each child’s strengths and weaknesses. This allows them to create a daily lesson plan for each child. This lesson is brief and given individually or to a small group of children, rather than the class as a whole. Instead of telling a child what to do, the guide shows a child how to use a specific material and what can be done with it. The guide will then step back and let the child take control of their own learning. If a child has a question, the guide asks them how they would solve the problem, allowing the child to develop critical thinking skills and creativity.

Establishing Trust

In order for a child to reach their full potential, they must feel comfortable in their learning environment. This is why Montessori guides aim to establish a trusting environment where children feel free to be themselves. Guides will never criticize a child’s work or scold a child for not doing their work properly. Additionally, guides will not reward a child for good work, as a Montessori education seeks to establish an intrinsic love of learning. Because a child is not being judged, they begin to trust their guide and feel more at ease doing their work.

Serving as a Role Model

Students view their guides as role models and mimic their behavior. Guides practice what they preach by displaying important character traits, such as respect towards others and offering assistance to those who need help. When a guide is helping a younger child, other children observe this and begin to model their behavior after their guide. This encourages them to help other children with their tasks, which strengthens their confidence, as they feel a sense of pride that they have accomplished something meaningful.

 

 

Developing the Whole Child

One emphasis in Montessori education is on the development of the whole child. While traditional schools tend to focus on developing a child’s cognitive abilities, the Montessori method aims to develop every aspect of a child. There are four main elements that make up what Montessori refers to as the whole child: physical, emotional, social, and cognitive.

Physical

As children grow and mature, their bodies go through many changes. Staying physically active benefits children at every stage of development. In a Montessori classroom, there is a great deal of movement offered through a variety of activities.  Children who are physically active throughout their day develop stronger muscles and bones and tend to have an easier time falling asleep at night. When a child plays outside, they are exposed to all of the beautiful things nature has to offer. Since young children learn using their senses, an outdoor environment filled with plants, animals, and objects can serve as a classroom as well. At Silverline Montessori, all of our students participate in weekly physical education classes and have the option of taking yoga classes as well.

Emotional

Learning how to recognize and manage emotions is a very important life skill. Many conflicts in life are a direct result of a person feeling hurt by another’s actions. Children can learn from an early age that their actions can affect other people. Respect for others is strongly emphasized in every Montessori classroom. When students get into a disagreement, they learn how to talk about their feelings in order to resolve the issue peacefully. Children also learn how to recognize what emotions others are feeling. They are taught to look at body language and facial expressions in order to determine how someone else is feeling. Developing this emotional intelligence helps children form stronger bonds with others.

Social

The Montessori method recognizes the importance of social interactions in developing the whole child. Multi-age classrooms are one of the main features of a Montessori education. In these classrooms, children are grouped based on the plane of development that they are in, rather than their exact age group. This allows children to interact with students of different ages, helping young children feel more comfortable with older children. Older children strengthen their leadership skills by serving as mentors to younger students and assisting them with their work. Students learn important social skills such as communication, collaboration, and kindness towards others.

Cognitive

To a Montessori student, the world is their classroom. The Montessori method aims to develop creative thinkers, able to solve problems and constantly learn and challenge themselves. Montessori students learn to view themselves as global citizens and recognize the beauty of different cultures and traditions. They understand that they are part of a greater universe and that they have a moral responsibility to protect our planet in the future. They have a profound respect for the natural environment and understand the importance of practicing good virtues. Art and music classes give students an outlet to express themselves, and computer classes help prepare them for our technologically advanced society. Through a combination of all of these subjects, Montessori students develop cognitive skills in several different areas.

Montessori Learning Through Sensorial Work

According to Dr. Maria Montessori, sensorial experiences begin right when a child is born. Children use their senses in order to study their environment. By participating in sensory activities, children can consciously obtain clear information that helps them classify their surroundings. These classifications serve as stepping stones to organized intelligence, which gives children the ability to adapt to their environment.

Why Sensorial Work is Important

Sensorial activities are used in Montessori learning to help children in discrimination and order. They also help broaden and refine a child’s senses. When a child combines Montessori designed materials with sensorial work, it helps them become more logical, perceptive, and aware.

Dr. Montessori developed the concept of sensorial work long before sensory play was put into practice. In Montessori philosophy, the child is considered the “sensorial explorer” and learns to perceive qualities through sensorial experiences.

Sensorial Materials

Many Montessori materials, for example the Pink Tower in the photo above, are designed to assist in visual discrimination by allowing a child to recognize differences in dimension, length, width, and size. Montessori activities such as the Brown Stair, Red Rods, Knobbed Cylinders, and Color Tablets can also enhance the visual sense.

The auditory sense is also developed in sensory materials like Sound Cylinders and Bells, while the tactical sense is sharpened through the use of Touch Tablets and Fabric Feel. A child differentiates tastes by strengthening their gustatory sense through activities such as food preparation and food tasting. Using Montessori materials such as Scent Bottles can help a child differentiate smells with their olfactory sense.

Silverline’s Mission

At Silverline Montessori, we understand that children can obtain limitless amounts of knowledge during their formative years. It is especially important to develop a child’s senses between birth and age 6. This is why we emphasize helping children understand the world around them by using sensory materials in our classrooms. These sensorial activities help develop important lifelong skills such as logic, awareness, and perception.

The Importance of Global Citizenship

As a Montessori parent, you recognize how important it is for your child to become part of the emerging world community, and you want your child to help build that community in the future. Here at Silverline Montessori, we understand the importance of global citizenship and how it is constantly developing, from birth to adulthood. That’s why we make sure that global citizenship is a key focus in our classrooms.

Building a Vision                                                                                        

Starting at an early age, every child should begin to understand that they are a unique individual who is a part of the human species, a member of society, and a citizen of the world. When a parent nurtures this awareness of the world, a child will begin to develop an understanding of the universe and an appreciation for all life on earth.

As Dr. Maria Montessori wrote in her book, To Educate the Human Potential, “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.” This visionary idea was based on her observations of how eager children are to understand themselves, the world, and the role they play within it.

Age-Appropriate Development

Dr. Montessori believed that the proper time a child should be exposed to culture is around six years old. This is the optimal age because this is typically when a child becomes interested and even enthusiastic about different cultures. This process, she believed, is similar to the germination of a seed; it will grow and expand if the idea of culture is introduced at the right time and in the correct way. “A need arises for a special method, whereby all factors of culture may be introduced to the six-year-old; not in a syllabus to be imposed on him, or with exactitude of detail, but in the broadcasting of the maximum number of seeds of interest,” Montessori wrote.

Our Cosmic Task

One important element of a Montessori education is the belief that we have a cosmic task, or a moral responsibility, to protect humankind from the threat of self-annihilation caused by our species’ destructive actions. If we, as Montessori parents, nurture the values of global citizenship in our children, we can help prepare them to successfully handle issues that modern society faces in a peaceful manner.

At Silverline Montessori, we encourage all of our students to use their imaginations to explore cultural diversity and understand how communities around the world work and live differently. Our students learn to develop a profound respect for all cultures and the world as a whole. One of our main goals is to develop a generation of future leaders who value global connectedness and are able to collaborate with people from different cultures and nations easily.

The Benefits of Multi-Age Classrooms

One of the main features of the Montessori method is multi-age classrooms. Montessori specialists place a child in a classroom based on their individual level of development, instead of placing them by their exact age. Typically, Montessori children are grouped according to the plane of development that they fall into. The planes of development include the following age groups: 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15, and 15-18 years old. Dr. Maria Montessori developed these three-year cycles based on her extensive psychological studies and scientific observations of children.

Why this Matters

While children in a traditional school system have a different teacher every year, multi-age classrooms allow children to remain with the same teacher for several years. This ensures that the teacher will develop a deep bond with each student, as well as a deeper understanding of every child’s unique needs. This results in a more effective teaching method that truly works for each student. Children also feel more relaxed around their teacher and their classmates because they have known them for multiple years. When a child becomes comfortable with their surroundings, the child is able to better focus on their education, as they do not have the added worry or stress of having to get to know a new teacher and make friends with a new group of classmates each year.

A Montessori classroom helps to develop leadership skills that will last a lifetime. In a mixed-age classroom, older students have the opportunity to become mentors to younger students. These mentors help to teach their younger mentees ideas and concepts that are slightly more advanced, and are able to answer any questions that their mentees may have. Mentorship learning is beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee, as both parties involved gain valuable skills by collaborating with one another. Older students are able to reinforce their own knowledge base by teaching the younger students, and the younger students benefit from having a mentor who is always available to help them.

Effects on Development

As children pass through the planes of development, they begin to develop certain attributes and needs according to their age group. Since children are grouped in classrooms based on their plane of development in order to maximize each child’s learning, each period of transformation is taken into consideration in the Montessori method. Since children stay with the same teacher throughout their three-year cycle, they gain more understanding and the teacher is able to tailor their education method based on each child’s individual needs.

Being able to interact with other children, either younger or older, helps a child to develop the social skills necessary for future successes. Many times, younger children are intimidated by older children, simply because they have never interacted with them before. In Montessori classrooms, students of different ages interact with each other on a daily basis, so younger children become more comfortable playing and learning with older children. Additionally, by being around children of different ages, a child is exposed to many different levels of all subjects at all times. This creates a constant cognitive stimulation that sparks a great and more organic interest in learning.

Our Mission                                                                                        

At Silverline Montessori, we designed our multi-age classrooms to help all of our students develop confidence in their abilities, leadership skills, and a deep love of learning. Children learn how to get along with others and resolve conflicts peacefully in our classrooms. They also learn the importance of kindness towards others, sharing learning materials, and providing assistance when another student needs help. All of these are valuable skills that will last your child a lifetime.

Learning Through Nature: The Montessori Philosophy

Nature helps to drive the forces of curiosity and exploration within a child, while offering rich sensorial experiences as well. This is why nature is a vital part of the Montessori learning method. A Montessori education focuses on a deep connection between child development and nature. Children in Montessori schools learn to appreciate the environment and enjoy all that is has to offer.

What is the Montessori Philosophy?

The pioneer of the Montessori method is Dr. Maria Montessori. She believed that the outdoor environment was an extension of the indoor classroom, because nature provides endless opportunities for experiential learning. She wrote in The Absorbent Mind, “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”

The Montessori Philosophy emphasizes immersion in nature in order to assist in the development of the whole child. Spending time in nature promotes physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development in every child.

Montessori parents and guides can help children become young naturalists by allowing them to spend more time interacting with their outdoor environment. Forming a connection with nature early-on helps children become more environmentally responsible, and this viewpoint extends from childhood into adulthood.

Cosmic Education

Dr. Montessori made it a point to emphasize the interconnectedness of humanity and nature. “The land is where our roots are,” she wrote. “The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.”

Cosmic education is the belief that children should understand that they are a part of a greater universe. By allowing them to spend time in nature, they are able to better understand this concept. “When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.”

Applying Cosmic Education at Home

As a Montessori parent, there are several ways that you can teach your child more about cosmic education at home. Here are some suggestions:

  • Go on natures walks with your child in or around the woods or beach (depending on where you live)
  • Take your child to a botanical garden or zoo
  • Encourage your child to start a nature journal and take pictures of anything that catches their interest

By participating in activities such as these, your child will become more connected to their natural environment and begin to understand their role in the universe.

What is Virtue Education?

The primary focus of a Montessori education is on the development of the whole child. The Montessori method focuses on educating the human potential of each child in a classroom, with an emphasis on character education. We believe that character education is the key to helping every child unlock their own individual potential. Virtue education helps each child understand concepts such as morality and discriminating between good and evil.

What is a Virtue?

A virtue is a universal behavior that is recognized by people of many different cultures. Virtues are necessary for every child’s happiness and well-being, and once they are learned, a child will follow them for life.

We make sure that all of our students learn the following virtues:

Kindness, patience, hard work, confidence, independence, honesty, responsibility, creativity, wisdom, perseverance, compassion, respectfulness, self-sufficiency, courage, helpfulness, grace, courtesy, joyfulness, sociability, humility, curiosity, and gratitude and service.

Virtues such as these help to build a child’s character and inspire those around them to become better people as well.

Developing Virtues

In Dr. Maria Montessori’s book, The Discovery of the Child, Dr. Montessori wrote, “She must acquire a moral alertness which has not hitherto been demanded by any other system, and this is revealed in her tranquility, patience, charity, and humility. Not words, but virtues, are her main qualifications.”

To develop these virtues in our students, we expose them to various experiences and stories that model each virtue and help them to understand how important each one is. Since our teachers are role models to our students, our teachers display these virtues everyday in order to reinforce them. Additionally, there is an emphasis on positive activities in order to prevent any negative character traits from forming in our students. For instance, bad habits such as disorganization and laziness will be quickly replaced by better habits, such as hard work or self-sufficiency.

Developing virtues helps a child to feel that they are leading a more purposeful life. In our classrooms, children participate in practical life activities in order to learn virtues such as service and helpfulness. Some examples of practical life activities that we use are teaching children to care for their environment and collaboration between students, allowing an older student to help a younger student.

Reinforcing Virtues at Home

Montessori parents understand that learning doesn’t start and finish in the classroom. Children are constantly learning new things at all times, so each child’s learning experiences at school should be cohesive with their experiences at home. A good way to form this cohesion is through strong communication with your child’s teacher. It is essential for a parent to know when each virtue is being taught in the classroom. For example, if your child’s teacher communicates that honesty will be the virtue of the week, you could begin incorporating honesty practice at home simultaneously.

A good way to practice a virtue such as honesty is to use role play. Tell your child about a situation that they can easily understand and give them several options of choices they could make if they were put in that situation. Provide some choices that emphasize honesty more than other choices. Explain the possible benefits and consequences of each choice to your child and allow them to select the one that they believe is the best. In addition, explain to them why it is important to be honest in all situations, especially at home and in school.