Sunday, September 2, 2012

Montessori misconceptions on reading from celebrities

Maria Montessori's 142nd birthday was just this past August 31st. I love that everyone is talking about it. Montessori is being pushed out into the mainstream media, creating more awareness. However, I also fear that even more miseducation could result from some of this.

I am speaking specifically about an article that I saw via Tim Seldin. It was posted on the Christian Science Monitor website: 'Maria Montessori and 10 famous graduates from her schools.' Talking about the famous people who have done well thinking outside of the box can do great things for Montessori education. It demonstrates how the goal of Montessori is to make children think for themselves, to expand their horizons, and to feel comfortable as they do so. Brilliant minds are nurtured within this type of environment. Educating the child for life has long-lasting effects that reach way into adulthood. This is all true. I see it in myself as a grown-up Montessori child.

One effect I see of constantly bringing up these famous Montessori kids is that many parents start to expect you to magically turn their kid into some kind of a superstar. They think that by enrolling their kids into a prestigious Montessori school, we will create these amazing creatures. We don't. These children come to us already as amazing creatures. We just help to lay a stronger foundation in their lives to help them blossom and grow and to realize their potential. The child is the one doing the work, not us.

The one page that haunted me the most was the one featuring Dakota Fanning. In it, she says that she learned how to read at the age of two and that Montessori teaches kids how to read at a really, really young age.

So did I. In fact, that was the reason that my parents sought some kind of appropriate education for me. They chose Montessori, not because children read early, but because it was the kind of environment that would stimulate my mind and educate me at my level. Even though I was reading at such a young age, I still needed to study phonics from the beginning. I distinctly remember tracing sandpaper letters and practicing their sounds. My early reading was all through sight word recognition that I had picked up on my own. I didn't have a grasp of phonics.

I find that parents often expect us to teach their children to read at the age of 3. Some of my toddler teacher friends have encountered parents who expect their children to read even at their level. You cannot force reading on a child. All you can do is give him as much exposure as possible. Feed into those sensitive periods for language with phonics exposure. Enrich the child's language environment. The child will learn how to read when he is ready. Sometimes that doesn't happen until the child is about seven years old, regardless of the child's educational background. Some of them will read at a younger age. Those who read at a younger age often have the skills ready to go at the surface. They just need someone to show them the way to let out those skills. THAT is what we can provide to the child, not teaching them at such a young age. It is not a guarantee.

I am glad that I encountered this story at the beginning of the school year. It just serves to remind me (and should all of us) how important parent education is. In some ways, we have to educate the parents even more than the children, so that they understand what we are really doing.


  1. It is a hard misconception to fight! My heart breaks a little more each time a parent tells me their child is in Montessori so she can be ahead of everyone else when they enter the traditional schools. I nearly fell off my chair when a transfer from another Montessori school wanted to know if I would uphold the former school's promise that the child would be reading by the age of 4 :(

    1. Nooooo!! And that is a whole other topic! Schools that claim to be Montessori, but are not. They look like it on the surface, but end up caving to parental demands and promise things that they can't promise. Ah, how I could go on and on and on about it. *sigh*