By Jennifer Leighfield • 14 July 2021 • 23:27
Montessori promotes the freedom to learn
IN this day and age, teaching methods aren’t what they used to be, and while education used to involve learning content off by heart to later be tested on it, nowadays, there is a whole new approach to education, based on the freedom to learn.
Probably one of the best-known or more familiar methods of education is the one developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori, and many others are based on the principles of her methods.
This means that educators consider that within a supportive and well-prepared learning environment, children are capable of initiating learning themselves as they are eager to fill their brains with knowledge.
Freedom to choose
This new approach to education is used in many schools, especially in private learning, throughout the world, including Spain.
An important element of this learning method is giving students the freedom to choose their learning activities within a prepared environment.
For classes at Primary level, the typical classroom would have 20 to 30 children aged between two and a half and six years old with a trained teacher and assistant. The class would have child-size tables and chairs arranged in clusters and class material on shelves at the children’s height around the room. Activities are presented by the teacher and then children can decide throughout the learning period which they want to carry out. The whole day, including daily routines such as snack time or cleaning up time, are both considered to be learning opportunities, the first to develop social skills and the latter to learn organisational skills.
In the Elementary stage, six to nine year olds in one group and nine to 12 year olds in another group. Lessons are presented to small groups of children who are then free to work independently depending on their interest and personal responsibility, as taking responsibility for learning is one of the most important principals of the method. Lessons are interdisciplinary and include language, maths, sciences, arts, etc.
While such methods haven’t been tested as much in middle and high school education, many schools are working on developing methods based on this new way of understanding education.
Educational materials include items which appeal to children’s senses, not everything is books and paper, a purposefully set out play areas have a very important role in education.
When it comes to the toys used, it can be productive to introduce children to them before they even start school. A box of random building bricks can be considered a plaything which supports the methods, in that children can use their own imagination, create something for which a specific outcome is not expected and learn through trial and error. However, a set of building bricks intended to create a specific figure, would not fit within the aims of these methods because it is not free play.
Create and experiment
Any toys which encourage children to create and experiment, without a specific target in mind, can be considered to support the modern approach to learning, for example crayons and paints, phonetic games which encourage children to create new words, an abacus, which helps to grasp the concept of addition and subtraction; peg boards to develop fine motor skills and to sort and count, as well as recognise colours and patterns, play dough, construction blocks or other building toys for children, toys for stacking, sand trays… in short, anything to allow creativity with simple items. The idea is for not too much to be given so that they child makes their own game. Some of these toys are considered to be expensive, but this is mainly because they are not mass-produced and are generally made from good quality wood. But the truth is, if you have the imagination to find them, your children are sure to be able to do the rest. Although they are generally appealing to look at, their purpose may not be as clear as your typical Barbie’s Dreamhouse, but that’s the whole point, to develop the imagination and use them in more than one way.
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Jennifer Leighfield, born in Salisbury, UK; resident in Malaga, Spain since 1989. Degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, French and English from Malaga University (2005), specialising in Crime, Forensic Medicine and Genetics.
Published translations include three books by Richard Handscombe. Worked with Euro Weekly News since November 2006. Well-travelled throughout Spain and the rest of the world, fan of Harry Potter and most things ‘geek’.
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