What does Developing the Whole Child Mean?
Learning begins at birth, or even before, and continues throughout our lives. Yet what is fascinating is that most of the learning occurs during early childhood from birth to six years – a plane of development called the “absorbent mind” by Dr. Montessori. It is during this phase that the child observes and absorbs the world around him or her like a sponge. As Dr. Montessori said, “The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.”
If early childhood is the most crucial period, and if a child can take it all, shouldn’t school be the place for children to learn and develop as a ‘whole’?
Developing The ‘Whole’ Child
It is true that schools provide cognitive skills; however, the question is – do they also provide children with opportunities to develop their physical, social, and emotional skills? In other words, are children provided opportunities to develop as a ‘whole’?
A Montessori classroom does and here’s how and why it happens.
Children have an insatiable curiosity to learn being the absorbent mind they are. Hence, Montessori classrooms provide a well-prepared environment, offering a wide spectrum of multisensory and self-correcting materials each having a specific meaning and purpose. Lessons are presented by highly trained teachers in a deliberate sequence designed to promote learning through action and manipulation at the child’s own pace. The Montessori method aims to promote self-directed learning, so children are allowed to freely choose their activities. From practical life activities, sensory learning, to language, geography, botany, or zoology, every material is inviting and allows children to choose and work independently.
In traditional classrooms in the Leesburg area, one typically sees the children grouped by the same age. Students follow the same lessons which may leave some children behind while others advance more quickly. In Montessori classrooms, students progress at their own pace and will challenge themselves when they are ready. The Montessori child is more apt to be self-sufficient and independent having built an internal sense of purpose and motivation. A Montessori classroom fosters a love of learning as children immerse sensorially into the lessons, understand the reasons behind the learning, and make connections to their own lives and the world around them.
Is learning then limited to the four walls in a Montessori classroom? The answer to this is a definite ‘No’. Dr. Montessori believed that the outdoor environment is a natural extension of the classroom. Observing the natural environment, collecting leaves, sorting pebbles, getting the feet wet and splashing through the puddles are all learning experiences which children are exposed to in our classrooms.
Movement is an integral part of a Montessori classroom be it outside or inside the classroom. You will notice that Montessori classrooms are spacious and designed for children to move around freely. The materials are well within the reach of the children so they can choose and carry them to their workspaces. Whether it is rolling out a rug, taking a material to work with, using the appropriate movements while working and returning the materials to their shelves, children are refining their fine motor skills and developing gross motor skills.
Outside the classrooms, children get the opportunity run, jump – activities that cannot be done within the classroom. Children know the appropriate behavior within and outside the classroom via the Grace and Courtesy lessons presented to them.
Outdoor opportunities not only help build physical skills but help children develop social skills.
Children communicate, collaborate, make connections, and build dynamic relationships as part of a diverse mixed-age classroom. Have you wondered why Montessori classrooms have multi-age children in a classroom, unlike traditional schools where children are grouped based on their age?
The younger ones look up to the older children and the older ones lead by example, developing their leadership qualities. They may even present lessons to their younger friends. Isn’t this pretty much like home where children interact, learn, make connections, and navigate with their siblings?
Being part of the same classroom for three continuous years helps children with routines and consistency thereby building their confidence and social skills with teachers, friends, and families. While children have opportunities to practice, repeat lessons and move ahead at their own pace, the teachers have a deep understanding of the child’s learning abilities and is able to focus on developing the whole child with that knowledge.
Managing emotions is a critical skill. Having exceptional intellectual, physical, and social skills does not mean anything if a child cannot handle his or her emotions. Montessori classrooms provide the opportunities for children to express their emotions or feelings. Children learn that their actions influence those around them, so they learn to understand and respect others. Should disagreements arise, children learn to express their feelings and reach an amicable solution.
Every child in a Montessori classroom is of course unique. However, common traits of a Montessori student are independence, confidence, and high self-esteem. Learning in Montessori classrooms go beyond the cognitive skills and there is no doubt that children in Montessori classrooms are mature, well beyond their years.
Take a tour of Villa Montessori to see how our classrooms differ from more conventional preschools and daycare centers in Leesburg. Step into our classrooms and you will see how we foster the love of learning and provide opportunities for children to develop as a ‘whole’.