Sunday, September 19, 2010

Montessori Books

I've borrowed a few books recommended round the blog-o-sphere for those interested in Montessori in the home for the early years.  In my travels, I've found posts that are up front about the usefulness of Montessori things, books, equipment, philosophy and so on, to be the most useful, so in that spirit I thought I'd add my thoughts to those in the Interweb ether.

My local library had Tim Seldin's How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way

This is an easy read, and while it has some lovely ideas, as I'm from an attachment parenting, continuum concept background, there wasn't much new in there for me.  It would be a great book for introducing some of the concepts if you weren't familiar with them, but for me it was more of a skim read as I felt it very much preaching to the converted.  "Treat kids as human beings, include them in your life," yup, done that!  Lovely pictures, and a few ideas for practical stuff to do in the home, but mostly just a nice reinforcing read.  Not one I'd buy, and not in depth enough for me.  His simple description of phonics in introducing letters was great, though, I'm copying that page!

I also borrowed Elizabeth Hainstock's Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years.   This is simple and straightforward, with heaps of practical ideas, including how to make many materials yourself.  I got more out of this, despite how simple it is, or perhaps because of this.  I'd like my own copy of this one as a reference book, and can see why so many Montessori bloggers like this book. 

I have a copy of Montessori from the Start: the Child at Home from Birth to age Three, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jensen, borrowed from the school's Nido library.  This is much meatier, with more philosophy and detailed explanations of the foundations of the method.  But it's what I'd term a full-on Montessori book!  It has that feel of "if you don't do this, your kid will be ruined!!11!!!" and the progressions are exact and intimidating. 

I struggle with it, as I'm from an approach that says my child will naturally learn what she needs to, simply by being given normal opportunities to do so, more of a Continuum Concept approach.  I don't think we need an obsession about exactly what age in days to introduce a smooth wooden ring on elastic in order to fully develop a child's ability to grasp or experiment with her power to affect matter.  I think given a normal supportive environment, she'll learn this herself.

There is a lot of good stuff in this book, but it feels overly complicated and more than a little proscriptive.  Some of the underlying approaches to attachment and compliance didn't ring true for me, either, but this is generally the case for me with Montessori.  There are several assumptions about attachment, including being against co-sleeping (in the same bed), normal breastfeeding, baby wearing, and so on, that I find difficult, actually, impossible, to swallow, given my own beliefs about how us humans evolved.  While I disagree with this stuff, I don't find it's a deal-breaker in terms of following other aspects of what I think is the more core Montessori philosophy, which is far more concerned with HOW children learn, and is actually far more continuum based - trusting the child, recognizing the innate drive to learn, the importance of peer to peer 'teaching' and modeling, a basic respect for the child as a whole person. 

It does bring up what is, for me, the fundamental issue I struggle with in Montessori, which is about separating the learning of children from our natural lives.  The focus on the environment of a classroom is a fair distance from my beliefs about children and natural learning.  BUT I also struggle with how much of an experience we can give kids given our lack of a tribe in which to introduce what they need to learn.  Hence our decision to school Lolly, rather than naturally unschool.  I'm not sure I'm accurately getting my ideas out here, and it's something I'll return to and blog more about.

Anyhoo, the book is a good read, overall, with a comprehensive exploration of the Montessori philosophy and method.  I'd like a copy for my own library.  But there is a lot here I don't agree with, and the whole books seems so proscriptive to me, and therefore alienating.  You have to read past that feeling to get at the core usefulness of the text.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

I like Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child by Maja Pitamic. Crappy cover but lots of great pictures inside. Now I have to actually do some of the activities...