Dr. Angeline Lillard, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, has been studying Montessori’s methods for more than two decades. Dr. Lillard asserts that traditional American schooling is in constant crisis because it is based on two poor models for children’s learning: the school as a factory and the child as a blank slate. As an alternative, Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, devised a very different method of educating children, based on her observations of how they naturally learn. Though Dr. Montessori developed her methodology over 100 years ago, Dr. Lillard shows that science has finally caught up with her groundbreaking work.
In her book Montessori: The Science behind the Genius, Dr. Lillard presents scientific studies that show how children learn best, makes clear why many traditional practices come up short, and explains why Montessori methods work. One such study is “Montessori Education Provides Better Outcomes Than Traditional Methods,” published in the September 29, 2006 issue of the journal Science. Among the findings were that 5-year-old Montessori students proved to be significantly better prepared for elementary school in reading and math skills than the non-Montessori children. They also tested better on “executive function,” the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems, an indicator of future school and life success. Montessori children also displayed better abilities on the social and behavioral tests, demonstrating a greater sense of justice and fairness. And on the playground they were much more likely to engage in emotionally positive play with peers, and less likely to engage in rough play. You can read the full article reporting on this study here.
Dr. Lillard presents the research concerning eight insights that are foundational to Montessori education and describes how each of these insights is applied in the Montessori classroom. These insights are:
- Movement and Cognition – movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning;
- Choice – learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives;
- Interest – people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning;
- Extrinsic Rewards are Avoided – tying extrinsic rewards to an activity, like gold starts for reading or money for high grades for tests, negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn;
- Learning with and from Peers – collaborative arrangements can be very conductive to learning;
- Learning in Context – learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts;
- Teacher Ways and Child Ways – particular forms of adult interaction (such as “freedom with responsibility”) are associated with more optimal child outcomes;
- Order in Environment and Mind – order in the environment helps children build internal order of the mind.
In reading this book, parents and teachers alike will develop a clear understanding of what happens in a Montessori classroom and, more importantly, why it happens and why it works. A third edition of this groundbreaking work is now available!
Margaret Jarrell has a long history with Greenspring Montessori School and she currently provides Administrative Support. Margaret taught for more than a decade, most recently for five years in our own Lower Elementary Program, prior to taking on the role of Director of Admissions. In 2015, she, her husband, and her newborn daughter moved to Florida after her husband received a wonderful employment opportunity. We were so sad to see her go, so eventually, we worked out a way for Margaret to work part-time remotely. She now turns her considerable expertise to support administrative staff, guides, parents, and prospective families. Learn more about Margaret.