“Good at Doing Things: Montessori Education and Higher Level Thinking” By Dr. Steven Hughes; Reviewed by Katherine Poyntz; Photos taken at Westside, CCMA

He is in the brain business and there is research going on that asks the question: What should school be for? When middle school students were surveyed for the top 10 of all possible goals when leaving school, 85% said ‘leaving school confident ‘and ‘take initiative to introduce change.’ They also highly rated ‘becoming independent and stand on my own two feet.’
When teachers were asked, their answers for their students were similar. Fundamentally they had the same goals. Generally their responses were schools should help young people grow up in a world and be independent and take responsibility.

In looking at school, he came across Montessori by the slightest of accidents. He asked the leaders of an Outdoor Leadership programme about where the ‘good kids come from?’ They mentioned that the adolescents from Montessori schools held each other accountable, would embellish the jobs and the environment such as wash the tables at clean up and put flowers on them. The conclusion they came to was: Montessori kids have the ability to look around, see something and do it! Montessori kids are good at doing things. When Hughes looked around as a parent, he and his wife could not imagine something as developmentally beautiful as a Montessori education. His daughter lives at the Farm School in Hershey, Penn. and has grown so fully into herself that his family really connected to Montessori education.

Dr. Hughes said he was not the only pediatric neuro-psychologist who fell in love with Montessori education. He has spoken all over the world and the experience is, if you are interested in the brain, then this is the education for you!!

In looking at a picture of the brain from 4-20 months and the cortical tissue that is functional and at age 4 years old is maturing. One clear advantage of Montessori is “experiential interaction with the environment”. It is both physical and emotional development that fosters the development of the brain. If you look at how we explore the world, it is through the mouth and hands. Humans are built to understand the world through hands-on activities, especially so in childhood. If hands on activities can lead to brain development, why do we learn language by sitting and listening to teachers? He showed a diagram of what he called Nuggets and Networks which showed the development of the brain. The nuggets for reading show an imitating capability. For dyslexics, the nuggets are not well activated. Dr. Montessori knew about reading nuggets, although she did not use this terminology, and surmised that the brain needs specific connections for letter and word recognition and phonological processing. In looking at a picture of his daughter doing sandpaper letters, he mentioned the use of sound/ symbol relationship, the need to assign an arbitrary symbol with the sound and the visual cues. This is about cracking the code for reading.

In the cylinder blocks, the discernment that was apparent, it showed the hand was being prepared with the indirect purpose of muscle control. The same with the metal insets and these are compelling. In this way, the wrist, the hand, the grip are established. Anyone would say this makes sense. These are the foundations of simplicity.
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The movable alphabet requires fine motor movement and vocabulary enrichment such as showing the organization into plants and animals in the words on a mat. This is helping to build complexity and organizational principles. It is an extremely sensible way to understand reading and writing and it happened effortlessly for most. The brain is building networks.

What is the foundation of this?
A well developed neurological network is a good thing to have. The way you develop these bundles of fibre is ‘experiential interactions with the environment.’
In looking at an image of the brain doing a test, and what it does when it does not know something, the brain calls on all its resources. The game of Tetris was played and in the beginning the brain was a novice brain at this, but after 6 weeks of practice the mastery of the joy stick showed a growth in one brain area. Only 45 days separates you from being a Tetris master! It is the same as driving a car and mastery will show up in this area.

What should school be for?
Every child that walks through the door should have the maximum opportunities to explore, learn and develop. You cannot teach it, you can foster it. You can help foster new nuggets.

How can we build better brains?
Repetition. Brains like mastery.

How can we build better brains?
Security. When you have trauma, seizures or emotional trauma, they can impact brain development. If your goal is to help prepare an environment to let children grow, beauty is not an option. It works better in a beautiful environment. There is a natural cycle of engagement in Montessori with lovely rituals such as taking a break to water a plant or participate in a birthday ritual like the earth going around the sun.

How can we build better brains?
Hands on – learning that provides steps to prepare and solve problems. All meaningful learning takes place though analysis of error. The neurological parts of the brain are designed to activate attention to the point of error. You are providing children a puzzle they can stop and step back. It will not work however, if the puzzle is too complicated.


How do we build better brains?
Multi - sensory. Motivated learning. You must give them time to develop. They might spend a lot of time doing one activity. Have the confidence that the material is speaking to the child. Do leave them something to discover, step out of the way and let the light bulb go off. It is hard for this if we say, ok stop now and it is time to go on to history.

Executive functions: Hands-on, direct learning develops critical cognitive abilities and skills. Montessori is unique in fashioning these capabilities. We can modify remote events through intentional behaviour. We can link the present to the future. Humans are capable of judging, planning, imagining, foresight, organization, self-awareness, self correction, picking strategies, mastering progress. The executive functions are driven by genetic development.
It is the birth-rite of every child and we don’t want to mess with it. It means profound concentration, spontaneous self discipline, independence and initiative, a love of order and a love of work. Montessori knew it before anyone talked about these things.

Most traditional education is about crowd control, content, and standardized testing. In Montessori, normalization continues through a love of silence and being alone when
needed, attachment to reality, using adults in the environment as resources and respect through them as an ally. There is a sense of joy. What does it feel like to be good at doing things? A sense of JOY! It is about the recognition of your own capabilities.

If we go back to the top 10 education goals for kids, doing well on tests is #23 but for many teachers it is #1. This is not a way to ‘help children be good at doing things’. A good store manager tends to: show initiative, set goals, coach, influence, build teams, listen and demonstrate empathy and help others. Really effective people practice what they experience. If you want entrepreneurs, give students opportunities to learn these skills. Competent machine operators must be: dependable, accurate, respond to the needs of the situation, get along well with others, take responsibilities. We should give kids the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning and do practical, real things.

In Angeline Lillard’s study that was published in the Science Journal, the Montessori students showed good executive control, as well as decoding and early math skills and understanding. The Grade 6 kids also showed social skills, a sense of community, creativity in their stories and the use of complex sentence structure. In the unstructured time out in the playground, they showed more positive shared play, less aggressive play and more understanding of another’s point of view.

There was a study done in a poor area of a U.S. city that showed that 75% of graduates applied and were accepted in the gifted programmes from their public Montessori school. In this community, less than 50% graduated from traditional high school but from the Montessori school, 97% graduated from high school and 88% went on to college. There was purposeful and intentional learning. Montessori is not about method and materials. The goal is to create a developmental environment for children to progress at his/her own pace.

In the culture of a Montessori school, everyone is to be respected as the unique person they will become. At its core, Montessori education is transformative.
It is the social milieu that surrounds the family and the child that helps them deal with challenge, adversity and trauma. Who you mix with, matters.

We learn how to be human beings from other human beings.
“Montessori provides a culture that is deeply supportive of civilization.” What happens next in our civilization? We hope those who run it will base it on core values of peace, kindness and fairness. These are core values and this is the core of Montessori.

On this spaceship earth, all of us are in this together. We are not alone. The universe is teeming with life but no external intelligence will swoop in and save the earth. It is up to us and our children. We need a generation that values realty and loves the earth.
We need to produce children who look around, figure out what is to be done and do it!!

March 31, 2011. Uncategorized, Articles. No Comments.

An Amazing Moment in the Maud Street Playground


March 28, 2011. Uncategorized, Classroom life. No Comments.

March Break Camp - The Bata Shoe Museum

Can you spot your child’s feet?
Our trip to the Bata Shoe Museum was so much fun. Upon taking a tour around the museum, we spotted shoes as they have developed throughout history and even had a chance to see shoes worn by Elton John and Justin Bieber. Coupled with that, the children were able to dress up as ‘rock stars’ themselves! We think we may have some stars in the making!

March 18, 2011. Uncategorized, Field Trips. No Comments.