Maria Montessori is best known for her work on a groundbreaking new pedagogy for preschool children, but her ideas went much further than that. She was a pioneer in the field of human development and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her ethos of innovation is embraced today in modern-day institutions such as the Clanmore Montessori School in Oakville, Canada. At Clanmore, around 160 children experience a Montessori education, from preschool (ages 18 months to 6 years) to elementary (ages 6 to 12) and middle school (up to age 15). At the heart of the school is a system of education that emphasises meeting the needs of the developing child.
“We are child-centred,” explains Grace Kidney, one of the school’s founders and co-owners. “We draw forth from the children, rather than fill them up with information.”
It’s an important distinction. At Clanmore, you will not find classrooms packed with children all sitting at their desks and doing exactly the same thing. Instead, under the guidance of skilled educators, children of all ages direct their own learning; taking the lead in their own work, performing their own research and presenting their results.
“It’s the students who tell the teachers, either verbally or through their actions, what they think they need to focus on next,” says Kidney. “Each step is a building block for further work.” In practice, children end up with tremendous self motivation and are comfortable with their own learning style. These are just the skills that are required for higher education – and life.
“These are children who have grown up with the idea of respect for each other,” says Kidney. “Having gone through the school in mixed-age groups, they have been offered the opportunity to develop great empathy. The older ones care for the younger ones, and that cycle is passed down.”
In constantly striving for excellence and greater support for the older developing child, Clanmore opened its middle school programme in 2012. “It’s something we have worked towards for a long time,” says Kidney. “We needed to offer another way to educate children through the teenage years. What distinguishes a Montessori child from others is, perhaps, their qualities. Yes, they have the knowledge, but they also self advocate. They are competitive with themselves rather than with each other and they are passionate about learning. These are the things that create a successful human being.”