Conditions for Optimal Learning and Development
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The following is a summary of the eight conditions that optimize learning and development as discussed in “Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius,” written by Dr. Angeline Lillard (2005). In this book, Dr. Lillard utilizes the most current scientific, neurological, and psychological research to prove that Dr. Maria Montessori's method of education is the most optimal for learning.

optimal11. “Movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning.”

Montessori classrooms allow for freedom of movement for the children and, in fact, encourage it. Rather that sitting at a stationary desk, our students are asked to move their bodies throughout the day. They go to the shelf, carry the material to their workspace, and manipulate the material, all of which facilitate the learning process.

2. “Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.”

Montessori children embrace a sense of control and freedom of choice. Teachers are always observing, guiding, and exerting control when needed. This freedom within limits fosters self-discipline and confidence in our students of all ages.

3. “People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.”

optimal2Children at Montessori Stepping Stones are allowed to pursue their interests. The teachers make presentations more exciting to the students by utilizing their knowledge of individual interests.

Movement, combined with the materials themselves, makes learning more interesting. The children are also inspired by the “Great Lessons,” “Key Lessons,” and stories.

4. “Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity, like money for reading or high grades for tests, negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.”

The children in our classrooms are not given extrinsic rewards. Their progress is evaluated through observation and three period lessons.

Students are allowed to feel their own sense of accomplishment rather than working to please the teacher.

In addition, they are not broken down by negative reinforcements such as poor grades on tests. When the teacher sees that a student needs further assistance with a particular concept, she simply repeats the presentation or provides the student with a different material that is designed to teach the same concept. All of this is done while maintaining respect for the child and with consideration to his/her self-esteem.

Students are motivated to continue learning until they have achieved mastery, rather than learning just enough to pass a test and then letting the information go.

5. “Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.”

optimal3In an environment where collaborative learning is allowed, learning improves for all involved.

The multi-age classrooms at Montessori Stepping Stones provide the older students with opportunities to be role models and to serve as teachers for the younger students. They truly enjoy this role, and both groups of children benefit greatly from the relationship.

The elementary students are in the midst of their “social age.” These children benefit from collaborative learning in many different ways. The possibilities are endless when it comes to peer tutoring – a relationship in which both students learn more than they could by working alone.

The elementary teacher might also assign a research project to a group of students, giving each individual a section to research. The students then put all of the information together to present to the class. This form of collaborative learning allows the group to learn more than each could on his/her own. In conjunction, sharing the research project with the class serves the class as a whole and the presenters as well.

6. “Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.”

optimal4Knowledge is not acquired by word alone in the Montessori classroom. Adhering to Maria Montessori’s methods - we never give anything to the child’s mind that we do not first give to the hand. The children are able to learn abstract ideas using concrete materials. They experience each and every concept instead of merely reading or being told about it. This brings learning to life!

7. “Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.”

The staff of Montessori Stepping Stones has a warm and sensitive style. They give the children respect while making them feel safe in their environment. There is a good balance of warmth and control while the children’s freedom within limits is maintained.

8. “Order in the environment is beneficial to children.”

Children function better in an environment that is orderly, not too noisy, and has predictable routines. We provide the children with the stability of routine while protecting their uninterrupted work cycle. One merely needs to observe our classrooms or take a tour to see the beautiful order of the environment. In Montessori classrooms, there is a balance of order, freedom, choice, and control. It is here that children flourish.