Tag Archives: education reform

Montessori and Day Care

The New Republic has a grim piece up: The Hell of American Day Care, by Jonathon Cohn. The article centers on the story of Kendyll Mire, a toddler killed in a fire at an in-home day care in Houston in 2011, and you should know before you decide to click that it is pretty gut-wrenching.

But Cohn does a good job of filling in the social and historical context of how pre-kindergarten child care is provided and regulated in this country—in contrast to many other countries where child care is seen as a national priority.  From the article:

  • About 8.2 million children under five are in some kind of care.
  • In 2011, the median  salary for a child care worker was $19,430.
    (For comparison, full-time work at $12/hour is about $24,000.)
  • Full-time licensed child care can cost as much as $15,000 a year.(National averages are $11,666 for infants and $8,800 for preschool)
  • Very poor families can get a tax credit worth up to $1,050 a year per child.

(There’s a wealth of detail at Child Care America’s National Report.)

Kendyll’s story is harrowing, but Cohn’s bleak picture of the U.S. chid care market is a reality we  Montessorians need to face if we are to bring our work to children and families who need it most. Many of us work in a different world, and we don’t really understand the scale of what’s  happening outside our (frankly) boutique niche. Here’s what the article makes clear:

  • Many households, often headed by single mothers, need child care so they can work.
  • Many child care choices are poorly regulated, don’t respond to child development, and can’t pay practitioners well or attract educated skilled workers.
  • Yet these programs are barely in reach of the families who need it most.

And here are some facts about Montessori

  • Although elementary and adolescent work is thriving and expanding, most Montessori is taking place at the child care level, especially worldwide.
  • Montessori has a fantastic but little-known child-development based model of infant-toddler and preschool level care.
  • Our programs are not necessarily that expensive. You can look up your state here (pdf), on page 36. You may find your program  $1000 or so of the state average.

So? If schools can find a way to reach these families, and to bridge the affordability gap, with financial aid, tax credits, and  state subsidies that may exist, we could serve a lot of children who really need it, and be a bigger part of the child development and child care conversation in society.  This is our growth opportunity.

Finally, some observations about child care programs in public life:

Kendyll’s world is the world our regulators see. It’s the reason for ratio and inspection rules we sometimes chafe against. As we join the ongoing conversations in many states about standards and practices—and we need to be there—this has to inform our message:  We understand where you’re coming from, what you see.  Montessori is different.  Come see for yourselves.  We might even have something to offer.  Come see for yourselves.

High profile articles like Cohn’s don’t happen in a vacuum.  Obama’s State of trhe Union put preschool and child care on the national agenda for the next few years.  The conversation is going to be about Quality of Care, High-Quality Preschool, and it’s happening already, in Oregon, in California, in Florida, and likely in your state as well.  And it’s not about better private preschools for families who can well afford it.  It’s about serving children and families who can’t. If we’re going to reach more children, we’re going to have to start reaching where the children who need us actually are.

Montessori’s Got SOLE

Yesterday, I wrote about Dr. Sugata Mitra and self-directed learning.

Dr. Mitra won the one million dollar  2013 TED prize to build “The School in the Cloud,” a virtual school based on his work.

His lesson structure is called a Self-Organized Learning Environment, or SOLE, and there’s a contest to implement one and write it up in 500-1000 words.  Up to three winners will get tickets (for two!) to TED Youth 2013* in November. Instructions and Guidelines and here.

Montessori elementary teachers should submit entries to this contest.  Here’s why.  You already run ten of these a day, concurrently.  Here are the elements of the SOLE, from the guidelines:

  • the adult poses a motivating question
  • students choose their own groups of four
  • a student is designated as “helper”—a sort of facilitator
  • movement permitted
  • collaboration and borrowing from other groups is permitted
  • changing groups is permitted
  • groups develop substantial responses to the questions and share them with the whole class
  • Dr. Mitra’s work often involves groups sharing a PC and using the internet heavily, but this is not specified in the guidelines
  • 40 minutes are allowed for investigations, and 10 to 20 for review

So like the Montessori elementary! Except, in Montessori:

  • the motivating questions are embedded in a holistic structure and supported with brilliant charts and materials
  • multiple questions are being explored by different children at any time
  • groups are not limited to four 
  • computers and internet use are often minimized
  • group roles typically emerge spontanesously
  • movement and collaboration are of course permitted 
  • hand-on experiences, books, and student-directed visits to outside resources, (“Going Out”), are emphasized as sources
  • time limits are much broader than 40 minutes, and projects may extend over several days

Dr. Mitra needs to know what we do. I know it’s an extra hour or two of work to really write it up well, but why not get credit for what we’re already doing? 

The deadline is next Friday, the 12th. 

Those links again:

Instructions • Guidelines (pdf)

* From their website: “TEDYouth is a day-long event for high school students — with live speakers, hands-on activities and great conversations.”

Self Organized Learning (Re)Discovered—Million Dollar Prize Awarded

This is a complex story with a lot of angles: self-directed learning, technology in the classroom, Montessori rediscovered yet again, education for very poor children, TED, and lots more.  And, because it is strongly pro-computer and takes Montessori for granted, it’s going to irritate some people.  But hear me out.

Education researcher Sugata Mitra (website, Wiki*) has been awarded the one million dollar 2013 TED Prize to fund development of a “School in the Cloud,” based on what he calls Self Organized Learning Experiences, or SOLEs.  He has challenged parents and teachers to implement document, and submit their SOLEs.  Three winning submissions will receive a weekend trip to the TED Youth  conference in November.

Mitra, a scientist and education researcher, is known for his Hole-in-the-Wall (website, Wiki*)experiments and later work in self-directed learning among children aged 8 to 12.  Here’s what he did.

In 1999, while working for an IT training company in New Dehli, Mitra, curious about technological literacy in very poor Indian children, cut a hole in the wall of his office facing into the adjoining slum, and installed a computer, a trackpad, and a video camera.  He was astonished to observe children spontaneously working in groups to become fluent internet navigators without being taught by adults.  He has since replicated and extended the experiment in hundreds of locations around the world, observing children learning computer skills, teaching themselves English, finding and using information from internet sources, and exploring motivating and open-ended questions such as “Do fish feel pain?” and “What is altruism?”

Mitra has made some observations which will be familiar to Montessori teachers. Children in the experiments:

  • displayed spontaneous activity, self-educating themselves without prompting
  • naturally formed groups to work together
  • worked better when the number of computers was limited and sharing was necessary

The experiment worked best:

  • with children aged 8 to 12
  • when children had freedom to move around their environment, to choose their own groups, and to collaborate
  • with a supportive adult who gave encouragement but not direct instruction

Now I know you’re all saying, “Great! He rediscovered Montessori philosophy and the second plane, but with the internet instead of the Great Lessons!”  But let’s keep a couple of things in mind.

First, one of Mitra’s key early insights was this: “There are places on earth where, for various reasons good schools cannot be built and good teachers cannot or don’t want to go.” We’re not anywhere close to sending an army of Montessori elementary teachers to those places, and if those children can have authentic self-directed learning experiences now, while they’re still children, I’m all for it.

Second, if there is solid research showing that what we do works, and a million dollar prize for it makes the news, I’m all for that, too.

That’s enough for today.  I encourage you to check out Mitra and his TED talks.  Tomorrow I’ll post about how Montessorians can get involved.

TED 2007 •  TED 2010 • TED 2013

* The Wikipedia articles are not up to the usual standard for the site, but they’re a good place to get started.

The Education Reform That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Columnist Thomas Friedman’s piece in the NYT Sunday Review today highlights “Harvard education specialist” Tony Wagner‘s  call for Montessori education in all but name.  Author, speaker, educator, and Harvard fellow Wagner cited Montessori in his 2012 book, Creating Innovators, excerpted here on the Huffington Post

What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all have in common? … They all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. … In the 20th century, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and others did groundbreaking research on the ways in which children learn through play. Montessori integrated her understanding of the importance of play into her curriculum for schools. Today, Montessori schools can be found around the world.

Well, not exactly—although Montessori did say, “play is the child’s work,”* Montessori classrooms and play-based learning environments look pretty different. But listen to Wagner’s education reforms quoted by Friedman.  The goal of education should be to make students “innovation ready,” rather than “college ready.”  Per Wagner:

  • employers are looking for “skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration” and students who know how “to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’
  • students need:  “basic knowledge, … skills, and motivation. … Motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously.”
  • But that’s not happening in our system: “The longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school.” 
  • We need to “bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
  • Finally, Wagner cites current progressive education darling Finland: “students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, … all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. “

Hmmm…critical thinking, communication, and collaboration? Intrinsic motivation?  Play, passion, and purpose?  Minimal homework and testing?  Does this sound like an education model you might have heard of?

* Can anyone help me find a citation for this quote?  Let me know in the comments—Thanks!