The Montessori Method
Q&A with Mary Batterham from Discovery Montessori School
Walk into any pre-school or talk with any parent with very young children, and you’ll hear the name “Montessori” pop up during conversations. The Montessori method, one of the most sought-after education methods for toddlers, is a hot topic amongst parents who want to instil a sense of independence and love of learning in their children.
And we can’t blame them. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find endless lists of famous Montessori graduates, including extremely high-achievers in the likes of Sergey Brin and Larry Page (co-founders of Google.com), Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon.com), Julia Child (the legendary chef), Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia.org), and Will Wright (creator of “The Sims” video game).
To find out more about what the Montessori method offers, GeoBaby stopped by the Discovery Montessori School in Central for an informal chat with Vice-Principal Mary Batterham. During our frank conversation, Batterham also opens about DMS and its values.
Joined DMS: in 2012
Education background: Bachelor of Nursing, Bachelor of Teaching (0-5 years), Post-Graduate Diploma of Education AMI (3-6 years), Master of Education (Special Ed). She has been teaching for 25 years.
Q&A with Mary Batterham
GeoBaby: To start off, can you tell us a little bit about DMS? What are its goals?
Mary Batterham: Our goal is to create and sustain a multi-cultural non-denominational education experience that embraces diversity and appreciates differences, and allow our children to develop at their own pace to their full potential, to become independent, self-sufficient, and responsible global citizens.
GeoBaby: How does the Montessori system help children develop?
Mary Batterham: The Montessori method is about honouring children, appreciating what they already know, and building on that knowledge. Each child will progress at his or her own pace. Children do develop on a linear line, however, some children achieve milestones at a different pace. For example, some start to walk more quickly than others. The developmental pace for every child is unique. They’re going to progress to each developmental stage separately. So rather than setting a one-size-fits-all system, Montessori developed a system where each child is honoured where they’re at, at each time, at each individual stage. So the children who feel like they’re advanced can be “scaffolded” along at their level, and children that may have difficulties are supported at their own pace as well.
The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.
— Maria Montessori
The purpose of the directress is to prepare an environment that is cohesive to the developmental stages of the child and can facilitate the child's education.
— Mary Batterham
GeoBaby: What is the role of the teacher?
Mary Batterham: Dr. Montessori said freedom without discipline results in anarchy. So you can give the child freedom, but there must be some discipline. The teachers, who Dr. Montessori actually called "directresses," only sets up the environment to nurture and support the child's learning. The child has the opportunity to freely explore and learn at their own pace.
The three year composite also supports the child as children learn from each other. The older peer group is there to scaffold the children forward as well. And scaffolding is not just something that Montessori has come up with - many other educational philosophers such as Vygotsky and Erik Erikson have also talked about these concepts as well.
GeoBaby: What does “scaffolding” mean?
Mary Batterham: Scaffolding means that a child in the zone of proximal development, which means that they’re entering a zone where they’re ready to move on to the next developmental level. However, they themselves don’t have the ability to do it. But if you have an older peer group who has that ability, due to the fact that they’re older or they’ve been in the environment longer, then the child can observe what they’re doing and can move forward to that level. They imitate what the older children are doing and through practice and repetition, they can move themselves up to their level.
We encourage the older children – we talk to them and say that they’re taking a leading role and that they’re mentors. We tell them their behaviour in the classroom will affect the younger children. So they become proud and take on a leadership role, which is a certain skill you want your child to have and possess. Because when they go on to become young adults, having the ability to mentor and to be a leader are enormously beneficial skills.
Discovery Bay Campus
Unit 101, 1/F, Discovery Bay North,
92 Siena Avenue, Discovery Bay,
3/F, Mandarin Building,
35-43B Bonham Strand, Central
GeoBaby: What does a typical day look like at DMS?
Mary Batterham: We have a morning session, which is a 3-hour session, an afternoon session, and a full day session. And we also have playgroup sessions. Playgroups are slightly different because the children are accompanied by adults.
Unaccompanied morning classes starts at 8:30 and ends at 11:30. The children gather together and we have a circle time at the beginning of the day, which usually lasts for about 15-20 minutes. If there’s a project going on, or an introduction to a project, that will be the time when the project will be introduced. Many different things will go on during that time, like show-and-tell, book reading, learning poetry, or art appreciation.
Then at usually about 8:50, the children will commence what we call the “work cycle,” when children choose their own activities. At this time, the teacher, or directress, can interact with the children individually, either by giving them presentations or doing follow-up work on the presentations that they’re already working on. We aim for the work cycle to be about two hours long.
During the work cycle, different activities will happen. All areas of the environment will be used, so children will be working in practical life, sensorial, maths, language, and culture. Both Putonghua and English is used concurrently, so depending on what they’re working on, they’ll be either speaking in English or Putonghua.
Afterwards, the class comes together to have a Putonghua circle time. Once again this is an opportunity where the Putonghua teacher will present some sort of activity and then the children will have some free playtime in the outdoor activity area. Once that’s finished, they’ll come back inside and get ready to go home. So that’s the 3-hour cycle in the morning.
For the children that stay the whole day, they’ll have lunch at 11:30. They have an hour for lunch and free play and we resume class again at 12:30. The younger children will have a nap time, while the older children return to class and continue with the work cycle until 3:30 when it’s going-home time.
Opened in: 2010 (Discovery Bay Campus) and 2011 (Central Campus)
Children: ages 1-6 years old
Enrollment: about 200 in each campus
Teacher to student ratio: 1:10 (20 students in each class)
GeoBaby: What should parents look out for when interviewing Montessori schools to be assured of its authenticity?
Mary Batterham: We have a lot of schools all over the world that have the Montessori name. But not all of them carry out an authentic Montessori curriculum. Having a pink tower in the classroom, or some didactic materials, does not make you a Montessori school.
I think, first of all, you have to make sure the teachers are trained appropriately. Unless you have appropriately-trained teachers who know the theory and philosophy, it’s very difficult to have an authentic Montessori curriculum. There are what I would call three “genuine” Montessori teacher training colleges. One is the UK-based MCI (Montessori Centre International), the second is the Amsterdam-based AMI (Associate Montessori International) and it’s also Dr. Montessori’s original college, and the third is the US-based AMS (American Montessori Society). If the teachers have had training, they are going to be delivering the appropriate Montessori education.
Secondly, the environment should be well prepared and have all five areas represented: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Culture.
Thirdly, parents should bear in mind that the Montessori curriculum is process-based, not product-based. The process of what the child is going through is what we observe and honour. It’s not about producing something that is pleasing to the parents at the end of the day. If you go into a Montessori classroom, you will find that 90% of the children, especially in the early 0-3 years age group, will not be producing something that they can put into their schoolbag and take home. Children will count and learn to count using number rods, but they can’t put them in the bag to take home. The actual work is being done in the classroom and it is important for parents to have faith in that and not just feel that there has to be tangible objects for them to see at the end of the day.
The last thing is, obviously, happy children!
Discovery Montessori School has two Open Days coming up, one for each campus.
Central Campus Open Day
Date: Nov 2, 2013 (Sat)
Discovery Campus Open Day
Date: Nov 9, 2013 (Sat)