Montessori neuroscience

Neuroscience Debunked!

Crossing that midline debunked! Growing those myelin sheaths does or doesn’t increase cognition!

Talking to students in my class can be an exercise in neuroscience because we’re growing the connections in our brains every day. My students start the morning finding the work that will warm them up for the day: reading, a math warm up, vocabulary work, even looking at their personal work plan to mentally prepare for the day.

We choose our own work at the beginning of the day, even before our morning circle to help get into the groove and provide children with a start to the day that will be most relevant to them. Relevance to the child, or affect, is the first aspect of Universal Design for Learning, a catch phrase for something Montessori knew a long time ago: the brain affects learning.

Montessori knew form observation that children learn better from peers and that their learning is more relevant when they care about it, can learn and express knowledge in the way that is most meaningful to them, and that even patience grows over time. As with so much of what Montessori observed, we’re learning through modern neuroscience that children do indeed grow patience through practice (think of the maps and slowly moving cards across the mat), crossing the midline increases the myelin coating the nerves across the corpus callosum in the brain and makes accessing information faster (increases cognition), and  learn the expected foundational understanding by both learning through what we love and expressing that newly gained knowledge in a way that is meaningful to the child.

As neuroscience debunks the way that different information has been applied (think Lucy Calkin’s work and “educational kinesiology”), we find that Maria Montessori’s observations endure the test, and teases, of time.


Montessori is a Social Justice Curriculum

With everything happening in the classroom and in the world, I’m reminded of the words of Maria Montessori: Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education (Educaiton For Peace, p. 24). History starts from a couple standpoints in our curriculum: everything is made of atoms shared in the world over time, and that every living creature has fundamental needs that must be met for successful continuation. Some fundamental needs are easy to see: food and water. But when we talk about the early humanoids of our planet we see that some of our human fundamental needs are ones that we may not recognize: needs like art, spirituality, and community. This time of year we celebrate so many different holidays that help fill those needs. From Bodhi Day on December 8th through New Year’s Day, my class counted 19 days that are special to different communities in our world. That’s not including National Horse Day and Bathtub day – which some in our community chose to recognize. Again, to paraphrase Montessori, “The work of education is peace.”

Much of our day is spent in recognizing the needs of others and establishing responsible actions in ourselves. From peace education and understanding our own emotions to recognizing inequity and standing up to help change it, Montessori brings peace large and small. In the Lower Elementary ages, we recognize that dignity, safety, peaceful interactions, fresh air and good food are all part of human needs, human peace, and human “justice.” We practice every day to ensure everyone in our community has physical space and an opportunity to use all the materials in class. We take time to ensure everyone has dignity as they move through their day. We also take the time to point out when someone needs to have their dignity or peace restored. We take the time to talk through how to do it and to try different, meaningful, ways to solve the problem as we see it or as it is presented. In Upper El, the children have a chance to move outside the community we are in to look at the world outside our classrooms.

Maria Montessori was a reformer. She was Italy’s first female doctor and provided this beautiful education environment to low-income children exclusively and proved it worked by observing the children for years before the Montessori Method was recognized as the exemplary learning experience it provides. She was a social reform advocate for women and children, and she rooted her peace education on those foundations. I’m proud to share her peace and spread our recognition of the dignity in meeting the fundamental needs of those around us.