Our blog, Is It Too Late for my Child to Attend a Montessori School? inspired a Montessori teacher to ask what to do with accepting third year students (at any level) who lack a Montessori background and may only be able to do first year work. She wanted to know if she should give them work they may have missed from previous levels. She had tried it, but her students were unhappy and thought the work too young for them.
Her question is certainly valid. While it is important to follow the child, we must also keep in mind the child’s plane of development.
The Planes of Development: A Guide for Engaging and Teaching Older Children With No Montessori Background
Dr. Montessori said that the first six years of life is the time of the absorbent mind. During this time, children learn everything through their senses. They need concrete, tangible materials to make sense of concrete thoughts and ideas. As children enter into the second plane of development, their reliance on concrete materials lessens with age. It is for this reason that you see fewer Montessori materials in the upper elementary classroom. There are still many materials offered in the areas of math and language, but not as many as in lower elementary, and certainly not as many as in the 3–6 classroom.
Along each plane there are certain sensitive periods during which learning a skill is optimized. Once a child has passed that sensitive period, it cannot be regained. That is not to say that you cannot teach or learn a skill after that sensitive time has passed; it is just not as easy to do so. This holds true with Montessori materials too. You cannot take an upper elementary student and give him materials from the 3–6 or 6–9 classroom as most of the work is certainly too young.
You most certainly can take older, non-Montessori students into your school, but you need to be prepared for some challenges. For example, if older students cannot do dynamic addition, you must use materials to help them understand the abstract concept of exchanging hierarchies. While I would not use the Stamp Game, I might choose to use the Large Bead Frame to work with older students.
The other challenge with older students is creating interest. Older children who are new to Montessori have not had the opportunity to develop an intrinsic love of learning. They may have experienced failures and setbacks along the way, and are now hesitant to try. I have found that, in order to follow the child, I have to become creative — just like Maria Montessori did all those years ago. What has worked well for me and other teacher's I have shared with is a series of Real Life math books published by Rempub. I have taken books from their Menu math series (Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and Hamburger Hut) and instead of using them as workbooks, created shelf work by cutting apart the “checks,” laminating them, placing them in envelopes, and putting them on the shelves. These books help teach and reinforce basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and money concepts. I simply teach the skills needed using Montessori materials, model the idea of “playing restaurant” and tell the children they can play restaurant any time. Even my big 6th grade boys loved to play restaurant and challenge each other by creating the wackiest food orders they could come up with. It was great fun and they did not realize they were doing so much math. Even my most math challenged students begged for more menu math work. I have actually had to take it off the shelves at times, simply so they could find other work to do!
As for reading, as much as I love the Montessori phonics materials, there comes a time when the children simply outgrow them. What may work well for older children is real world applications, written at their level. Rempub is a great place to start for skills. I also use literature circles and books written at their level to really get children excited about reading. Spelling comes from the children’s own writing or from vocabulary found around the classroom and in their literature.
Deciding to accept older, non-Montessori children into your school presents its own unique set of challenges. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you follow the child; he will lead you where he needs to go.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, March 22, 2013.