Thursday, 14th September 2017. As I sit in the introductory class of “Psychology of Learning and Cognition”, I try to recall what I studied regarding cognition and learning over the years and what I have derived from it. Over the years my main area of study regarding cognition and learning had more to do with Dr. Maria Montessori’s theory of how learning takes place. She researched and wrote extensively on how children should be free to explore. I have been influenced most by her philosophy because I saw the truth of her words when I observed my own children.
Maria Montessori emphasized active learning. She also stressed upon independence and cooperation. This is the reason why we see true Montessori classrooms arranged in a way that supports free exploration, orderliness, and cooperation. She believed that children go through “sensitive periods”, where their minds are ready for learning and involved and attracted towards a particular type of task. This is precisely why we observe small children being actively involved in –let’s say – observing a piece of paper. If you try to take away that piece of paper from them, either they scream and object or they keep on holding on to that piece of paper, and completely ignore you. That is because learning is happening at that moment in time and children don’t like to be pulled away from a natural learning process.
According to the Montessori philosophy, learning occurs at the individual’s specific development pace. When I studied this philosophy, I wondered how relevant it is to child development yet how opposed it is to the current system in place in Pakistani schools – and even in “Montessori” schools ironically.
Children are expected to reach certain milestones, by a particular age, not taking into account individual differences. Children in schools are divided by ages, even though age should hardly be taken as a milestone for anything. For example, no two children start walking at the same age. Some children take their first steps at age 9, whereas some take their first steps in 18 months and some even at 24 months. In spite of this basic knowledge, schools continue to promote a “cookie-cutter” system, where all children are expected to respond in the exact same way, at a particular point in time. Maria Montessori’s philosophy was opposed to this practice.
The fact that a true Montessori classroom allows for uninterrupted exploration and learning makes it clear that learning is a continuous and inherent process. Learning, especially for small children, should never be divided into “time-tables” and “lunch breaks”. In fact, each and every moment should be considered as a learning opportunity.
Having said that, I am looking forward to exploring more educational theories and the psychology behind them in detail to determine the strength of the Montessori philosophy and see if a relation exists amongst these theories and their practical applications.