If Montessori promotes individual work, many parents ask, does it not prevent or retard social development of a child. Let us understand how Montessori promotes social development of child through it's well crafted design of environment.
Before understanding how, let us clarify what is social development? Social development is not sitting with someone else and listening others talk, joke, blabber, or pat each other’s back. That is called 'gregarious'. Social development, more specifically, is being able to sit with others to solve common problems and pursue aims acceptable to all.
With the latter definition of social development, fostering social development requires developing five traits: Acquiring self discipline to speak what is necessary, respecting others time and presence, taking care of common resources that belong to all, listening to others with patience, and utilizing each other's strengths to seek help or help others when necessary.
Let us see how these traits are encouraged indirectly in a Montessori design. No scholastic material is prepared to develop social skills of a child; instead, in a Montessori, an environment is created that invokes specific experiences in a child, which in turn promotes social development.
For instance, in a Montessori, as many of the Montessori apparatus are found in only single sets, the child, who does not find what he wants to work with, needs to wait for it to come back to the shelf. This fosters patience and tolerance towards other children in the environment. The child learns to control the urge to grab the material from others and has to instead learn to be patient with others.
Unlike in traditional school, a child in a Montessori has the freedom to move and work wherever he wants to. To work, he has to place his work-mat anywhere he wishes in the class ( in Montessori, a class is called an environment), and carry the material to his work mat. However, he quickly finds out that his freedom is not limitless. Like others can disturb him, he also realizes that he can be a source of disturbance to others. He has to therefore learn to inhibit his impulse to disturb others if he has to enjoy his own freedom of working himself. Unknowingly he learns to respect others. A child is not taught to respect others, instead he learns this through his own experience in a Montessori.
In a Montessori, a child has to take care of the material himself. Because everyone shares one set of material, the child understands that the materials are common resources used by everyone. He not only has to take care of the material while working, but also has to keep it back in the same state of preparedness and completeness that he fetched the material, after finishing his activity. This itself promotes self-discipline and acute awareness of other’s needs, an important trait of social development
In a Montessori, children with mixed age group work together. Children with 3-6 age work together in one class in Montessori, not in separate classes. In such a set up, a junior child seeks help from senior child because a child can communicate better with other child, than with the adult ( in Montessori, teachers are called adults). A child initiates speaking with each other whenver he wishes, instead of being indirectly pushed to do so. Older children therefore become heroes and teachers of the younger children, as younger children intuitively understand that when they will become older they will be able to do what older children can do. This social experience of helping each other in a Montessori strongly promotes social development. Additionally the diversity in a Montessori enables the child to interact with different type of children: boisterous, silent, bubbly, demanding, whining etc.
Due to the brilliant design of environment, a child in Montessori develops socially through experiencing different situations , instead of intellectual reasoning or by given constant instructions of 'Be patient'. In other words, careful design of environment of a Montessori promotes social development. A play school may help gregarious development, but it is not enough to promote social development.
Which do you think is a more powerful method to promote social development: Montessori or a traditional play school?