Executive Functions and Montessori
Executive Functions enable us to mentally play with ideas. They allow us to take time to think before acting when we encounter new and unexpected challenges. They help us to resist temptations around us and remain focused on our goal. Executive functions are related to a family of cerebrospinal mental processes, the flow of which are needed for concentration and attention in situations where the use of our “autopilot”, instincts or intuition would be insufficient or impossible.
There is general agreement that the main executive functions can be classified into three categories: inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility. It is increasingly believed that these functions are vital for success in school and life to such an extent that those with poorly developed executive function may be misdiagnosed as having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or other learning difficulties.
The term Executive Functions was not around when Dr. Montessori completed her studies into how children learn. However, a Montessori education helps to develop executive functions in many ways. Montessori centers only have one example of any particular activity; meaning children must learn to wait. The activities are conducted on low desks or mats on the floor, so that children must walk from the shelving unit to the desk or the mat, through a maze of other children’s work in order to collect a new piece. In doing so, the pupils develop their working memory and have to avoid becoming distracted by what others are doing. Added to which, most of the activities are used frequently over time with new tasks being introduced or combined with other activities. Children also work together or teach each other, all of which aid their cognitive flexibility. In fact, studies suggest that 5 year olds who had attended a Montessori preschool showed greater cognitive flexibility than those who had attended standard preschools8
Time Management and Satisfaction
School days can feel long, particularly when evenings are filled with homework activities or studying for tests and exams. In Montessori schools, homework is typically limited. Dr. Montessori believed that it would not make sense to dictate what a child must do at home if it is not dictated in school. As we have seen so far Montessori students typically meet, if not excel at, the achievements of their peers and this in spite of a no homework policy. Interestingly, studies have found that students in Montessori schools spend more of their time on school related activities than students in traditional schools, who tend to spend more school time on leisure activities and socialising. Perhaps even more surprising is the finding that students in Montessori schools are more likely to see their classmates as friends than students in traditional schools. Montessori students also report feeling more energetic and interested in school than do students at traditional schools9.
Dr. Montessori created a child centred curriculum based on scientific observation. She moved the emphasis away from the teacher teaching and instead focused on developing an environment that helps the child to learn through a process of discovery and self-correction. Current scientific studies support the original work of Dr. Montessori and give us a better understanding as to why her curriculum can be so beneficial in enabling students to master skills and above all, develop a life-long passion for learning and innovation.
“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” – Maria Montessori.
Dohrmann, K. R. (2007). Outcomes for students in a Montessori program. Rochester, NY: Association Montessori International/USA: Retrieved July, 8, 2007 ↩
Lillard, A. S. (2005). Montessori: The science behind the genius. Oxford University Press. Page 35. ↩
Allen, R. & Waldman, C. (2010). High-Five Teaching, K-5: Using Green Light Strategies to Create Dynamic, Student-Focused Classrooms. Corwin ↩
Pate, R. R., O’Neill, J. R., Byun, W., McIver, K. L., Dowda, M., & Brown, W. H. (2014). Physical Activity in Preschool Children: Comparison Between Montessori and Traditional Preschools. Journal of School Health, 84(11), 716-721. ↩
Kandel, E. R. (2013). Principles of neural science. New York: McGraw-Hill. ↩
Lillard, N. Else-Quest,Science 313, 1893 (2006). ↩
“Overview of Research on Montessori Education: An Evidence-Based Curriculum“, taken from https://amshq.org/Publications-and-Research/Research-Library/Position-and-White-Papers. Accessed on Friday 12 June 15 ↩