Would Maria Montessori Have Embraced Today’s Technology?

Family Matters on 01.26.12
Contributor bio | twitter

Photo: Laura St. John / Montessori School of Evergreen

Let's rewind from 2012 to 1912: Even in her own era, Maria Montessori was a highly-recognized educational legend. As the first woman doctor in Italy, she was also an inspiration. A century later, thousands of schools around the world continue to name their facilities after her and adopt her methods of teaching, which focus on providing meaningful experiences that teach children how to learn.

Over the past 15 years of running computer classes in schools all over the US, I've personally worked with some Montessori schools that have totally embraced technology, but so many others are seriously repulsed by it: They simply write off that technology has "no place" in a Montessori environment. Seriously? Would Maria Montessori, a revolutionary scientist and doctor, so quickly turn away from such a fascinating, engaging tool? After conducting my own Montessori-style research and thoughtful consideration: No!

Typical Concern From Montessori: Sedentary Screen Time

What school, or adult, for that matter, shouldn't be concerned about lazy kids turning into couch potatoes, their brains turning to mush? All the harmful outcomes of technology happen when it's delivered in a one-way, non-interactive format. Kids just sitting there, absorbed into a digital world by a screen, may sometimes be a simple solution for babysitting, but it doesn't foster the positive uses of technology. I'm sure Maria would not be into kids passively watching videos and DVDs, unless they were immediately going to apply it to an authentic learning experience. It would have to be something creative and real world, such as watching a how-to video on gardening then going out and planting and nurturing seeds.

How Today's Technology Can Fit Montessori

If you incorporate technology just like any other material, you can use it to actively engage children in the real-world learning experiences that are already going on in the Montessori environment. Whenever I walk into any Montessori school, I can quickly see how they can incorporate technology. Montessori kids should not be taking an isolated computer class, such as keyboarding or word processing. Instead, primary students can be reinforcing their letter sounds while learning the keyboard, and lower elementary kids can be documenting the growth of their classroom plants in a spreadsheet. When you include technology as part of the everyday Montessori process, you teach kids to use it as an effective tool.

Developing Problem Solvers and Thinkers
In an era where so many traditional schools have lost the time, funding, and ability to be creative because they are overburdened by state-mandated standards and testing, I'm relieved to walk into a Montessori environment where kids are not sitting in rows, learning material just because it's going to be on Friday's test. That method of teaching was great in the industrial era, when we prepared kids to become workers in a factory. Kids today must learn how to think and solve problems -- and technology can very easily become part of that process.

Fostering a child's natural curiosity and prompting them to ask questions is so critical for our future entrepreneurs and leaders, our next inventors, cure-seekers, and clean energy developers. Maria Montessori lived through many breakthroughs of her own time, and I'm sure she recognized and embraced that kids need to be prepared for a future that could be very different from our own. My bet is that Maria would be totally into kids learning to use technology as a tool for scientific research and communication, applying it in meaningful ways to express what they just learned.

Self-Correcting, Self-Adjusting Content

Maria Montessori was all about teaching kids global, real-world concepts using methods that allow children to move ahead at their own pace. I think Maria would dig joining my boys on the Xbox Kinect system, where your body becomes the controller. But even if she wasn't into any gaming aspects of technology, I'm sure she'd be impressed by content that can automatically self-adjust and self-correct, allowing any child of any background or learning need to reach success.

Let's fast forward from 2012 to 3012: even in her own era, my mother, Julia Patterson, an educational technology expert, has been called a "Maria Montessori of Technology." She's an inspiration to hundreds of schools that have adopted her methods to integrate technology effectively into the learning process. A century later, I bet so many schools around the world -- including Montessori schools -- will agree that it would be a mistake not to adopt the most powerful learning tool ever invented.

Laura St. John is co-creator of Discovery Kids Puterbugs, a technology program that teaches kids 8 and younger healthy ways to use technology as a tool, not just a toy. Classes are offered in locations throughout the US, as well as an anywhere-anytime online format. Listen to Laura's webinar to learn more about bringing the program to your area.

Related Articles on Kids, Tech, and Learning:
Can Technology Make Your Kid a Better Student?
The Language Your Kids Are Learning Without You
How Our Kids Will Use Technology to Save the Planet