Book Review : Montessori Today by Paula Polk Lillard

One of the challenges I face writing this Blog is appealing to a wide variety of parents and stages.  With my oldest in grade 3 and my younger two, well, younger, I fear that I don’t know enough about later stage Montessori philosophy and teaching style. Honestly, I’ve barely scratched the surface with my older one. While I was looking for a book to illuminate me I was pointed to Montessori Today by Paula Polk Lillard.

The Good
This book is the first I’ve read that explains the ideas and approaches in Montessori after age six. There are so many things I love about it.  After providing a rich yet short reminder about development in the earliest years (sensitive periods, absorb at mind, etc…), the book quickly moves into the second plane and gives a comprehensive overview of what is happening in that plane and how the Montessori materials and approach tie into that development. It’s dense but practical – one section explains “tattling”:

“Children of this age continually report the behavior of other children to adults.  The persistence and frequency with which the children do this can be aggravating to adults.  Reflection, however, reveals the relationship of this behavior to the children’s developing moral sense and reasoning power.”

These three sentences have given me more patience in the past month (it’s taken me a while to read this one) than anything else I’ve read about tattling.

The book also devotes a whole chapter to the Great Lessons and Key Lessons and explains them and the intrinsic way that they frame all of the Montessori learning in a way that I have never understood.

The Bad
My primary criticism of the book is its negative outlook when comparing Montessori education to traditional educational.  One danger about naming your book Montessori Today is that Today isn’t very long.  The book was published in 1996;  while I don’t think that hurts the basically timeless quality of Montessori (though references to fax machines and the emerging computer technology do jar), I do think traditional schooling has changed enough that her negativity is problematic.  Also – comparison is unwarranted and unnecessary.

Also, the book bogs a bit in the middle.  I felt like the visit to the Montessori classroom was redundant, though it did make me curious about how this Utopian view might compare to our more pragmatic public school classroom.

In a Nutshell
I would recommend this book to any parent wanting to understand, not just Montessori’s philosophy for this next plane but also the practicalities of teaching children in that plane.

While the picture presented is idealistic and it does raise questions for me about the differences between the ideal and the real I did find it helpful to understand how my child is being taught.


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