A school leader shares some of Maria Montessori's insights and their importance to our vision for education at Deenway.
by Ustadha Sadia Shafquat, Senior School Leader
Deenway has been committed to providing Montessori education in Britain for over a decade. It has remained the only Islamic Montessori school in Britain - amongst just a few other non-faith based Montessori schools in the country - to have cultivated a Montessori educational setting beyond the pre-school years. In this article Ustadha Sadia Shafquat, Senior School Leader, explains Maria Montessori's method and explores its connections with aspects of the Islamic tradition and Deenway's vision.
Emerging through the work of Dr. Maria Montessori in Italy in the early 20thcentury, the Montessori method has become a well-established and increasingly popularapproach to education around the world. The Montessori method has gained popularity amongst many home-schoolers searching for an antidote to conventional systems of schooling rooted in the industrial-age goal ofproducing workers (‘factory style’) who would be useful for the state – now the competitive workers of the 21st century. In spite of this, it is rare to find educational settings which extend the Montessori approach beyond the Nursery years. It is rarer still to find provision for Montessori education which additionally strives to embody an Islamic ethos.
‘Man needs spiritual tranquillity and peace; he needs light. Who can offer him a little light?’ (Maria Montessori, Education & Peace)
At Deenway, we value the Montessori method as our approach to education because we have found it to facilitate our work of raising children in the way of Prophetic guidance. The core educational principles and practical techniques developed by Dr. Montessori through her observation of children are for us a deeply valuable resource with which we may achieve our end. Dr. Montessori said of her method that:
“Although this method bears my name, it is not the result of the efforts of a great thinker who has developed his own ideas. My method is founded on the child himself…the method has been achieved by following the child and his psychology…a soundly objective method is based on observation, the observation of facts, which is why the Montessori Method is entirely different from all other methods, which came from people who arrived at certain theories.” (1946 London Lectures)
In our commitment to raising children in the way of Prophetic guidance, we find that the following aspects of Dr. Montessori’s principles, in particular, beautifully compliment our vision and facilitate our mission:
1. Raising children according to their fitrah
Dr. Montessori’s observation of children led her to understand that learning is a natural process, driven and guided bythe child’s innate universal tendencies, which pull him towards developing himself. Learning is constantly in motion as a ‘natural unfolding’ through children’s interaction with their environment at all times from the moment they enter the world, and each child undergoes this process in their own unique way, bringing forth their intrinsic God-given gifts. The task of adults as caretakers of children’s development is to support the natural growth of the child through an appropriate cultivation of the environment to meet the child’s changing developmental needs, including the removal of obstacles to natural development.
2. Supporting the development of ‘the whole child’: mind, body, soul
The Montessori Method does not compartmentalise learning or development. Academic skills are not acquired in a separate dimension to practical life skills; intelligence is not preferred over emotional growth; physical movement does not offer just a break from study but instead supports the development of all aspects of a person using all the senses; moral or spiritual development is not merely the acquisition of conforming rules of behaviour but is a constant balancing of the inner life of the child with their social development. The Montessori approach is concerned with the physical,intellectual, psychological, social and spiritual growth altogether of the human being. Education is an ‘aid to human life’ not merely the transmission of a curriculum; children already carry a spiritual leaning which we can nurture - they are not a blank slate on which to imprint ideas. Dr. Montessori particularly cared for the spirit or soul of the child and the inner life of the child, seeing the education of children as the unveiling and developing of the child’s spiritual energy which is essential for living a fulfilling life:
‘Moral education is the source of that spiritual equilibrium on which everything else depends and which may be compared to the physical equilibrium or sense of balance without which it is impossible to stand upright or to move into any other position.’ (Maria Montessori, Education & Peace)
3. Raising children to understand their role as stewards in the world
The Noble Qur’an calls our attention repeatedly to the precarious balance of the created world: we are reminded to recognise our purpose in creation, our amanah as human beings, and to go about ourwork without transgressing the balance. Dr. Montessori emphasises that the individual only finds a meaningful sense of independence and develops his own identity within a natural symbiotic system of interdependence with the rest of the human as well as the natural world. Her method naturally allows children to see that they’re part of an interdependent system in the cosmos: ‘Cosmic Education’, which is Montessori’s plan for the Elementary years, helps children to understand that they have a function in the world, and carry a responsibility. It builds an awareness of their work and existence within something larger or bigger than themselves, which leads towards building an awareness of stewardship.
4. Raising children with a balance of freedom and discipline
Montessori ideas of freedom and disciplineare often misunderstood. Dr. Montessori held that children cannot be preparedfor social life by being forced to do as commanded with their movements and actions restricted as they sit still and quiet:
‘the only true freedom for an individual is to have the opportunity to act independently.’ (Maria Montessori, Education & Peace).
This is not freedom in the sense of letting children do whatever they want:
‘if freedom is understood as letting the children do as they like, using, or more likely, misusing the things available, it is clear that only their “deviations” are free to develop.’ (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind).
Discipline is gradually inculcated as self-discipline in the child via the building of independent action within a prepared setting. This is done through inviting the child into a strictly ordered and designed environment in which the child exercises independent choice to engage freely incarefully curated activities.
5. Supporting adults in interacting withchildren in a unique way which aids their own spiritual development
The Montessori vision for the adult who works with children is one of relational energies: the adult supports the child- a developing being - in understanding their place and task in the world whilst simultaneously helping themselves perpetually grow as they fulfil their own particular ‘cosmic task’. Dr. Montessori’s emphasis on the spiritual preparation of the teacher offers a special dimension to the privilege we have been given in working with children at Deenway. A critical preparation of the teacher is a study of their own self and a training of their character as an ongoing process. The adult learns ‘how to observe, how to be calm, patient, and humble, how to restrain impulses.’ This preparation is neither theoretical nor limited to the classroom; it is slow, cumulative and life-long practical work for which they have a ‘greater need of a gymnasium for [their] soul than of a book for [their] intellect.’ It demands ‘not words, but virtues’ and these manifest in the prepared adult’s ‘tranquillity, patience, charity, and humility’;their practice of discerning when ‘the power of silence’ trumps their "facility in speech"', when the moment requires observation rather than demonstration, and how to ‘assume the vesture of humility’ instead of ‘the proud dignity of the one who claims to be infallible.’ This vision enhances our own for working with children through Prophetic guidance at Deenway, and allows us to work in a much deeper way than the preparation usually offered to teachers since it presents an opportunity to bring about a reformed adult whose personality and nobility is raised through their work with children .
Find out more:
You can read more about other theoretical aspects of the Montessori Method through our Recommended Reading page. You can also find out more about the key features of the Montessori Method as found in our classrooms on our Curriculum page.