Jamie, SP staff in Bangkok, describes the power of Montessori education opportunities in the lives of children who are growing up in a slum as they learn to take responsibility over their decisions and their own learning processes.
Giving kids a safe space to learn has been my focus here in Bangkok for the past few years. I’m going back to school to get an online post graduate degree in Montessori Teacher Training. I’ve already begun my online classes and am learning how to not only make a safe space for a kid in a slum to be a kid, but also how to equip that space to maximize the development of each child.
Many of you know that I have been using the Montessori education method in the various library programs I’ve opened here in Bangkok. I am a big fan as I’ve seen just how this method can effectively transform a “slum child” into a “young learner.” Here are some reasons why Montessori works:
All Kids have the Built-in Potential to Learn Montessori’s method is based in the simple fact that all kids have the potential to learn and grow built right into their very nature. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or what their home looks like, every kid has that innate potential to learn. I believe it’s how God created us!
Kids Learn from their Environment Montessori is based on the concept that children learn through their senses and are shaped by their environment. Therefore, intentionally creating a space filled with activities that are made to develop the child’s brain will help them learn. Curiosity feeds their learning.
Kids Need to Learn Respect Montessori teaches children how to respect each other, themselves, the teacher, and the environment. Oftentimes, kids living in a slum have no space of their own. In our Montessori Library rooms we have given kids their own “mat” where they can “work.” It teaches children that they deserve a space in the world and others should respect that space.
It’s a New Way to Learn, And Some Kids Need That! Most Thai schools are all about rote memorization. One thing I’ve learned from talking to older Thai kids is that some of them struggle to learn in this way. Montessori style learning gives kids another option. Because Montessori activities are built to use a child’s senses to teach abstract concepts, kids who may not respond well to the Thai system may respond well to the Montessori system. I believe that no kid is dumb, and my hope is that some kids might realize they are smart by learning the Montessori way.
Kids Need to be Taught Responsibility
Finally, Montessori style learning allows the child to take responsibility of which activity they want to “work on” when they are in the classroom. The child is given the freedom to lead his/her own learning. This teaches them to be responsible for learning. The idea that their own actions have consequences is something that kids need to learn. Not understanding the meaning of personal responsibility may result in reckless decisions early on in live. If they learn the meaning of cause/effect and responsibility at a young age, surely they will continue to take responsibility for their actions, for their choices, and for their education in the future.
I’ve understood these truths in theory but have not walked with kids long enough to know if they are true. Then I met Khru Dao…
We had the opportunity this past month to visit a Montessori preschool in Khlong Toey, the largest slum in Bangkok. We sat down with the principal of the school, Khru Dao, to talk to her about her experience of working with slum kids and using Montessori methods. Khru Dao, in my opinion, is a saint. Or she should be named as one. She has lived and worked in Khlong Toey for over 40 years at a Montessori preschool pouring into the children, caring for them, giving them a safe space to learn and play and grow.
She is incredibly skilled at both teaching the Montessori way to kids as well as to their parents. Her commitment to this work and to the children flows from her faith in Jesus who she knows loves each of these little children so much and longs to care for them. Khlong Toey is notorious for its roughness. It has a culture of drug dealing, prostitution, crime, some violence, and real poverty. It covers an area of about 1 square mile and is home to about 100,000 people.
"they are the do-ers of their own fate and they take responsibility for what they’ve done."
Khru Dao shared her heart with us as we sat and talked. She shared the struggles she sees in the lives of her students, and we asked her about the benefits of a Montessori education for kids who grow up in slums. She has noticed that over the 40 years she has been doing this, when her kids come back to her after they’ve grown up, they tell her stories unlike other kids in the neighborhood. They tell her that, yes, they went to jail. Or went to college. Or this or that. Good or bad. But they claim responsibility for their actions. They know when they’ve done something wrong and they name it. Or they know they’ve done something right and they can name that. They don’t blame anyone else like most other kids in the neighborhood would. They tell her that they are the do-ers of their own fate and they take responsibility for what they’ve done.
To me, that is one of the keys to raising up responsible children coming from the slums—with the understanding that they do have responsibility for their actions. They can choose good or bad. That is a start, that is the beginning. And if you start there, think of how a child like that can be mentored to then choose to do good with the responsibility he/she has.
This is just one of the many hopes we have for this Montessori classroom. Pray that God would be glorified both in this place but in the kids themselves—that one day they would know their Creator and live life according to what God leads them to do.