Montessori can lead way to education re-think, says neurologist

Montessori teaching shows the way forward for educators in the 21st century and 'School 2.0', according to a leading neuropsychologist.

Dr Steve Hughes, assistant professor of Paediatrics and Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, is calling for a re-think in education and a move away from traditional teaching and what he calls the 'teacher, student, test' of School 1.0, based on what we now know about the way children learn.

Talking to Nursery World before speaking on education and parenting in the 21st century at the Maria Montessori Institute in London last weekend, Dr Hughes said, 'At the end of the day we know far too much about children's brains to keep doing this. The idea that children should learn the same thing at the same time flies in the face of how cognitive learning works for children.'

He said Montessori was a good example of what school 2.0 could look like because it focuses on how children develop, as well as having mixed age classes.

School 2.0 was less teacher-directed 'less about content and more about capabilities', with the teacher acting as a facilitator.

It was generally agreed that children need to develop a broad range of skills, but the way schools traditionally operate was not conducive to this, Dr Hughes said.

The developing brain is dependent on experimental interactions with the environment.

'A developing brain and its development needs vary with age. One of the things people don't necessarily understand is how important self-control is for the developing brain.'

Inhibitory control, developing a working memory and cognitive flexibility were key.

'Early development of these functions is a better predictor of academic skills than getting academic skills early on,' he said.

There also needed to be a move towards 'authoritative parenting', with parents not being afraid to set limits.

'Children have a developmental need to not have their own way too much. There is an emphasis on raising children who are happy, but we're getting it wrong because we want children to be happy all the time. A lovable child knows they don't get their way all the time.'

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