How the Montessori Environment Encourages Social Development – Primary Years
Updated: Jul 9
By Ms. Anisa Foy and Dr. Sueling Chen
What does it mean to have social skills? It is not about doing what is right or wrong. It means that one knows how, and is able to, behave in a way that peers find culturally and socially acceptable.
We first become aware of social behaviors at home, where we learn through how our family treats us and how they expect us to behave. It is like learning how to talk–there is no formal training, we just imitate what we see and hear around us. When a child enters preschool it is probably their first contact with the outside world, because up to then the child’s world consisted of family, extended family and any visits under the care of family. Preschool is the first time the child experiences being away from that familiar environment, and it is the first step towards independence. It is also the best place for the social development of the child. There is a misconception that social development is dependent on the child being exposed to a large number of children in a large setting. Before being exposed to large groups, the child needs to learn how to interact with the world around them. He needs to relate to his peers, even if there is only one peer. He needs all the social skills necessary to fit into his society. The Montessori curriculum includes the Grace and Courtesy lessons which show them the behavior requirements of their world. All this is done in a warm nurturing environment, with a small number of children ranging in age from 3 to 6 years. These lessons lay the foundations of the skill which can then be applied beyond the classroom.
Respect for Self The primary classroom is equipped to give the child functional independence through the exercises of practical life. They learn cleanliness, basic hygiene, how to dress on their own, and present themselves well. As the child gains functional independence, their confidence grows.
“A child’s work is to create the man he will become. An adult works to perfect the environment but a child works to perfect himself.” -Dr. Maria Montessori
Respect for Environment The child then becomes aware of his environment and learns how to care for it. They are also taught to be gentle and respectful to all the materials and objects in the environment. It is common to see a Montessori child water the plant, clean the window, and carry materials with special care. The child is expected to clean up after himself after doing Montessori work and after eating. They are taught that it is common courtesy to leave everything just as they found it for the next person who will use the material or the table.
Respect for Others The Montessori environment is truly a reflection of the real world. The mixed-age, multicultural classrooms allow the children to be exposed and accept peers with a different maturity level, capability and background from their own. Children learn that if they show courtesy to others they can expect to be treated the same. These are some of the skills that children develop as they work in the classroom.
Basic courtesy – greeting, saying excuse me, please, and thank you, staying in line, taking turns
Communication – looking into people’s eyes when speaking to them, how to express needs or feelings politely
Listening – listening to teachers, listening to the other side of the story
Politeness – speaking with “inside voices”, giving other children a chance to participate, keeping hands and feet to themselves, complimenting, and encouraging peers.
Problem solving/conflict resolution – children are encouraged to think about a solution to their problem. They know to let everyone have a chance to express himself, and that he can “agree to disagree” on certain situations.
Having social skills is not about how many acquaintances or friends we have; it is about being a confident person with good manners and compassion. The elementary years sees further growth of social development, which will be discussed in another post.