What is Child-Centered Education?

Parents often misunderstand when Montessorians use the term “child-centered education.” Since this was one of the more important concepts I took away from my teacher training, I make a special effort to make sure potential (and established!) parents understand what I mean when I’m using this term. I want to make sure that parents know that child-centered education–or child-directed or child-led–doesn’t mean letting letting kids do what they want all day, every day, so I thought it might also be helpful to clarify my thoughts here on the blog.

I believe that being child-centered allows Montessori educators unique insight into the needs of their students. By keeping careful tabs on the child’s needs, the teacher takes advantage of one of the most useful tools in her toolbox: The child’s ability to direct his or her own education. This aid is invaluable to the Montessori teacher. Since she is always keeping watch, she could not properly do her job without the direction of the child. How would she know what lesson she needed to teach next? How would she know which area needed reinforcement? When would she know that mastery was achieved and that it was time to move on? These questions cannot be answered without the aid of the child. In this way, the child leads his or her own education.

Sometimes parents ask me when their child will learn specific concepts and this, I think, is the place where the term “child-centered” really comes into play. If the parent wants to know when Johnny will learn Long Division, my answer will never be as simple as “Tomorrow” or “Next Week” or “December 13.” Our school doesn’t work that way, largely because we are child-centered. Johnny won’t learn Long Division on a set schedule. He won’t learn it until he shows me he’s ready.

Maybe that’s what it means to be child-centered? To work on a child’s schedule instead of an adult’s? Think on that and let me know…


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