Why I think Montessori education is like playing a computer game
I bet that seems like a strange comparison – Montessori education which is all about hands-on learning likened to playing computer games.
Indeed, in some regards the two are at polar opposites. Montessori is about engaging children with real world experiences. And computer games are based in a virtual world. Montessori families limit screen time in preference for creative endeavours. And computer game makers are hoping you want to spend more time on their devices.
However, where I think Montessori education and computer games are alike is in how they motivate the child to keep learning (in a Montessori classroom) and keep playing (at a computer game).
I think there is no doubt that for some of us computer games are about as addictive as things get. We can ask ourselves why do kids and adults play computer games for hours and hours? And I am not condoning playing computer games for hours and hours. No thanks. Just interested in why they are so appealing. And how we can use this information to keep kids interested in learning.
Computer games become addictive as you work your way through a series of levels. The level you are working on is not so easy that it is boring, and it’s not so hard that you cannot clear the level eventually. But it may well take you more than one attempt. And you will lose track of time trying to achieve it. Once you have cleared the level, you don’t win any prize; you simply get to advance to the next level.
That is exactly the way a child works in a Montessori classroom. They have the freedom to choose the activity that is right at their level. If it is too easy, there will be no challenge. If it is too difficult, they will give up. So a Montessori child is always looking exactly for the activity that they will have to work at to master. The teacher is also making sure that such suitable activities are available in the environment.
The activity will challenge the child, they will have to concentrate, and the child may even reach a state of ‘flow’ while working to master the activity. And once they have worked it out, they will have that satisfaction, just like a computer gamer clearing the next level. Once mastered, they can go on to the next lesson.
As a parent and teacher, we are aiming to connect our children with activities that are just at this level. Observe your child to see which activities hold their attention. Avoid distracting them once they are deeply focussed on achieving a task. And enjoy their delight when they master that activity. They need no other reward.
Dr Montessori developed her educational approach in the early 1900s and, when you see the same principles being applied to computer gaming, you could say Montessori is finally coming of age.