A century ago, Maria Montessori proposed a method of learning continually supported by research in cognitive science and neuroscience as the most developmentally effective approach to learning.

Personalized learning is integral to the Montessori philosophy and is the primary method of learning that takes place at North Star.

In our classrooms, the bulk of the lessons and followup work for the children are guided by their own interests. Each individual child plays an integral role in the design of his or her own education.

This does not mean that the children are free to do anything they please.

As a Montessori teacher, my roles include setting and enforcing the limits of what are acceptable choices in the classroom, offering small groups of children interesting lessons on many different topics, keeping track of the work the children choose, and enticing each child into focused work in every area of the classroom and curriculum.

Perhaps my most important role is to observe the children’s own research and be prepared to offer the tiny hint or suggestion that will allow it to continue productively.

Last week I showed a seven-year-old child a box of cards, each with a beautiful photo and a description of a chemical element from the periodic table. I suggested that he find all the elements that were discovered before 0 AD and he did. Then, much to my surprise, he took out our BC/AD timeline and started placing cards at each of the correct centuries. Since our timeline material only dates back to 2500 BC, he struggled to find the right places for silver (3000 BC) and copper (8000 BCE). When I saw his conundrum, I showed him that each millennium on that timeline corresponds to one metre, and that was enough for him – he measured all the way across our classroom, finding 8000 BC, placing copper in the correct place, and then proudly showed his friends the work he had done.

This child isn’t particularly extraordinary, nor did he receive more than three or four minutes of adult direction during this project. He is a child in a Montessori classroom where this sort of thing happens daily.

Children are born with the tools and the drive they need to make sense of environments in which they find themselves.

If, as adults, we try to interfere with that process, we turn learning into a chore. Instead, our role is to provide children with an environment worth making sense of, and the key pieces of information they need to begin making sense of it.