More and more studies are coming out now that young adults are entering the workforce without the skills they need to succeed (Young, 2018). Skills and characteristics such as taking initiative, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, productivity, grit, and interpersonal skills are surprisingly missing for many children and adolescents. So, how do we as parents work to build a child’s character? The answer is that we don’t. It is up to the child, when given the right tools and environment, to self-construct.

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An adolescent openly shares with the group in a literature seminar.

We at Greenspring Montessori School are dedicated to creating a rich environment where children and adolescents have the space to grow in this way. We focus first on teaching the skills that are often left behind through a means you might not expect to see in a school – cleaning, preparing meals, gardening, caring for animals, washing dishes, and doing laundry, to name a few. Many of these activities were once a part of daily life for children – caring for animals on a farm, serving as an apprentice to learn skills such as carpentry and metalsmithing, preparing meals for the entire family, and making their own money by mowing lawns and other small business ventures. But gradually, over the past few decades, more and more focus has moved towards academic rigors (still very much important, but more on that later!). School programs such as home economics, shop classes, and agriculture have all but disappeared. 

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A middle school student uses a sander while woodworking.

In the Montessori classroom, these bygone activities are known as Practical Life work, and they are one of the amazing things that sets Montessori apart from conventional models of education. On any given day, you can stroll through the halls of our school and see this work in action. Beginning with our youngest learners at 18 months, toddlers learn to set the table with real glasses and plates to enjoy a meal together. They learn to clean up after their own spills with a mop and broom. A four-year-old in a Children’s House classroom can offer tea to a visitor or calmly resolve a conflict with a friend at the Peace Table. In Lower Elementary, children learn to collaborate creatively in the classroom and outside of it through Going-Outs where they plan each detail of their excursions off campus. Our Adolescents host thoughtful community meetings where they have developed autonomy and responsibility to manage their own small business.

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A Children’s House student makes bird feeder cakes to hang on trees around campus.

This is not to say that academics are not important in Montessori schools. Rather, classroom teachers (we call them guides) help to guide children in developing a strong foundation with these soft skills so that they may have a richer experience when working in academic fields such as science, mathematics, and language. For instance, the skills of cooperation, problem-solving, and critical thinking are essential in conducting a science experiment or attempting to solve an algebraic formula. It is the child who has developed these soft skills who will be best prepared for the “real world.” 

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Lower Elementary students collaborate in a small group lesson on fractions work with their Guide.

Our society has set a new standard for what students are expected to do – participate in sports and extracurriculars, win awards, and take advanced classes, while dropping many responsibilities around contributing to the home or community that foster independence, allow children to contribute meaningfully, and help them to build their self-esteem. Dr. Ron Young, Ph.D. states “In research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center concluded that 85% of job success came from having well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills).” This ongoing field of study around soft skills shares an insight into how children who grow up learning these emotional and communications skills are better prepared for life (American Management Association, 2019).

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Adolescents hold Math Seminar where they collaborate with their peers to determine various ways of solving the same problem.

We at Greenspring Montessori School couldn’t agree more. Founded on the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori over a century ago, the Montessori approach to education allows for children to build these skills in a safe environment. They are given autonomy, respect, and responsibility to function much as adults are expected to in the real world. 

References

The Hard Truth About Soft Skills” American Management Association. 24 January 2019. 

Young, Ron Ph.D., “Soft Skills: The Primary Predictor of Success in Academics, Career and Life.” PAIRIN. 13 July 2018.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. Each week, we spotlight our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about Greenspring Montessori School, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Images were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.