The activity preferences of pre-school children exposed to an environment based on Montessorian principles
Renwick, Hilda Frances
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The initial purpose of the study was twofold: to assess the possibility of establishing a Montessori environment without formal training, and to determine the extent to which this was successful. The literature study undertaken investigated Montessori from a historical perspective, before detailing the elements of the theory necessary for establishment of a research environment. The positive value of Montessorianism was shown indisputably by an indepth investigation of the opportunities for fulfilling developmental tasks offered by the Montessori environment. The relationship between the theories of Montessori and Piaget was investigated. Extensive agreement as well as areas of disagreement were discovered, the latter mainly due to Piaget's epistemological approach as opposed to Montessori's concern with the needs for development. The research evaluation showed general positive effects of exposure to a Montessori environment. Results were however difficult to interpret due to differences and weaknesses in methodology. In the context of the nature of Montessorianism, an evaluation of process (the HOW of development as addressed by Montessori) is suggested in preference to the nomal product evaluation provided by purely testing procedures. A Montessori environment was established after careful consideration of the works of Maria Montessori. Construction of apparatus was undertaken. Children and facilitators were recruited on a voluntary basis. A total of 27 children were obtained. Two mature facilitators oversaw the running of the group. After a period of 6 months, allowed for settling in, naturalistic observation was begun. Observation was done by classification of the use of specific apparatus into broad activity categories. The proportion time each child engaged in a particular activity category was recorded. This data was summarized and analysed in order to investigate trends in development. The raw data was used for hypothesis testing. Four hypotheses were tested: a sensitive period for motor refinement was not confirmed using the Mann-Whitney U test; a sensitivity for pre-academic activities was confirmed, also using the Mann-Whitney U test; and a preference for functional play over fantasy play in the pre-school period was confirmed, using the parametric t-test. The fourth hypothesis, based on test data delivered by the Griffiths Developmental Scales affirmed the general facilitative effects of the research environment. The sign test was used. The presence of sensitive periods was taken as a sufficient indication that the research environment was "Montessorian", established and run without formal training. The test results proved the facilitativeness of the experience, further supporting the possibility of running a Montessori school without the expense of training. By way of conclusion it was suggested that further research be undertaken to establish the visibility of Montessori in the broader South African context, given the proof that the elitism engendered by expensive training and administration procedures of this approach is not warranted. Given also its benefits, proven elsewhere, the present study is considered a pilot study to further research on this subject in the wider cultural and ethnic conditions.