Competition in Montessori
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Montessori values collaboration over competition. A casual glance into the Montessori classroom would convey a peaceful space, children using polite language and manners with one another, a calm, orderly environment.
But there is space in Montessori for competition. In fact, there’s a lot to gain from competition. Just like homework and even worksheets often being exactly right in Montessori, competition is a wonderful way to learn.
No, this isn’t the sabotage-your-competitor type of competition, it isn’t the “better-than” form of competition, but it is competition. It’s “you can do something amazing, I want to do it, too.”
In 1954, Roger Bannister ran a four minute mile. Until then, it was thought to be impossible, but after this absolutely incredible achievement, the impossible became possible. Two months later, he did it again, as did his competitor, John Landy. Just earlier this year, a man named Eliud Kipchoge did the next impossible thing: maintain nearly that pace over the course of a marathon, 26.2 miles, in under two hours.
Everything is impossible until someone does it.
The same is true in the classroom. I see that my classmate knows how to tie bows and a fire is lit that makes me want to learn how, too. I don’t pout because he can and I can’t, I don’t untie his bows. This competition is inspirational, it shows me what is possible, the bar is set, and I hustle and grind to surpass it.
It’s the reason we encourage challenge and observation in the classroom. I might not want to practice my counting, but once I see what practicticing counting leads toward — counting to a hundred or a thousand, or dividing fractions — suddenly the practice is worthwhile.
The children learn from one another. They’re eager to do what others can do, tomorrow, or down the road. It’s a gift of a mixed-age setting, this positive, inspiring competition. I want to write beautiful letters like Sami. Someday when I’m big I’m going to be an expert at zippers like Whisper. Did you see how fast Frances did the Map of Africa?! I want to do that, too!
“Everything is impossible until someone does it.”
It’s competition, in the best sense. It’s a contagious fire for learning, for exactness and precision and beauty. It’s the start of lifelong learning that begins with knowing what is possible, setting a goal to surpass that, and then imagining the impossible. It all starts with inspiration.