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Building Better Brains

It is not surprising that Steve Hughes is huge fan of Montessori education. After all, it is his job to understand how growing brains work. He is a pediatric neuropsychologist and assistant professor of pediatrics in Pediatric Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Minnesota. Hughes  says, “My research is directed at identifying social and emotional rearing environments that help to build better brains. We’re not just interested in intelligence—we’re interested in emotional well being and social functioning, too.”

Although trying to build better brains is a huge task, Hughes is undaunted. “This is a great time in history to be in the brain business,” he says. “Neuroscience is opening a wider window into how brains work, and we think we can figure out how aspects of the environment can help brains work better.”

To raise independent, thinking children, Hughes advocates leaving the traditional model of education behind.  He says that ‘school 1.0’ is characterized by children being told what to do and think by adults.  School 2.0, on the other hand, looks like a Montessori classroom: children engaging in learning by doing; using their hands and enggrossed in experimental interactions with the environment.  He says, “Maria Montessori knew before it was proved by neuroscience that cognition and movement are intertwined.” Now it is a point of fact in the scientific community.

Hughes pointed out the benefits of Montessori not only include better hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial problem solving skills, but also executive function skills and social development.

Hughes spoke to Evergreen teachers Mr. Bingcang, Ms. Tobin, Ms. Liotta, Mrs. Dahmas, Mr. DeMarchi and an audience of Montessori advocates from across Montgomery County at a presentation at Crossways Community Center in December.  His presentation is online at www. goodatdoingthings.com


  1. February 4, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    I recently pulled my daughter out of the public school system and placed her into a Montessori school. I love what the school teaches and what it stands for.

  2. February 5, 2012 at 3:56 am

    I am glad to hear that she is enjoying her Montessori school. Now you can be assured that she is learning to make choices, exercise independence and develop her natural curiosity!

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