Montessori is a world renowned philosophy of education. It is an educational approach that encourages and guides the child to his /her maximum potential. This allows for the fullest physical, spiritual, and intellectual development by assisting the child to educate themselves at their own pace. A specially prepared environment is created with an ordered range of sequential learning materials to guide the child in self directed hands-on sensorial activities. The concrete materials require manipulation with the use of the hands to develop the mind. Montessori is designed to take full advantage of the child’s to explore and discover. The Montessori concepts and principles are simple yet very effective. Allowing each individual child to develop and learn naturally at their own pace.
The basic concepts and principles of a Montessori education are as follows:
Respect – The principles respect each child as being a unique individual in their own right. Children different from adults and each other. Understanding the differences amongst one another and accepting each other with love and respect. A profound respect for each child’s personality and choice s is the key to fostering their creativity.
Understanding the differences amongst one another and accepting each other with love and respect. A profound respect for each child’s personality and choice s is the key to fostering their creativity.
The Prepared Environment – Montessori’s education method called for free activity within a “prepared environment”, meaning an educational environment tailored to the specific characteristics of children at different ages. The function of the environment is to allow the child to develop independence in all areas according to his or her inner psychological directives.
In addition to offering access to the Montessori materials appropriate to the age of the children, the environment should exhibit the following characteristics
• Construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs
• Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
• An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
• Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child’s development is included.
The Absorbent Mind – The child has what Maria Montessori called it, an absorbent mind. The child’s absorbent mind unconsciously soaks up information from the environment, around him, learning about it at a rapid rate. This learning process is unique to the young child and lasts for the first six years of his life. The Montessori method is designed to take advantage of these mental powers during these critical years.
Sensitive periods – These periods document the critical stages of development. Dr. Maria Montessori recognized that it was much easier for a child to learn a particular skill when it was pursued during the corresponding “sensitive period.” This is when we see a child repeatedly does an activity with passion and conviction per se, and it seems like nothing can deter them to accomplishing that task until it is satisfied. It is a time of intense concentration and mental activity on developing a particular skill at that particular time, age/phase in growth. It is driven unconsciously by an inner force that the best way an adult can support this passion is to prepare the environment and encourage this special time of learning.
Freedom within limits – The structured Montessori classroom provides freedom within clear limits. It gives children a great deal of flexibility to make their own choices about the kind of work to engage in, and whether to do it collaboratively or individually.
Freedom does not mean that children can do whatever they like. Rather, children are encouraged to think independently and act as a member of a social group. This is achieved, within clearly defined boundaries, through the freedom the children have of movement, of interaction and association, and the freedom they have to choose their own work and to learn at their own pace
The Montessori Teacher – “Directress” as Dr. Montessori coined the term, guides the child through an ordered arrangement of developmentally appropriate activities. The teacher does not teach per say but instead assists the child to slowly gain mastery of the carefully thought out environment prepared especially for him/her. She demonstrates the correct process in using the materials as they are individually chosen by the children. The lessons are brief and efficient giving just enough information to intrigue them so that they will come back to investigate later.
The Montessori teacher is a trained observer of children’s learning and behaviour. These observations are recorded and used to determine where each child is in his or her development. This also leads the teacher to know when to intervene in the child’s learning with a new lesson, a fresh challenge or a reinforcement of basic ground rules.
As children learn in many different ways and at their own pace, the Montessori teacher is trained to “follow the child” and enhance the development of each of her pupils. They do this to a large degree, through the design of the classroom, selection and organisation of learning activities and the structure of the day.
The “whole child” approach. The main goal of a Montessori nursery is to help each child reach full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth, and physical coordination as well as cognitive preparation. The holistic curriculum, under the direction of a specially prepared teacher, allows the child to experience the joy of learning, time to enjoy the process and insure the development of self-esteem, and provides the experiences from which children create their knowledge.
The “Prepared Environment.” In order for self-guided learning to take place, the whole learning environment – room, materials, and social ambience – must be supportive of the learner. The teacher provides necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe positive climate.
The teacher thus gains the children’s trust, which enables them to try new things and build self-confidence and self esteem .
The Montessori materials. Dr. Montessori’s scientific observations of the children led her to design a number of multisensory, sequential, and self-correcting materials. These facilitate learning which builds from the concrete to the abstract in constructing their knowledge
The mixed age group environment creates an atmosphere where children learn to help and be helped by other children, because they interact consistently with children whose age and abilities are varied. Children gain an appreciation for their achievement and the accomplishments of others, and are naturally challenged by the achievements of others.
Older children learn to be patient and tolerant, and serve as role models and teachers for the younger children. When an older child teaches a younger one, it reinforces previously learned concepts and is actually an aid in complete mastery of concepts. Younger children learn about courtesy, manners, and conflict resolution by watching the older children in the class.
Because teachers do not have to set the instruction pace by a whole group, each child is given the ability to learn at his or her own pace.
By staying in a classroom for a three year period, children develop a strong sense of community and stability, with 2/3 of a class returning every year. This community aids the development of students as role models for one another. Being in the same classroom year after year allows a teacher to truly learn each individual child’s learning abilities, style, and developmental level to better be able to set the learning agenda as well as build on strengths and work on weaknesses.
Most nurseries have a structured day in which the children participate in a variety of activities planned by their key workers. Some time for individual play will also be encouraged but the day is very much planned and organised by adults. In a Montessori setting, the emphasis is very much on children learning about the world in their own preferred way. Dr Montessori believed that children learn the most between the ages of 0-6 and they learn best when they are allowed to do so at their own pace, making independent choices about what they want to and when.
The presence of schedules, tests and other expectations, it is believed, works against the child’s best interests and can lead to unhappiness, anger and other negative behaviour. Key workers will obviously be present in the room but guide the children rather than direct them in their play.
The rooms reflect this philosophy, with materials freely available for children to use and explore as and when they want to. There are six main areas on which the education is based – practical life, sensorial, language, mathematics, cultural and creative activities and this provides a broader curriculum than can be found in most state-run nurseries and primary schools. A study by the University of London found that children – aged five – who had attended a Montessori nursery had higher levels of cognitive attainment than the national standard, as well as high levels of social and behavioural habits.
The Montessori method helps to foster discipline and self-discipline at a very young age because children have the power to choose activities for themselves
Each child in a Montessori classroom is allowed to develop and advance in their own time at their own individual pace. This is one of the principles embedded deep within the Montessori method central to the philosophy.
If Montessori children seem to be more advanced compared to traditional expectations for their age level it is not because of pressured teaching or competition. Rather, it is a reflection of the vast possibilities and potential that children carry within them when allowed to learn at their own pace and pursue what is interesting to them during their sensitive periods of learning in a specially prepared environment.
The goal is to initiate the processes of logical thought and discovery internally.
The Montessori child is encouraged to follow what interests him the most. The child is free to work and learn in the classroom at his own pace and at their own level of understanding without any interruptions. This is what makes a Montessori classroom non-competitive.
There is no pressure nor stress or time limits to adhere to. Each child is guided through their own natural pathway of development individually. This is quite different from the traditional classroom where all children are treated as a whole, expected to learn and keep up with the same pace as a group. In a Montessori environment, the child has the opportunity of individual lessons, while still retaining group sessions at no extra cost.
The educational materials allow for a varied pace of advancement, which accommodates all levels of intellectual ability in the classroom. Hence, the fast learners are not held back, and slow learners are not pressured to keep up. In this unique approach, the class room is able to meet the individual needs of each child. Each child’s development and progress is measured against their own ability and advancement not compared to that of other children.
There are over 500 self-correcting, sensorial manipulative materials that make learning much more rewarding. The materials are inviting, a beautiful array of colored beads, puzzle maps with knobs, and solid geometric forms, A colorful collection of special rods and blocks, cylinders and cubes, colour tablets, sound boxes all of which isolate a different concept.
Qualities such as size, shape, color, texture, sound can be explored and discovered easily. Hence, they begin to heed these qualities plus weight, smell, taste, and dimension, all through sensory integration. Another special characteristic of the materials is that the control of error is built right in. The child can easily perceive the error and therefore correct it by themselves without assistance from the teacher. In this way, the child can begin to solve problems independently. The concrete learning apparatus is designed to intrigue the child, stimulating their mind into logical thought processes and discovery.
They move the child from basic concrete concepts to the abstract. As each task becomes mastered, they become self-confident and self-reliant. They gain the knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish their choices and fulfill their needs.
Montessori is based on a profound respect for each child’s personality. Children make decisions about what they will learn, choosing from activities provided by the Directress. Children are allowed a large measure of independence which in turn forms the basis of self–discipline.
As children progress at their own pace and successfully complete the self-correcting exercises, they develop confidence in their ability to understand what they are learning.
Montessori presents endless opportunities among the children for mutual help, help which is joyfully given and joyfully received. Co–operative social interaction among children of different ages engenders feelings of friendship, respect for the rights of others, and self-confidence.
This approach helps eliminate the necessity for coercion, which often causes feelings of inferiority and stress for children
Montessori establishes habits of concentration, perseverance and thoroughness in the early years which then, in turn, produces a competent, and confident learner in the later years. Armed with these qualities the Montessori child eases into mainstream classrooms adapting easily and quickly to their new routine.
By age five, Montessori children are normally curious, self-confident learners who look forward to going to school. They are normally engaged, enthusiastic learners who honestly want to learn and who ask excellent questions. They were treated with honesty and respect. While there were clear expectations and ground rules, within that framework, their opinions and questions were taken quite seriously.
There is nothing inherent in Montessori that causes children to have a hard time if they are transferred to traditional schools. But most adapt to their new setting fairly quickly, making new friends, and succeeding within the definition of success understood in their new school.
Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally.
In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations.
The Montessori system has been used successfully with children from all socioeconomic levels, representing those in regular classes as well as the gifted, children with developmental delays, and children with emotional and physical disabilities.
There is no one school that is right for all children, and certainly, there are children who may do better in a smaller classroom setting with a more teacher-directed program that offers fewer choices and more consistent external structure.
Children who are easily over stimulated, or those who tend to be overly aggressive, may be examples of children who might not adapt as easily to a Montessori program. Each situation is different, and it is best to work with the schools in your area to see if it appears that a particular child and school would be a good match.
Great teachers help learners get to the point where their minds and hearts are open, leaving them ready to learn. In effective schools, students are not so much motivated by getting good grades as they are by a basic love of learning.
As parents know their own children’s learning styles and temperaments, teachers, too, develop this sense of each child’s uniqueness by spending a number of years with the students and their parents.
Dr. Montessori believed that teachers should focus on the child as a person, not on the daily lesson plan. Montessori teachers lead children to ask questions, think for themselves, explore, investigate, and discover. Their ultimate objective is to help their students to learn independently and retain the curiosity, creativity, and intelligence with which they were born.
Montessori schools believe that discipline is something that should come from inside rather than something that is always imposed by others. They do not rely on rewards or treats and punishments.
By being allowed to be free in the environment, within limits and learning to love and care for others. The child develops confidence and control over his own behaviour.
So Montessori teachers only step in when a child’s behaviour is upsetting or disruptive to others.
All children play! They explore new things playfully. They watch something of interest with a fresh open mind. They enjoy the company of treasured adults and other children. They make up stories. They dream. They imagine. This impression stems from parents who don’t know what to make of the incredible concentration, order, and self-discipline that we commonly see among Montessori children.
Montessori students also tend to take the things they do in school quite seriously. It is common for them to respond, “This is my work,” when adults ask what they are doing. They work hard and expect their parents to treat them and their work with respect. But it is joyful, playful, and anything but drudgery.