The basic premise of the Montessori philosophy of education is that all children display within themselves the person they will become. The Montessori classroom provides the environment and materials that the child needs for his/her personal development which allows them the freedom to choose their activities according to their own personal interests and readiness in a non-competitive environment.
Dr. Montessori believed that every person must educate himself: that a teacher is merely there to provide information and to guide a student through the learning environment. She felt, therefore, that the goal of early childhood education should be to create a child’s curiosity, a love for knowledge and a strong desire to learn.
DR. MARIA MONTESSORI
Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian educator, scientist, physician, philosopher, feminist, and humanitarian.
She was born in Chiaravalle (Ancona), Italy. Montessori was the first female Italian physician in the modern era. She opened her first school, in Rome, on January 6, 1907.
The Montessori method of education that she derived from this experience has subsequently been applied successfully to children and is quite popular in many parts of the world. Despite much criticism of her method in the early 1930s-1940s, her method of education has been applied and has undergone a revival. It can now be found on six continents and throughout the United States.
By 1907 Montessori had established the first Casa dei Bambini or Children’s House, in Rome. By 1913, there was an intense interest in her method in North America, which later waned. (Nancy McCormick Rambusch revived the method in America by establishing the American Montessori Society in 1960.) Montessori was exiled by Mussolini to India, there influencing many religious groups, for the duration of World War II, mostly because she refused to compromise her principles and make the children into soldiers. Montessori lived out the remainder of her life in the Netherlands, which is now the headquarters of the AMI, or Association Montessori Internationale. She died in Noordwijk aan Zee. Her son Mario headed the AMI until his death in 1982.
- instruction of children in 3-year age groups, corresponding to sensitive periods of development (example: Birth-3, 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12 year olds with an Erdkinder program for early teens)
- children as competent beings, encouraged to make maximal decisions
- observation of the child in the environment as the basis for ongoing curriculum development (presentation of subsequent exercises for skill development and information accumulation)
- child-sized furniture and creation of a child-sized environment (microcosm) in which each can be competent to produce overall a self-running children’s world
- parent participation to include basic and proper attention to health screening and hygiene as a prerequisite to schooling
- delineation of a scale of sensitive periods of development, which provides a focus for class work that is appropriate and uniquely stimulating and motivating to the child (including sensitive periods for language development, sensorial experimentation and refinement, and various levels of social interaction)
- the importance of the “absorbent mind”, the limitless motivation of the young child to achieve competence over his or her environment and to perfect his or her skills and understandings as they occur within each sensitive period. The phenomenon is characterized by the young child’s capacity for repetition of activities within sensitive period categories (Example: exhaustive babbling as language practice leading to language competence)
- self-correcting “auto-didactic” materials (some based on work of Itard and Seguin)
Montessori Education is based on the child’s imperious need to learn by doing. This program is based on Maria Montessori’s observations that your children learn best in a homelike setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide hands on experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners. The meticulously designed materials allow even difficult concepts within the grasp of the very young. Montessori materials are so absorbing that the children find it easy to concentrate on their tasks, in a variety of ares of study, including:
Montessori Classroom Guidelines:
- Respect yourself
- Respect others
- Respect the environment
Our teaching of conflict resolution skills helps us to be consistent in the reinforcement of these guidelines. As the children’s self-control naturally develops, they enjoy an increasing degree of freedom in the classroom. They are able to choose what they would like to do, when they would like to do it, and with whom they may like to work.
The Materials in a Montessori classroom are displayed on low, accessible shelves in a simple and attractive manner that call to the child. They are as beautiful as possible, and colour-coordinated so that the child has no confusion about what belongs together.
The materials always present a concept concretely. For example, when the concept of units, tens, hundreds and thousands is presented in mathematics, small beads of units are used. Ten units are then strung together on a wire to make a “hundred”, and ten hundred-squares are wired together to make a “thousand”.
As the child grows and develops, materials he/she uses become less and less concrete, until the child has moved from the graded groupings of strung beads manipulated on trays and mats to the complete abstraction of numerals written on paper (but now thoroughly grounded in real experience rather than worked by rote). Sequence of materials in all areas progress similarly to those in this mathematical example, the teachers make use of the concrete whenever possible before moving to abstraction, and in all areas they are presented to the child in an appropriate sequence.
Each material isolates a particular difficulty, teaching a particular skill. This means that the child has a greater chance for success, thus enhancing a positive self-image and encouraging the love of learning. Once an activity has been mastered, the child can proceed to the next material (which in turn introduces a new challenge). Materials are, furthermore, “self-correcting” whenever possible, allowing the child to asses her/his accomplishment without relying solely on the judgement of an adult.
The exercises of Practical Life provide the basis for all other activities in the Montessori classroom, fulfilling the child’s plea, “help me to do it myself”. By engaging in purposeful exercises, children are learning to take care of themselves and their environment. By helping to take care of the classroom community, the children grow in self confidence and independence. The daily living tasks may involve the children in tasks such as pouring water, spooning, arranging flowers, learning to button, snap, zip, etc. The teachers encourage the children to form gracious and courteous habits – and to be respectful of others and their environment.
Children live in a world of senses. In order to continue their creative task, children need to highlight impressions they have already discovered. The sensorial materials are very hands-on for the child and each material isolates one defining quality such as colour, weight, shape, texture, size, sound, smell, etc. Each of the materials in the sensorial area is autodidactic and allows the child to work at their own pace with minimal interference from the teacher. The children enjoy working with sensorial materials repeatedly and often develop their own variations on the lesson originally presented to them. In many ways the materials also lay the foundation for introduction to mathematical concepts.
The learning of language is truly the child’s most remarkable intellectual achievement. Montessori observed that from the age of three the child had an interest in and sensitivity to the phonic aspect of language. She proposed that this sensitivity should be used to help the child develop a conscious awareness of sounds in words, together with the ability to segment the words sufficiently, enabling the child to write. For this to happen, Montessori proposed that by tracing over the sandpaper letters, while saying the sound, prepared the child’s hand to make the shapes of letters and helped the child associate the appropriate sounds with the shapes. After the sandpaper letters are learned, the child is ready to make words with the Movable Alphabet. Reading naturally follows the word building exercises. The children gradually realize that he or she can read back the words built.
Through the early sensorial activities, a foundation for understanding qualities has been laid for the child. The young child loves to count. When a child indicates that they are interested, we begin to demonstrate to them how to count using concrete, mathematical materials. Eventually, through the use of our specially designed materials our children learn about the decimal system, the process of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Our goal, however, is for each child to develop a love of numbers, problem-solving strategies, and have the confidence in using numbers in everyday life.
Our school celebrates the diversity of cultures. Our goal is to develop a global perspective. The lessons in the classroom are designed to help the child become very aware of and appreciate the diversity of the world. Even the youngest children in the class examine the human, plant, and animal worlds, and children gain exposure to the life that surrounds them. The children learn to explore the continents through specially designed maps and globes. Physical geography begins with the formation of the earth, the emergence of the oceans, the different landforms and natural resources. Families are often invited to share their customs, culture, music, art and food with the classroom community.
The Montessori classroom provides the materials and the freedom for children’s artistic expression to blossom. Opportunities for art are integrated into the prepared environment as a part of day-to-day activities of the children. Art is all around us and in the Montessori classroom the children are able to view the art as a natural part of their physical world.
Through sensorial exploration, the child’s powerful “absorbent mind” soaks up information about everything in the environment. The children learn about nature and how it affects their everyday life. They learn about parts of the flower, tree, various animals and much more through beautiful wooden puzzles and booklets. Zoology introduces the child to animals and their need, characteristics, and habits, etc. Children are fascinated with animals and are always motivated to learn more about the different animal kingdoms and their importance to our environment.
THE PREPARED ENVIRONMENT
Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work.
The prepared environment offers the essential elements for optimal development. The key components comprise the children, teacher and physical surroundings, including the specifically designed Montessori educational material.
Characteristics of the Prepared Environment include:
- Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.
- Children are given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group.
- Children are provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.
- Mixed age groups (eg. three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve) encourage all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.
There are prepared environments for children at each successive developmental plane. These environments allow children to take responsibility for their own education, giving them the opportunity to become human beings able to function independently and hence interdependently.
“Beyond the more obvious reasons why it is sensible to group the ages three by three, such as the little ones learn from the older children and the older ones learn by teaching the younger, every child can work at his own pace and rhythm, eliminating the bane of competition, there is the matter of order and discipline easily maintained even in very large classes with only one adult in charge. This is due to the sophisticated balance between liberty and discipline prevalent in Montessori classrooms, established at the very inception of a class. Children who have acquired the fine art of working freely in a structured environment, joyfully assume responsibility for upholding this structure, contributing to the cohesion of their social unit.”
THE MONTESSORI TEACHER
One of the most notable differences between Montessori teachers and traditional teachers is the trust Montessori teachers place in the developmental abilities of the children. It takes a tremendous amount of faith to “follow the child”. With careful observation and planning, Montessori teachers remain constantly alert to the direction each child is heading and actively work to help them succeed.
Montessori teachers are not the center of attention in the classroom. Their role centers on the preparation and organization of learning materials to meet the needs and interests of the Montessori children. The focus is on children learning, not on teachers teaching.
The Montessori teacher creates a well-prepared Montessori environment and an atmosphere of learning and inquisitiveness designed to move students from one activity and level to the next. As the children begin to make free choices and interact and discover the materials, the teacher facilitates and guides their learning. There are some small group lessons when the teacher introduces new concepts and the children are encouraged to ask questions, investigate and discover new ideas. A Montessori teacher often steps back while the children are working, allowing them to learn from their own discoveries and draw their own conclusions. Rather than supplying children with answers, the Montessori teacher asks them how they would solve the problem, actively engaging children in the learning process and enhancing critical thinking skills. In most cases, children learn directly from the environment and other children, rather than the teacher.
As a result, children who experience a Montessori education are highly motivated and learn to be independent, self-confident and self-disciplined. It makes education a source of pleasure for them – something to be sought and enjoyed. Each and all are given the opportunity to develop their own innate abilities to the full potential in an atmosphere where competition is irrelevant and non-existent. As a result they develop drive and a high level of achievement.
Dr. Montessori believed that the teacher should focus on the child as a person rather than on the daily lesson plans. Although the Montessori teacher plans daily lessons for each child, she must be alert to changes in the child’s interest, progress, mood, and behavior.
Subjects are interwoven and the Montessori teacher must be facile at presenting and understanding history, art, music, math, astronomy, botany, zoology, chemistry, physical geography, language, physics, geometry, and practical life works. The Montessori teacher is trained to give one-on-one or small group lessons and spend little time giving large group lessons. Lessons are brief and precise, meant to intrigue the minds of children so that they come back to learn more on their own. Montessori lessons center around the most basic information necessary for the children to do the work: the name of the materials, where it can be found in the classroom and on the shelf, how to use the materials, and what can be done with them.
Montessori teachers are scientific observers of children.They never criticize or interfere in a child’s work. It is only in a trusting atmosphere that a child’s personality has room to grow. Children must have the freedom to choose their own activities and learn to behave without restriction. Dr. Montessori thought this was real work and that the child would reveal his/her true nature once he/she found work that commanded his/her full attention.