- What is Montessori Education?
- How did it begin?
- How is Montessori different from traditional schools?
- Are Montessori schools religious in nature?
- Why are the classrooms so quiet, and the children so serious?
- Are Montessori classrooms too structured?
- I have heard that children in Montessori classrooms have no structure at all and are allowed to “do whatever they want.” How true is this?
- Do Montessori classrooms push children too far too fast?
- What makes Montessori education unique?
- How does it work?
- Why should you choose a Montessori education for your child?
- Are Montessori programs limited to preschool children?
- Does my child need to be potty trained to start at the school?
- When should I start my child in Montessori?
- What happens when a child leaves Montessori?
The Montessori method of education is based upon the scientific observations of an Italian physician named Maria Montessori. After years of studying the ways children learn and observing their desires for knowledge and independence, she developed a method of educational philosophy and practice.
Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of what is called “The Montessori Method of Education,” based this new education on her scientific observations of young children’s behavior. As the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome, Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labeled as retarded. Then, in 1907 she was invited to open a child care center for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome. She called it a “A Children’s House,” and based the program on her observations that young children learn best in a home-like setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners. Montessori’s dynamic theories included such revolutionary premises as:
- Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who are different from one another.
- Children create themselves through purposeful activity.
- The most important years for learning are from birth to age six.
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental powers for absorbing and learning from their environment, which includes people as well as materials.
She carried her message throughout the world, including the United States as early as 1912.
There are no desks in rows facing the teacher standing at the blackboard. Indeed, there may not be a blackboard. Groups of children ranging in ages are working on joint projects. Some are more engrossed in their work than others. Some are sitting at tables or desks grouped together, while others work on the floor with multi-colored materials that draw their attention like a game. The teacher’s voice is rarely heard above that of the children talking quietly to each other as they work. There is a steady hum of activity throughout the classroom.
The Village Montessori School is not affiliated with any religious organization. Although many private American Montessori schools do have a religious orientation, Montessori itself is not religiously oriented.
The Montessori school day is divided into work periods and play periods. Work periods usually last about two hours in the morning for the youngest children, with another two hours in the afternoon for those older students who stay a full day. During these times, you are likely to see children intent upon learning their alphabet using letters cut out of sandpaper, or exploring music using a set of bells. One may be studying basic math concepts using beads strung together in groups of five, ten, etc., while another student is painting or making a collage. This is a busy time for the children, and that serious look you see is a focused look. These children are choosing to do whatever it is they are doing. They have many options, and are empowered to do what interests them most, presumably, what is most fun for them.
Although the teacher is careful to make clear the specific purpose of each material and to present activities in a clear, step-by-step order, the child is free to choose from a vast array of activities and to discover new possibilities.
I have heard that children in Montessori classrooms have no structure at all and are allowed to “do whatever they want.” How true is this?
Montessori is based on the principle of free-choice of purposeful activity. If a child is being destructive or is using materials in an aimless way, the teacher will intervene and gently redirect the child either to more appropriate materials or to a more appropriate use of the material. In the elementary classroom, teachers keep a daily log of each student’s progress and are able to redirect activities very easily in order to meet curriculum requirements.
Central to the Montessori philosophy is the idea of allowing each child to develop at his or her own, individual pace. The “miracle” stories of Montessori children far ahead of traditional expectations for their age level reflect not artificial acceleration but the possibilities open when children are allowed to learn at their own pace in a scientifically prepared environment.
The “whole child” approach.
The primary goal of a Montessori program 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-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment – room, materials and social climate – must be supportive of the learner. The teacher provides necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe and positive climate. The teacher thus gains the children’s trust, which enables them to try new things and build self-confidence.
The Montessori materials.
Dr. Montessori’s observations of the kinds of things children enjoy and go back to repeatedly led her to design a number of multi-sensory, sequential and self-correcting materials which facilitate the learning of skills and lead to learning of abstract ideas.
Originally called a “Directress,” the Montessori teacher functions as designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper and meticulous observer of each child’s behavior and growth.
The teacher acts as a facilitator of learning. Extensive training – a minimum of a full year following the baccalaureate degree is required for a full AMS credential, including a year’s student teaching under supervision – is specialized for the age group with which a teacher will work, i.e., infant and toddler, three to six year olds, elementary or secondary level.
Each Montessori class operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules which differs from age to age, but is always based on core Montessori beliefs – respect for each other and for the environment. Children are free to work at their own pace with materials they have chosen, either alone or with others.
The teacher relies on his or her observations of the children to determine which new activities and materials he may introduce to an individual child or to a small or large group. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning and to strike a balance of individual mastery with small group collaboration within the whole group community.
The three-year age span in each class provides a family-like grouping where learning can take place naturally. More experienced children share what they have learned while reinforcing their own learning. Because this peer group learning is intrinsic to Montessori, there is often more conversation – language experiences – in the Montessori classroom than in conventional early education settings.
Between the ages of 2-1/2 and 6 is when most of your child’s intelligence and social characteristics are formed. This is also when your child is most receptive, curious, and excited about exploring the world around him or her. A Montessori classroom nurtures that excitement and curiosity by offering a variety of materials to stimulate and intrigue your child.
The Montessori teacher is trained to recognize when a child is ready to learn a new skill, and to foster his or her natural instincts and abilities. Your child is valued as an independent thinker, and encouraged to make choices on his own. A Montessori education provides students of all ages with information in a way they can understand it and enjoy it – learning is fun, empowering, and custom-fit to suit your child’s individual learning style.
While the majority of Montessori schools in the United States are preschools, Montessori programs exist for children ages 18 months to 14 years.
In the primary community (3-6 year olds), the children do need to be able to go to the bathroom independently.
Montessori was herself amazed at the abilities of young children 2 and 3 years old. In her environments she discovered that they were able to absorb concrete materials using all their senses simultaneously, a unique ability soon lost. She called these times of special absorption, “sensitive periods,” and developed specific materials for that time. As the child grows these periods change, yet the continuum is set in motion for the rest of the child’s life. Therefore, the early years are the most important, yet most neglected in many societies. Starting a child at 2 or 3 in a good Montessori environment with well-trained directresses can have results that will remain with the child all her life.
Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They have learned to work independently and in groups. Since they’ve been encouraged to make decisions from an early age, these children are problem-solvers who can make choices and manage their time well. They have also been encouraged to exchange ideas and to discuss their work freely with others, and good communication skills ease the way in new settings. Research has shown that the best predictor of future success is a positive sense of self-esteem. Montessori programs, based on self-directed, non-competitive activities, help children develop good self-images and the confidence to face challenges and change with optimism.