What is Montessori?
Montessori is an approach to education with the fundamental belief that a child learns best within a social environment which supports and respects each individual’s unique development.
How did it begin?
Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of what is called “The Montessori Method of Education,” based this approach 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 mentally handicapped. 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 “Children’s House” and based the program on her observations that young children learn best in a homelike setting, filled with developmentally appropriate materials that provide experiences contributing to the growth of self-motivated, independent learners.
Montessori’s dynamic theories included such innovative 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. An enthusiastic response in the U.S. resulted in a reintroduction of the approach in the mid-1950s, and was followed by the organization of the American Montessori Society in 1960.
What makes Montessori education unique?
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 ensure 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 that children enjoy and go back to repeatedly led her to design a number of multisensory, sequential and self-correcting materials that facilitate the learning of skills and lead to the learning of abstract ideas.
The Teacher. Originally called a “Directress,” the Montessori teacher functions as a designer of the environment, resource person, role model, demonstrator, record-keeper, and meticulous observer of each child’s behavior and growth.
How does it work?
Each Montessori classroom, from birth through high school, 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 may be introduced 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 within a small group collaboration within the whole group community.
The multi-year 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 learning settings.
How is creativity encouraged?
Creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of acceptance and trust. Montessorians recognize that all children, from toddler to teenager, learn and express themselves in a very individual way.
Music, art, storytelling, movement and drama activities are integrated into American Montessori programs. But there are other things particular to the Montessori environment which encourage creative development: many materials which stimulate interest and involvement; an emphasis on the sensory aspect of experience; and opportunities for both verbal and non-verbal models of learning.
How can a 'real' Montessori classroom be identified?
Since Montessori is word in the public domain, it is possible for any individual or institution to claim to be Montessori. But, an authentic Montessori classroom must have these basic characteristics at all levels:
- Teachers credentialed in the Montessori philosophy and methodology for the age level they are teaching, who have the ability and dedication to put the key concepts into practice.
- A partnership established with the family. The family is considered an integral part of the individual’s total development.
- A multi-aged, multi-graded heterogeneous grouping of students.
- A diverse set of Montessori materials, activities and experiences which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence.
- A schedule which allows large blocks of time to problem-solve, to see connections in knowledge and to create new ideas.
- A classroom atmosphere which encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching and emotional development.
What happens when a child leaves Montessori?
Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They have learned to work independently and in groups. Since they have 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. Effective 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.