A video from a Montessori parent and the author of “Montessori Madness,” Trevor Eisler.
The Montessori system of education is both a philosophy of child growth and a rationale for guiding that growth. It is based on the child’s developmental needs, the exposure to learning materials and experiences that develop intelligence as well as physical and psychological abilities. Montessori education is based on the following premises:
- Children are respected as different from adults and as individuals who differ from one another.
- The most important years for development are from birth to age nine when unconscious learning (concrete) is brought slowly to the conscious (abstract) level.
- Children possess unusual sensitivity and mental abilities for absorbing and learning spontaneously from the environment around them.
- The child has a strong desire and need for purposeful work. Unlike the adult whose work is to complete a task, the child’s work is to perfect him or herself.
- The people and the materials within the child’s environment must both be well prepared to meet each child’s needs for self-development; mentally, physically, and psychologically.
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 Medical School in 1896, Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labeled as “mentally deficient,” in an asylum in Rome, Italy. Through the observation of the children in her care she began to see their need to manipulate and play with the limited items available to them in their environment. She considered their spontaneous interest to be a sign the children might be reached on a concrete or sensory level. Montessori studied the work of Jean Itard and Edouard Sequin, whose work with deaf and neurologically impaired children resulted in their developing “didactic learning materials” to aid these children in their development. Itard’s and Sequin’s success, gave Montessori the motivation to try to achieve similar results with her children.
Beginning in 1898, and for the next two years, Montessori worked with the children during the day. Each night she spent developing her method and making the sensory materials for the children to gain the skills and knowledge they would need to have successful lives. After just two years, she received international recognition when her children were able to pass the Italian public school exams in reading and writing. While everyone applauded her accomplishment, Montessori instead began to question the education of normal developing children. Why were they not exceeding beyond what her children were capable of doing? She concluded that something was wrong with the traditional methods of education.
Finally, in 1907, Montessori was given the opportunity she had been waiting for, to test her work with children of normal intelligence. She was to direct a day care center in a housing project in the San Lorenzo section of Rome with sixty children and only herself and an assistant. Unlike her previous work with the children in the asylum, this time she did not decide first what it was she wanted the children to learn. Instead by observing and recording the children as they worked with her special materials, she saw something new. The children were naturally drawn to the materials spontaneously, staying focused for long periods of time. This was unlike her former charges, whom she would have had to take to the materials and then keep engaged. She discovered the children in San Lorenzo not only found joy in what they were doing, but independently repeated the activities many times over, working until they no longer seemed to need the activity. With their interests and their desire for more knowledge growing all the time, Montessori was kept busy developing the practical life, sensorial, math and language materials to meet their needs. As the children became more involved with the materials, they demonstrated an enjoyment for the freedom to choose their own activities and materials. Eventually ignoring the dolls and other toys Montessori had also placed in the room and so she finally removed them. As the children’s interest in the materials became more absorbed, she noted the children were also becoming more self-disciplined, confident, respectful and loving toward one another. Now with a focused joy in their work, their learning outcomes, achieved effortlessly, also exceeded all normal expectations.
Word soon spread about Montessori to the greater educational community. People traveled from countries around the globe to see her work and to learn about this unique approach to education. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, Montessori developed training courses in India and the Netherlands. Montessori schools began appearing throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Today there are hundreds of thousands of Montessori schools worldwide. A few public school systems have established Montessori classrooms as well, with programs from preschool through high school. The principles of the Montessori Method remain as relevant today since its inception over 100 years ago. For the passing of time may change the way we live, it does not change the nature of the human species. In fact, in our fast-paced, technologically rich world, Montessori’s ideas and method may hold even more importance today, as we try to bring a greater sense of humanity and balance to the lives of our children.
In most preschools the teacher teaches the children educational concepts in a group. Traditional preschool classes are usually same-age grouping, i.e., 3’s together, 4’s together, etc. Same age grouping eliminates the social and learning dynamics that occur in a multi-age grouped class, which is an important component of the Montessori method. In a Montessori preschool the children learn educational concepts spontaneously as they work independently with an unusually large variety of sensory orientated learning materials on a multitude of subjects.
The Montessori teacher acts as a facilitator of learning. Known more commonly as a “directress” or “guide,” he or she carefully plans the environment in the interests of the children. Through close observation of the children, the directress helps each child’s individual progress from one learning activity to the next based upon the child’s abilities.
A Montessori classroom is a child-sized world. Whatever is in the world outside can be incorporated meaningfully in the Montessori classroom. To the child the world is unmanageable, too big, too complex and too confusing. By careful selection of materials by the teacher, an environment is set up that allows the child a place to explore life on a level h/she can understand. The learning materials are designed to stimulate independent exploration. This prepared learning environment entices the child to proceed at h/her own pace from simple materials to more complex ones. The child’s natural curiosity is satisfied and h/she begins to find joy in discovering the real world around h/her. The curriculum areas available for the child to discover are Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math, Geography, History, Natural Sciences, Art, Music, Drama and Creative Movement.
The freedom in the classroom is “freedom within limits.” Children are allowed to choose their work freely, as long as they do not disturb others, hurt the environment or themselves. In a well-prepared environment, where children are encouraged to follow their interests, they are generally happy and involved in their choice of work.
Dr. Montessori outlined various “sensitive periods” in early child development. During these periods children are more capable of and interested in learning specific information. Between the ages of 2.6 – 3.6 is the beginning of the sensitive period for order, concentration, coordination and independence. This is the ideal time to begin a child in the Montessori prepared environment.
Note: Children are not required to have learned to use the bathroom prior to enrollment. Toilet learning is a developing physiological function that has nothing to do with intellect.
The three-year age span in each class provides a family-like atmosphere where learning can take place naturally. Peer teaching takes effect, with the older, more experienced children sharing what they know while helping the younger, less experienced children. Peer teaching serves to reinforce previously learned concepts for the older child while, at the same time, fostering a loving climate of caring and cooperation.
Creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of acceptance, respect and trust. Montessori teachers have recognized for a long time that every child learns and expresses his/herself in their own individual way. Creative expression can take many forms. Music, art, storytelling, movement and drama are part of each day of every American Montessori program.
Montessori children are unusually adaptable. They are comfortable working alone or in a group. Since they have been given many opportunities to make decisions these children are often problem solvers who can make choices and manage their time well. Because they have been encouraged to exchange ideas, discuss their work with others and build an extensive vocabulary, their good communication skills ease their way into new settings. Research has shown that self-esteem is one of the best predictors of future success. Montessori programs provide non-competitive, self-directed learning experiences which are designed to help children develop a good self image and the confidence needed to face challenges and changes in a positive way.