What is the Montessori Philosophy?
The Montessori philosophy is based on children’s natural developmental needs. Children need space and freedom to learn and grow. Montessori schools provide that space and freedom, but in a well-constructed environment that exposes children to different stimuli and materials that encourage them to develop academically, physically, psychologically and emotionally. Learning is based on the child’s self-motivation to explore and grow, but it’s guided, subtly, by teachers.
There are four important elements to Montessori education:
- Most importantly, children are recognised as individuals. They learn differently to adults and they develop differently from all the children around them. This means that a generic approach just doesn’t work.
- Children’s brains are like sponges, absorbing everything in their environment and learning as they go. Their educational settings should be structured to maximise this process.
- Montessori classes are designed to facilitate the transition from unconscious to conscious learning, which is a very important step in early childhood development.
- Children love to work with purpose, as you’ll know if you’ve ever watched a child absorbed in a practical activity. The pleasure (and the learning) is all in the doing, which is why the Montessori Method provides activities and materials that will encourage children to develop cognitively, physically and emotionally.
Where does the method come from?
From a brilliant woman who distinguished herself by becoming the first women to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. Dr Maria Montessori was a pioneer in the sorely under-researched field of education for mentally disabled children. She learnt to apply much of what she found to education systems for normally-abled children. Some of the first Montessori schools were opened in a reconstructed slum area in San Lorenzo, Italy. Her system gained an international following as word of her success spread and she was asked to lecture at international venues.
What sort of freedom are children allowed?
Children learn best in a free environment but free does not mean permissive. Children can roam about the class and play or work with whatever materials grab their fancy. They may talk to other children and they can talk to the teacher. They can’t interfere in other children’s work or distract them from their chosen activities. They can’t indulge in unruly behaviour and they can’t wantonly destroy equipment.
There is a lot of structure in a Montessori classroom! It’s just a different type of structure than in the traditional classroom. In many traditional classrooms since all the children do pretty much the same thing at the same time, the “structure” is in keeping them focused and quiet. Children are respected as individuals and are given freedom in the environment. It does not mean that he can do whatever he likes, but rather that, within clearly defined boundaries, he has the freedom to choose what activity to work with (once it has been presented to the child), freedom to choose where to sit when working (at a table, on the floor, in large groups, on the child’s own, etc.), freedom to move around the environment and freedom for the child to work on his own or with someone, as long as it is meaningful and purposeful and that will encourage him to think independently and behave responsibly, whilst showing respect for others and the environment.
What exactly is the teacher’s role?
Montessori teachers are, essentially, guides. They don’t steer children in a particular direction or force them to work according to an agenda. They show the children what materials are available and how to use them and they give help whenever they are asked. Teachers are trained observers. They need to see when a child is struggling with some activity and gently guide them in the right direction. They also need to keep an eye on the different developmental levels in the class and ensure that children always have access to activities and materials that will keep them challenged and allow them to keep reaching new goals.
Can Montessori educated children cross over to traditional learning?
Yes they can. Remember that Montessori educated children have self-discipline, self-confidence and a great deal of respect and enthusiasm for learning. They are naturally flexible and adaptable and shouldn’t have much trouble slotting into a traditional classroom. The no-talking rule may come as something of a shock, though.
Do you, as parents, have to do anything special at home?
It’s not necessary for you to turn your lives upside down in an effort to accommodate Montessori theory and philosophy. However, it will help your child’s development enormously if you practice some of the principles at home. For example, create a dedicated arts and crafts area where your child can work with paint, clay, cardboard, glue and glitter. Ensure that the surface is easily washable and encourage your child to clean up after himself – it’s all about discipline and responsibility, remember. Try to avoid brain-numbing toys like video games and encourage your child to do fun, practical activities or read, rather than sit in front of the TV for hours at a time.
You will have to invest time in your children if you want to help them reach their full potential.
Is Montessori for every child?
Yes—there is no child who would not benefit from a Montessori education. Every child wants to learn and each is unique in areas of interest and rate of learning. Montessori addresses this uniqueness because it is an individual program tailored to the strengths and challenges of each student. One child may spend two days learning multiplication while another may require two weeks or even two months. A trained scientist, Maria Montessori spent a lot of time observing exactly how and why children learn. She understood that all children, whether they have strengths or challenges in particular areas of learning, need their own time to master it. They don’t need to be constantly worried about being “ahead” or “behind” anyone else. Every Montessori school is the living legacy of this educational breakthrough. Montessori works for every child no matter who they are or where they come from.
Why does Montessori have mixed-age groups in each class?
Maria Montessori discovered that putting older and younger children together helps them learn from and teach each other. This is good for the older children because they can be useful and helpful to the younger ones, which not only reinforces what they have learned but enhances their self-esteem as well. The younger children in turn have role models to follow and are integrated into the class- room by these helpful older children. If you think about it, every normal community has a mixed grouping of ages.
What makes a Montessori Directress (teacher) different?
To start off with, the word “teacher” is not always used in a Montessori classroom. A teacher is someone who knows something and gives it to you. A Montessori teacher is often called a Directress or a Guide, because what they do is direct and guides the child toward what he needs to teach himself. The child does this by using the specially designed materials. The Montessori Directress has been trained to observe your child and to determine his or her level of development, and what guidance the child will need in order to progress to the next level.
In the simplest terms, a Montessori Director teaches individually. In a Montessori classroom your child is taught individually or in small groups. This allows the teacher to get immediate feedback and to be sensitive to how well the child is absorbing the les- son and what questions or needs the child has. Simply put, there is nothing that works so well in education as individual attention. This focus on your child’s needs in heightened by the fact that each Montessori teacher has been trained in the science of observing children. They spend time every day observing the class: how it is functioning as a whole and how the children are progressing with their work. They have also been trained on how to teach using the Montessori materials, all of which have been scientifically designed to enhance the learning experience.
If my child has a Montessori education, can he go into another kind of education program that is not Montessori based?
Because Montessori does such an excellent job at creating a love for learning, as well as the ability to focus, concentrate, cooperate with others and work independently, Montessori children thrive in any school, work or social situation.
How does Montessori differ from other forms of education?
Montessori differs in 4 major ways:
- Our environments are not separated into single age groups. We have what’s called ‘Vertical age grouping’. This means that children are grouped together in 1 shared environment in 3 year age cycles. E.g. 0 – 3 years, 3 – 6 years, 6 – 9 years, etc.
- The children use ‘Didactic materials’ developed by Dr Montessori. Many of these activities have a built in control of error where the child can see for themselves if they have made a mistake. Although some activities require assistance from a qualified Montessori Directress, these didactic materials ultimately enable the child to learn on their own.
- We work mainly individually with each child as opposed to in groups. By doing this we can meet each child at their individual level and this is why we can bring in the vertical age grouping. The children therefore also have the freedom within a very structured environment to choose work that has been presented to them before, thereby learning through repetition.
- The educator is referred to as a Directress, not a teacher as we direct the child towards work that will benefit them during a particular time in their development. We facilitate the learning process as the child teaches themselves.
I don’t understand the five Montessori areas referred to in a Montessori classroom, what is it?
The Montessori materials cover developmental activities designed to meet the needs of children in five curriculum areas:
- Practical life skills
- Sensorial activities
- Cultural Studies
– PRACTICAL LIFE
Practical Life activities develop independence, fine and gross motor skills, social skills and confidence. These are genuinely useful jobs that keep the work environment neat and tidy, and allow the children to learn using their imagination as they are working with real things.
On first entering the nursery class, children are given the opportunity to develop important life skills which will allow them greater freedom in the classroom. The children pour liquids, polish silver, wash tables, sweep, and in doing so, are developing calmness, order, concentration, coordination and fine motor skills. At the same time, through the process of learning to meet their own needs, learning to take care of the classroom environment and through the experience of helping others, children in Montessori programs begin to develop independence, self-confidence, and self-respect.
Advanced Practical Life activities expand a student’s concentration and help him pay attention to detail. They further improve the student’s fine motor skills, independence, grace and courtesy and give him pride in his work. Students learn to show respect for the environment, class mates and teachers which leads to strong self-esteem, self-confidence and self-control.
– SENSORIAL ACTIVITIES
First learning is done through the senses and the Montessori Sensorial material cover a range of well thought-out exercises to help children sort, match and compare objects by shape, size, touch, taste and sound. These early sensorial impressions boost the children’s powers of observation and deduction, broaden their vocabulary and contribute to their later understanding of formal educational concepts.
The Sensorial materials lay a solid foundation for mathematics, geometry, geography, botany, art and music.
The materials are self-correcting and so the children become comfortable with the fact that errors are essential to the process of learning.
Mathematics is about understanding relationships in the environment and being able to express them in abstract terms. In the nursery class, Montessori materials such as the number rods, spindle boxes and golden beads provide step-by-step learning. The children learn to count, associate quantity and numerals, and gain a sensorial impression of the decimal system.
Once again the materials are self-correcting, which means that children can see at a glance if they have made a mistake. Each child progresses at his or her own rate and understands each stage before they move on to the next.
Numbers to Ten:The foundation of maths is numbers to ten. The exercises in this section must be firmly rooted in the child before continuing through the math materials. The child learns the names of the numbers and the fact that each number represents a certain quantity. The child learns to associate the language, written symbol and quantity of each number from 0 to 9.
The Decimal System:The Decimal System introduces the child to the bead materials and the associated cards for each category. The child learns that zero can give a greater value to a number and also learns the language of the larger numbers. The child then learns how to change (10 units/ones change for 1 ten), and gives them a sensorial impression of addition, multiplication, subtraction, division and the relationship between the operations.
The Teens and Tens:The section on Teens and Tens works parallel to the association of beads and cards. The child learns to associate quantities, names and symbols of the teens and tens. This section finishes off by consolidating the child’s knowledge when he works on the linear and skip counting of the square and cube chains from the bead cabinet.
The Exploration and Memorization of Tables:This section focuses on the exploration and memorization of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. The materials in this area give the child the opportunity to explore essential number combinations for each mathematical operation and continue to move the child towards less concrete materials.
Fractions:The last section of the maths area introduces the child to fractions and has the child explore the materials in order to discover the rules of each fraction operation.
Our language materials are based on a carefully structured phonic approach to writing and reading. At first the children learn sensorially by tracing sandpaper letters with their fingers while being told the sounds. Soon, they are writing simple words with the moveable alphabet, matching words with objects and reading their first pink three letter words and then phonic reading books. Children learn to value reading for pleasure.
“Insatiable at this age is the child’s thirst for words, and inexhaustible his capacity for learning them.” Maria Montessori
– CULTURAL STUDIES
– Culture Studies bring an awareness that everything in the universe is connected and all components depend on one another. This forms a ‘whole’ that works in harmony; we are part of this whole and our contribution towards the well-being of this whole is important.
– Children use globes, puzzle maps and flags, which help them to build their understanding of other countries, cultures and people. They use pictures and name cards to match, classify and name the elements and species of the natural world.
– Classroom plant-growing and caring for pets help to form a bridge between the child’s knowledge of the immediate environment and the wider world.