What is Montessori?
Montessori is a method of teaching developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900‘s. Dr. Montessori, a physician turned educator used her scientific and biological background while observing children with special needs. She in turn developed a method of teaching, which encompassed the whole child. Her philosophy is that each child innately knows what they are ready to learn and if given the appropriate environment the child would be drawn to activities for which she is ready. Because no two children are exactly alike, a Montessori environment allows for each child to learn at his or her own pace. The Montessori classroom is created to meet the child’s developmental needs. Montessori classes are “multi-age” within three years.
How does a multi-age classroom operate?
Montessori classrooms are multi-age within a three-year range. Just as all children develop physically at different rates, they also develop cognitively and emotionally at different rates. By mixing the age groups within the three-year range, the children are able to learn at their own pace and challenge themselves. Additionally, the mixed age fosters self-directed learning, independence and a strong sense of community. Children are encouraged to help one another thereby reinforcing their own knowledge and skills. This sense of responsibility is further enhanced by the low ratios.
Does self-direction mean no rules?
Absolutely not. Rules are a part of our society and something that we all must abide by, or bear the consequences. There are rules in all Montessori classrooms, as there are consequences. First and foremost is respect. Respect for peers, adults and the environment. Self-direction simply means what it says. The child (as opposed to the adult) chooses his/her own activities throughout the day. Dr. Montessori observed that when a child is self-directed they are more apt to focus, challenge themselves appropriately and consequently there are less discipline issues.
If the children are choosing their own activities all the time how does the teacher know the child is getting a “well rounded” education?
Once again, we refer to Dr. Montessori’s observations. Dr. Montessori observed that children innately know what and when they are ready to learn and will naturally choose activities which challenge and stimulate them appropriately. At times a child may become so involved with one area that they seem to be “neglecting” other areas. Dr. Montessori called these periods “sensitive periods” for learning. She observed that children pass through these periods naturally, when they have reached some level of mastery.
What are the Montessori materials?
The Montessori materials are developed based on the Montessori philosophy. They are manipulative (hands on) and self -correcting so that the student develops “problem solving” skills. Dr. Montessori herself created many of these materials. Today there are many companies that create materials based on the Montessori philosophy for Montessori schools as well as traditional schools.
The activities in the Practical Life area involve repetition and attention to precise detail, thereby fostering the development of movement and eye/hand coordination. Pouring, polishing, food preparation, carrying trays are all works which aid in the movement of the hand and body thus developing coordination of sight and muscle control. Because these lessons all involve a beginning, middle and an end, the child learns process and order. Consequently the child, while using the work, naturally develops concentration, organization, independence and inner discipline that will continue to develop and stay with the child through his/her life.
The senses are the child’s key to knowledge. What a child knows about his world comes through contact with that world by means of the senses. A child sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches. As these sensations are processed intellectually, the child grows with deeper understanding. The sensorial materials are designed to enhance the sensory experiences of children, thereby creating a solid foundation for their intellectual development.
Manipulative – Toddler level
Movement precedes thought. It is therefore imperative that there are always opportunities for the child to move and use all of his muscles. Young children are more concerned with the exactness of their movements than they are with the activity. The manipulative area caters to this need of movement of the hand and fosters eye/hand coordination.
Although language is a specific part of the curriculum, the Montessori classroom is filled with language experiences beyond the curriculum. Conversation & reading are always encouraged in the classroom. Each classroom has a library area where the children are free to sit and look at a book either alone or with a friend. Through expressive and receptive language activities, visual and auditory exercises and an introduction to the symbols of the alphabet, children build a foundation of early literacy skills.
The Montessori environment introduces basic concepts of math through the use of concrete manipulative materials. Children are encouraged to compare, sort, classify, count, measure and identify patterns. In addition to utilizing the materials, math experiences are plentiful in the Montessori classroom. Children count snacks, use a calendar daily, measure their growth, etc. These experiences and activities give children the satisfaction of learning by discovery and an enthusiasm for the world of numbers.
Geography & Science – Primary level
These areas focus on what children are naturally curious about – the world around us! The geography and science areas answer the questions who, what, where, when, why and how. In a very simplistic and concrete way, the children learn about the way we live, how we live and the world around us. Children are encouraged to question, explore and discover through hands on experience.
Art helps to develop the sense of design and imagination and therefore self-expression. This area is designed to increase the child’s awareness of the different kinds of art. Art is painting, drawing, pasting, and sculpting. Art is also sewing and building, coloring and folding. It is expressing and observing. Art is getting something that is inside of you to the outside.
Dr. Montessori believed that the first step in music is to arouse the child’s love and appreciation. Therefore the child must be surrounded by good music in his/her environment. The child first develops rhythm. The body naturally moves to rhythm, fostering the development of balance. The child then hears the harmony and the melody. For this, the child begins with simple instruments that are appropriate to the child’s size and which the child uses freely.