Montessori is an approach to the education of children. It is a way of looking at and understanding, children. It is a view of how children develop and learn which has been translated into a systematic method of education based upon careful scientific study. The Montessori educational system is unique in that it has successfully undergone continued development for over ninety years and has been used effectively with mentally retarded, physically handicapped, normal and gifted children in different countries around the world. Perhaps the most significant reason for its success is that it is a comprehensive method of education resulting from an integration of research on development, learning, curriculum and teaching.
Montessori is an approach to education based upon the principle that schooling should work with the nature of the child instead of against it. Therefore, education should be based upon scientific study of the child and a resulting understanding of the processes of development and learning.
Dr. Maria Montessori felt that her greatest discovery was that children like to work as well as play. In fact, children have a natural drive to work in order to develop. The child’s greatest task is to eventually become an adult. As a result, children are not content unless they have an opportunity to develop and learn.
Since Montessori schools are based upon the principle that “…the child, not the teacher, is the construction of man , and so society…,” it is felt that the, “human teacher can only help the great work that is being done…” “Education is not what the teacher gives: education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences upon the environment”. Therefore, the teacher’s role is to provide the materials and the prepared environment which will aid development and to be ready to respond when help is needed.
Dr. Montessori felt that education should no longer consist only of imparting knowledge, but must instead take a new path seeking the release of human potentialities. However, it must be forgotten that, “if education is to be an aid to civilization, it cannot be carried out by emptying the schools of knowledge, of character, of discipline, of social harmony, and above all, of freedom.”
A Montessori program is different from other educational programs in a number of ways.
- Teaches to individuals instead of to groups. In many other classrooms, lessons are presented to the whole class and sometimes to small groups. In Montessori schools the general rule is reversed. Most of the time the teacher presents lessons to individuals. Other children can watch if they are interested. In this way, the teacher can address the specific needs of a child and can respond to the that individual child’s interest and level of understanding. The child does not have to sit through something that he or she is not ready for. This individual attention also helps the teacher be much more familiar with the child. Thus, the teacher understands the child more fully and better provides for that child’s unique cognitive needs.
- Children learn through practicing tasks rather than through listening and having to remember. In many non-Montessori classrooms children are expected to learn by listening to the teacher. Work is usually with paper and pencil. In a Montessori classroom, on the other hand, children learn by practicing with apparatus which embodies the concept to be mastered. For example, when learning about shapes such as triangles, squares, etc., instead of listening to a teacher lecture about the shapes and watching him/her draw them on a chalk board the children trace the real figures and make designs. They fit different shapes together to make patterns. They make fine discriminations by fitting shapes into the correct corresponding spaces.
- The Montessori curriculum is much broader than other programs. Montessori program teaches more than just the basics. First of all, it has exercises to develop the child’s basic capabilities – his/her ability to control movement (motor development) to use senses (perceptual development) to think (cognitive development), to intend (volitional development), to feel and have emotions (affective or emotional development). In this way, the program helps the child develop a strong foundation in language and math, and in-depth study of physical and cultural geography, zoology, botany, physical science, history and art. Children further learn practical skills for everyday life such as cooking, carpentry and sewing. But more than this, they learn how to be contributing members of a social community.
- With regard to discipline, in a Montessori program the emphasis is on self discipline developed through helping the child learn how to appropriately meet needs rather than disciplining through the use of rewards and punishments.
- In a Montessori classroom the organization of the room allows children easy access to a variety of learning experiences. The room is specifically organized to appear attractive and orderly. Materials are displayed on shelves.
- The materials in a Montessori classroom are carefully designed and thoroughly researched to fit the developmental needs and characteristics of young children.
- Montessori teachers are trained to teach respect and positive values thorough their modeling as well as through the way they teach.
- The Montessori method of helping a child is through a process of showing a child what to do in a positive manner. Montessori teachers attempt to avoid “put downs” or sarcastic comments and try not to embarrass the child.
- The Montessori program is systematic and carefully sequenced according to principles of development. Every activity is carefully thought out to build upon previous preparation and to lead intelligence on to a higher activity.
- The Montessori program is designed to develop independence and responsibility. The organization of the classroom, the method of teaching and the practical life lessons are oriented toward helping the child become a self-sufficient and disciplined individual.
- The routine of the Montessori program is based upon the principle of freedom of choice rather than on set times for prescribed activities. Since everything in the Montessori environment is something planned that is worthwhile and educational, the child can be free to choose.
- In Montessori classrooms children are viewed as positive beings whose primary aim is work of constructing an adult. Rewards and punishments can only get in the way. Development and learning by themselves are adequate motivators. Likewise, children do not need to be appealed to through fantasy, bright colors, or gimmicks, as these things come between the child and real learning. Therefore, joy is discovered and experienced in the real world through the study of nature, science, math, reading, history and geography rather than in a world of comics, cartoons and fantasy.
Experience and research both indicate that children attending Montessori schools tend to be competent, self-disciplined, socially well-adjusted and happy individuals.
- Competence: Children in Montessori schools are often several years above grade level in basic skills. Also, since Montessori education is comprehensive, children are often exceptionally knowledgeable in a number of other areas as well.
- Self-discipline: Montessori schools are well known for children’s development of self-discipline. Children choose to work long and hard. They treat materials and others with respect. They display patience and resistance to temptation and the ability to attend to concentration for long periods.
- Social Adjustment: Montessori school children usually strike a visitor as friendly, empathetic and cooperative. The classroom is a cheerful social community where help each other. It is not uncommon to see a child offer to help another child. Also, learning social grace, courtesy and respect for others are part of the Montessori curriculum.
- Happiness: Most parents of children in a Montessori school comment on how much their children love attending school.
Dr. Maria Montessori, renowned child educator, was originally a medical doctor who brought the scientific methods of observation, experimentation, and research to the study of children, their development and education. As a doctor, Montessori came to believe that many of the problems of the children she was working with were educational rather than medical. In examining education she felt that children were not achieving their potential because education was not based on science. Her first step then, was to attempt to abandon preconceived ideas about education and to begin the study of children, their development and the process of learning through scientific methods of observation and experimentation. In doing so, she made what she considered to be a number of startling discoveries. Through her research, she discovered that children possessed different and higher quantities than those we usually attribute to them. Among these qualities are:
- Amazing Mental Concentration: Previously it was believed that children had short attention spans. Dr. Montessori was amazed to observe the length of time that very young children would choose to attend to tasks which interested them.
- Love of Repetition: On their own, children would choose to practice things they were trying to master over and over again. For example, once a child decides to learn how to tie shoes, the child may tie and untie shoes many times, continuing the repetition until the task is mastered.
- Love of Order: Children like a sense of order. If materials are set out for children in a orderly fashion, a child ‘s cognitive development will also absorb the order they are visually experiencing.
- Freedom of Choice: Children like to choose things they do. If materials are set out for children so that they have easy access to them, children will choose, take and replace them without the need for adult intervention.
- Children Prefer to Play: One of the greatest surprises for Dr. Montessori was the discovery that children preferred work to play. Sometimes adults tend to think children only want to play and not to work. However, Dr. Montessori found that play was substitute for what children really wanted to do, but couldn’t. For example, children like to play “house.” They may pretend to cook, to bake pies, to clean house, etc. However, if given a choice, the children prefer to be in the real kitchen with mother and/or father learning how to prepare “real” food.
- No need for Rewards and Punishment: Montessori discovered that children are intrinsically motivated to work. No one wants to be a problem. So, they do not need external rewards and punishments. What they do need is help. The adult can help the child by showing the child how to do what he or she is trying to accomplish. Accomplishment, competence, and being a contributing member of a society is rewarding in themselves.
- The Children Refuse Sweets: Children often show an indifference to the allurements of sweets when placed in conflict with the interest of the mind.
- Lovers of Silence: Whereas it is easy to think of children as noisy, Montessori discovered that children enjoy finding out how quiet they can be. The children like to listen to silence and to soft sounds. It is like a game to see if they can move a chair without making a sound.
- Sense of Personal Dignity: Children have a deep sense of personal dignity just as adults do. They want to be capable and held in high regard. They want to be able to do things for themselves. They can get embarrassed and can feel ashamed. A child would rather tie their own shoes than have them tied for them.
- Desire to Read and Write: In the beginning, Dr. Montessori didn’t believe that young children of four and five years of age should be involved in reading and writing. However, the children showed such interest that she provided some beginning materials. She was astonished by how the children seemed to “burst spontaneously” into writing and then reading if provided with the right materials.
Children love a Montessori preschool. They like the opportunity to be with other children of their own age and they like having so many interesting things to do. The room is attractive, with many carefully designed materials and activities for the children to choose from. The children are free to engage themselves in activities that interest them. They can work by themselves, or with a friend, or a group of friends. They can spend as much time as needed in any activity. They have opportunities to do things they see their parents do at home. They can prepare food such as grating carrots, peeling potatoes, cutting bananas, cracking nuts, or squeezing oranges. They can do carpentry such as hammering, nailing, and sawing. They can learn to tie shoes, work a zipper, uses snaps and buttons. They can paint, draw, work with clay, learn to sew, makes masks or puppets. They can learn to count or make words. They can look at books about all the wondrous things in the world. And, they can run, climb, play games and have fun with their friends. They can sit on a knee and hug a teacher.
There are Montessori materials which are designed for use by children up to the age of 12. There are a few Montessori middle and high schools. However, Montessori specifically designed materials only through the elementary school years. This was because she felt specially designed materials were only needed for the younger children since the older children would have the competence to learn from commonly available.
In a Montessori program, children have the opportunity to learn the same subjects. They would learn in any other program. At the early childhood level children develop social, emotional, motor and perceptual skills and begin to learn how to read and do mathematic operations.
We teach these core subjects in our Montessori curriculum:
- Language Arts
- Practical Life
- Geography & Culture
As a supplement to our core academic subjects the children also study a variety of “enrichment” subjects:
- Mandarin Language
- Spanish Language
- Arts & Crafts
- Music & Movement
- Computer Class
- Famous Composers
- Famous Artists
Most visitors to a Montessori program are amazed at how peaceful, pleasant and well behaved the children are. Montessori programs are noted for the self-discipline of their children. The particularly interesting thing about this is that the method does not involve techniques of coercion, intimidation or manipulation. The children do not think of their teachers as being strict or mean. Techniques of force or power are not used. Basically, what happens is that the children find their needs are being met. They like the teacher and the classroom. They sense the teacher cares about them and is a source of help. The child simply needs to be shown in a positive way how to meet his/her needs. Through this process, non-acceptable behavior lessens and finally disappears. This makes the classroom a very pleasant place for both the children and the teacher. The keys to this process are :
a. Creating an environment prepared to meet the cognitive needs of the children
b. A teacher trained in positive, constructive methods of helping children
Children from a Montessori program are often several years ahead of grade level. They like school are usually interested in everything. Typically, they are friendly, generous, cooperative and respectful of both property and others.
Children from a Montessori program usually fit in well wherever they go. Because they are respectful, cooperative, self-disciplined and independent learners, they are well prepared to get along successfully in any program. Competence is a firm foundation for success.
The Montessori method of education is well known. Montessori schools are located throughout the world. Additionally, many new textbooks in the field of child development and education are referring to the important contributions of Dr. Montessori to the field of children’s education. Montessori programs are also recognized through various programs and societies. Most notable of these societies are the American Montessori Society and the American Montessori Internationale. It is preferable to be accredited through one of these societies, as it provides an assurance to parents that the Montessori curriculum is being adhered to in all its facets in a professional way, as Dr. Montessori intended. Bring accredited also guarantees that the proper materials are provided and the correct amount of teachers have completed their Montessori training program.
The educational advantages a child receives in life are very important. The child’s personality, outlook and intelligence are in the process of being formed. In order for the child to fully actualize his/her potential, it is critical that the child be provided the resources and assistance necessary for learning and development to occur. This help can only be provided if it is based upon an adequate understanding of the child and the processes of growth and development. This information and the necessary tools for helping development, are given to Montessori teachers in Montessori teacher training programs.
Montessori teachers are trained through demonstration and the provision of opportunity to practice. The Montessori curriculum is organized around specific teaching materials which are developmentally sequenced. Each curriculum area is taught to teacher trainees by careful demonstration of the presentation and use of each curriculum materials in sequence. Students then practice the techniques they have seen demonstrated until they have mastered the material well enough to use with the children. The students absorb an understanding of child development and education through observation and explanation of the practice they see demonstrated. Further in-depth study of the theory is provided through a tutorial program of guided readings, lessons, and assignments. In this way, teachers learn the use of specific materials and techniques for helping children learn and develop. At the same time they develop a theory of learning, development, curriculum, and teaching which supports and is consistent with, the practice they are learning.
Montessori teachers are specifically shown how to teach children to read, write and do math. In addition, they are taught how to help children become independent, responsible, self-disciplined and cooperative. The teachers are shown how to teach practical skills such as carpentry and sewing. And they are taught specifically how to teach children the various subjects areas: science such as botany, zoology and astronomy; the social sciences of history and geography; and such arts as music, dance and different forms of handwork. The teachers are also taught techniques and materials for helping development of such basic capacities as the control over movement and the development of the senses of sight, touch, taste and smell.
The Montessori method of education is based upon careful research which is passed on to teachers through training. It is dynamic system of education in which each generation of teachers has the opportunity to pass on the knowledge gained through training and experience to future generations. It is a system of education where the best is kept and improvements are added and passed on. It has been used in different cultures and countries around the world. But beyond this, the Montessori method of education is more than just a set of nicely designed materials and it is more than a few useful techniques. It is instead a comprehensive approach to working with children based upon research and careful training.