What is Montessori?
Montessori (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) is a comprehensive educational approach from birth to adulthood based on the observation of children’s needs in a variety of cultures all around the world.
Beginning her work almost a century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori developed this educational approach based on her understanding of children’s natural learning tendencies as they unfold in “prepared environments” “for multi-age groups (0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and 12-14).
The Montessori environment contains specially designed, “manipulative materials for development” that invite children to engage in learning activities of their own individual choice. Under the guidance of a trained teacher, children in a Montessori classroom learn by making discoveries with the materials, cultivating concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning.
The Montessori Movement
“It is the child who takes the active part in the Montessori classroom, not the guide.”
The Montessori movement is not a narrow method of teaching but a broad philosophy of life that rests in faith in each child as a potential new beginning for humanity and the creator of the adult he will become. Every child possesses an inner force that drives him to grow and learn and that can be observed in his spontaneous activities. We respect his natural inquisitiveness, which makes learning an imperative, as much a basic need to the child as food, shelter, and love. We appreciate his relentless exploration through his senses and movements, which make his environment his natural school. It is our purpose to observe the child’s natural interest and activities and provide an environment in which he can develop and learn.
Dr. Maria Montessori believed that self-motivation is the only valid impulse for learning. Within the carefully structured order of the Montessori classroom, the child is free to choose his own projects throughout the day. Following his own inner direction, he discovers his own pattern of learning and finds satisfaction in work. It is the child who takes the active part in the Montessori classroom, not the guide. The child plays the active role in his self-development rather than being trained by an adult. The children are encouraged to work out their own social problems and reach their own moral conclusions. Responsibility toward the group and the other children individually is emphasized. Adult authority acts as a background for free development. When the child is encouraged to develop understanding, compassion, and respect, he is able to cultivate his own self-discipline.
Montessori education begins with the understanding that the role of the adult is to support and assist in the child’s own efforts and activities in the unfolding inborn developmental powers. The child, from the earliest moments of life, possesses great constructive energies that guide the formation of his mind and the coordination of his body through spontaneous activities and interactions with the environment. The Montessori approach was developed without preconceived ideas as to how best to aid the child in his journey to adulthood. Instead, key Montessori ideas emerged from Dr. Montessori’s direct and extensive observation of children in diverse cultures and in many countries:
- That there are four key developmental planes in the journey to adulthood: 0-6 years old, 6-12 years, 12-18 years and 18-24 years. Each of these planes has its own goals: in the first, the development of the self as an individual being; in the second, the development of the social being; in the third, the birth of the adult and finding one’s sense of self; in the fourth, consolidating the mature personality and becoming a specialized explorer. The complete development of the adult human being requires that the specific needs of each of these periods be satisfied.
- That within each of these planes the child or adolescent has specific ‘sensitivities’ or ‘windows of opportunity’ that urge a child to seek out and repeat activities to acquire a particular human trait, for example a sensitivity that drives the child to the acquisition of language in the first plane (0-6 years), or that drives the child to the development of a moral ‘compass’ in the second plane (6-12 years).
- That in addition to these age-specific sensitivities, human beings, from birth to death, have a number of behavioral tendencies that give each child the ability to adapt to his or her place and time. These human traits—for example, to explore, order, manipulate, imagine, repeat, work and communicate—have been crucial to human evolution and are active within the child.
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Observations of a Montessori Classroom
Below are some points you would notice about a Montessori Classroom:
- There is a three-year age span of children within the classroom. Older children model for and assist younger children, younger children observe, emulate, and turn to older ones, and the sense of community that develops helps build self-esteem.
- There are self-correcting materials within the environment. The materials are designed so that the children learn through their own errors to make the correct decision versus having the guide point it out to them.
- Children are quiet by choice and out of respect for others within the environment. The Montessori classroom allows children to return to the “inner peace” that is a natural part of their personalities.
- There is an emphasis on concrete learning and progresses to abstract thinking. Children need to experience concepts in concrete “hands on” ways so that they make their own leaps to abstraction.
- The classroom is a child-centered environment. All the materials are easily within the child’s reach, placed on shelves at their levels. The tables and chairs are small enough for the children to sit comfortably while the pictures and decorations are placed at the children’s eye level.
- The children work for the joy of working and the sense of discovery. They are “sponges” and delight in learning new tasks. Their interests lie in the process of the work itself rather than in the end product.
- The environment provides a natural sense of discipline. The expectations of the community are developed through lessons in “grace and courtesy” which elevate the relationships and behaviors of the children. Boundaries and limits are clearly and firmly but gently and cheerfully laid out.
- The environment is “prepared” for the children. Everything in the room has a specific place on the shelf. Children are orderly by nature and having the room set this way allows them to grow in a very positive way.
- The guide plays a less obtrusive role in the classroom. The children are not taught by the guide, but rather inspired and stimulated by her presence and her presentations and, then, motivated by their own innate need for self-development.
- The items found on the shelves in the classroom are “materials” rather than “toys.” The children “work with the materials” rather than “play with the toys.” Children gain the most benefit from the developmental environment, through independent activity and choice a sense of worth – the same sense of worth adults experience when they go to their jobs they love and do satisfying “work”.