Young children possess absorbent minds and unmatched sensitivities, enabling them to learn more easily and efficiently than at any other time of life. A wide array of materials invite the children to exercise their senses, develop large and small motor skills, and proactive daily living activities. These activities provide the building blocks in which children begin to explore math and written language, geography and science, music, and the creative arts.
The children in a Montessori classroom are free to choose work which stimulates and satisfies their own curiosity. Most of the materials are concrete, multi-sensory, and self-correcting, so that minimum direction is needed. Teachers in the classrooms act as guides and observers, gently directing the children towards individual discoveries and connections. A Montessori classroom encourages independence, responsible freedom, self-discipline, and joyful learning. Social skills and a vibrant sense of community among the children develop naturally as they work and play together, with ground rules that ensure respect for self and others.
The Montessori method of education is a model which serves the needs of each individual child in a natural, mixed-age group which is very much like the society they will live in as adults. It is a philosophy that respects the unique individuality of each child. Dr. Montessori believed in the worthiness, value and importance of children. The Montessori approach to education stresses individually paced learning, freedom of choice and movement, and the importance of self-discovery. The Montessori Method is an education approach that prepares children for life.
A Montessori teacher’s role is to prepare the environment according to each child’s needs. In order to accomplish this quality time is spent during the class period observing each student in their interactions, what activities they are drawn too, discovering their strong areas and areas they may need work on. In addition, teachers are working one on one with children and maintaining their ability to work without interruption. Dr. Montessori believed that every child has a right to work without interruption for as long a period as they choose and to be able to repeat an activity if that is their choice. She believed that by placing children in a stimulating, specially prepared environment their natural curiosity would help them become self-motivated learners. And by doing so they would develop a love of learning that is invaluable.
Who is Maria Montessori?
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was the first woman in Italy to qualify as a physician. She developed an interest in the diseases of children and the needs of those said to be ‘uneducable’.
In the case of the latter she argued for the development of training for teachers along Froebelian lines (she also drew on Rousseau and Pestalozzi) and developed the principle that was also to inform her general educational programme: first the education of the senses, then the education of the intellect.
Maria Montessori developed a teaching programme that enabled ‘defective’ children to read and write. She sought to teach skills not by having children repeatedly try it, but by developing exercises that prepare them. These exercises would then be repeated: Looking becomes reading; touching becomes writing. (The Montessori Method)
The success of her method then caused her to ask questions of ‘normal’ education and the ways in which failed children. Maria Montessori had the chance to test her programme and ideas with the establishment of the first Casa de Bambini (children’s house or household) in Rome in 1907. (This house had been built as part of a slum redevelopment). This house and those that followed were designed to provide a good environment for children to live and learn. An emphasis was placed on self-determination and self-realization. This entailed developing a concern for others and discipline and to do this children engaged in exercises de la vie pratique (exercise in daily living). These and other exercises were to function like a ladder-allowing the child to pick-up the challenge and to judge their progress. ‘The essential thing is for the task to arouse such and interest that it engages the child’s whole personality’ (Maria Montessori-The Absorbent Mind: 206).
This connected with a further element in the Montessori programme-decentering the teacher. The teacher was the ‘keeper’ of the environment. While children got on with their activities the task was to observe and to intervene from the periphery. (Here there are a number of parallels with Dewey).
The focus on self-realization through independent activity, the concern with attitude, and the focus on the educator as the keeper of the environment (and making use of their scientific powers of observation and reflection)-all have some echo in the work of informal educators. However, it is Maria Montessori’s notion of the Children’s House as a stimulating environment in which participants can learn to take responsibility that has a particular resonance.
Further reading and references
Association Montessori International (AMI) – Montessori Philosophy
American Montessori Society (AMS) – About Montessori education
Montessori, M. (1949) The Absorbent Mind, New York: Dell (1967 edition)
– Dr. Maria Montessori