Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and educator, known worldwide for creating the teaching method that bears her name.
What is Montessori Education?
A prepared environment with scientifically tested teaching aids
Mixed age groups
Personal attention, individual needs – children learn at their own natural rhythm
Acquiring independence and autonomy
Nurturing one’s sense of responsibility
Developing harmonious social relationships
Common curriculum subjects – mathematics/geometry, language/grammar, science, history, music and art, but introduced in a different and effective way.
If you think it’s important for a child to…
be vibrantly inquisitive about new things
enjoy the process of learning
acquire fine motor skills
develop an analytical mind
work without disrupting others
work well with others
be able to focus his/her mind on the task at hand
respect his/her own mind and abilities
feel purposeful and valuable
derive satisfaction from achievements
become an independent, confident adult
Then Montessori education may be right for you.
The Prepared Environment:
Montessori education seeks to provide the child with an environment ideally suited to their stage of development, which allows them to respond to the inner call of specific ‘sensitivities’, and the freedom to act in accordance with the natural behavioural tendencies. The child needs a place designed to meet these sensitivities and tendencies. This place, or ‘prepared environment’ is different for each developmental plane, but guided by the same principles. The prepared environment and the role of the teacher in the classroom distinguish Montessori from other educational approaches. For example, independent activity constitutes about 80% of the work while teacher-directed activity accounts for the remaining 20%.
A mixed-age environment is an important feature of Montessori education.The young children are surrounded by role models a little more developed than themselves. Similarly, the older children finds themselves in a position of responsibility, and, by showing younger children what they know, affirms to them, more surely than any test, the extent of their learning.
Freedom with limits:
Just as important as the physical environment and its contents, is the functioning of the environment. The Montessori environment gives the children the tools they need, but they must also have the freedom to use them and to manifest their tendencies to repeat, to explore, or manipulate.
Each child is given the freedom of choice. The child’s interaction with the environment is most productive in terms of the individual’s development when it is self-chosen and founded on individual interest. From the moment the child enters the class in the morning they are free to choose their activities for themselves. One will choose to start the day with a drink and a chat before washing up some cups. Another may arrive and immediately start to trace some of the sandpaper letters with his finger, and then write on a chalkboard. They are also free to work with an activity for as long as they choose, and to repeat it as many times as they need.
By observing closely, teachers can modify lessons and materials to best suit the child’s interests and growth. They try to anticipate what the child will need next and make sure that this experience is available when the child is ready to explore the subject or skill. This is called “following the child”.
Montessori education also aids the development of the child’s will. Through constant decision making (choices) the child’s ability to listen to his interests and impulses is developed. But the environment also contains within it limits, both natural and social, that give the child constant practice in the inhibition of those impulses. In the prepared environment there is only one of each set of materials – one easel for painting, for example. If a child has an impulse to paint, and another child is painting, there is a natural limit to their impulse.
“When the child is given freedom to move about in a world of objects, he is naturally inclined to perform the tasks necessary for his development entirely on his own.”
Children from 3-6 years
Montessori Materials (teaching aids) and curriculum:
The first materials the child encounters in the 3-6 class are the ‘practical life’ activities. These are everyday activities, familiar to the child from their home, such as pouring, scrubbing a table, polishing or buttoning. Whilst helping the child’s independence by acquiring a particular skill, the main purpose of these activities is to help the child develop their ability to concentrate and to coordinate movements. Teachers model grace and courtesy (good manners), treating children as they wish themselves to be treated. They use calm voices when teaching and speak with respect in regard to the children’s feelings. They believe that the children are acutely observing them even when they aren’t aware of it, and they will mimic our behaviours and attitudes.
The other areas of the curriculum for the children of this age are the ‘sensorial’ materials, mathematics, language and culture. The sensorial materials respond to the way the child learns at this age – through the senses rather than the intellect. There are materials for the refinement of each sense, with each activity isolating one particular quality, for example colour, size, loudness, taste or weight.Other materials isolate different concepts: colour tablets for colour, geometry materials for form, and so on.
The ability to count or calculate, to write or read are by-products of the child’s time in this prepared environment, not the goal. Through working with the different sensorial materials the child has refined his discrimination of size to the point where he wants to know how much bigger one object is from another. The maths materials flow naturally from here. When a child reaches this point, he needs to be introduced to the concept of numbers to sustain their interest.
The same applies with language. The subtle preparation the child has been given in this environment – a rich diet of songs, stories, poems, or the control over the movement of the hand through polishing, allows 4 and 5 year olds to effortlessly start to write and read.
Montessori education has been using an effective system of synthetic phonics for 100 years. At the centre of this system are a set of ‘sandpaper letters’ individual boards with the primary symbol for each of the 26 letters as well as a number of the diagraphs (eg ‘sh’ or ‘oa’) sounds in the English language. 3 year-old children see and feel these symbols, and make the corresponding sound, absorbing the combination of sound and symbol through three different senses.
Finally, the cultural materials bring to the child his world and the animals, plants and people within it. Like everything offered to the child at this age, the materials are sensory-based and are introduced to the child in an orderly way; first the world, then the plants and animals in it; first animals, then mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish; first the concrete – a real plant, then the more abstract pictures or reading that may accompany it.
Children from 6-12 years
This age is known as the second plane of development. The children have a hungry mind for culture, for knowledge and understanding. These children are interested in the universe and they have the means for exploring it during this sensitive period of the imagination. Because of the capacity of the imagination, these children are able to manipulate ideas, and they can use these powers to understand more and more. The second plane children are no longer interested in just the names of things, they want to know the why, how, when, where etc. This is very important; the children want to think for themselves, therefore the universe; the environment must provide keys for this.
The plan or curriculum that Dr. Montessori had in mind for Primary children is called Cosmic Education. The children are guided through the “Cosmic” curriculum which integrates all subjects together in a meaningful way. Science, mathematics, history, language, geography, music, botany, geometry, biology and art are all connected within the Montessori approach. The main subjects are introduced by the “Great Fables”, a series of five great stories which, using charts, timelines, and experiments help to inspire a deeper understanding and interest in the world around them by utilising the children’s sensitive period for imagination. These great lessons are:
The story of the creation of the universe
The timeline of life – the creation of life on earth
The coming of human beings
The story of numbers
The story of writing
Montessori material (teaching aids):
Montessori environments contain an array of specially designed, hands-on materials which assist the children to clarify abstract ideas through all areas of the curriculum. “The material is a teacher that never tires, that offers and supplies prompt correction, that is subjective and explicit, that revises the work without trauma or tiring the child, but in fact encourages because it is in the service of learning and not that of judging. It is the material that permits abstract relationships to be transformed into direct perception. A material that provides constant research of similarities and differences, that permits classification, it permits use of patterns as a help for organising a reason of sequence. It is a material that is for working with, for development, it is not a teaching aide because it is made for the child so that the child can understand particular situations and procedures. So that they can reach solutions and build procedures by him or herself. It is a material that is polyvalent, because they can be used and taken up again at different levels.” Camilo Grazzini.
“Going Out” is a uniquely Montessori idea, particularly related to Primary (6-12) children because they need to explore a wider society beyond that of the family and school. The children go out to see how society functions, it is an extension of their classroom environment. When they leave the classroom they have a question in mind that they can’t find inside the environment, they need to go to the library, museum, a store, the local pharmacy, to interview someone etc. This is a way for them to be independent and to practice their grace and courtesy. They set up the appointments by themselves, they make the preparations, and they always have a purpose of the exploration.
A dual environment:
Maria Montessori’s approach has very strong links between the classroom and the outdoor environment, including a very comprehensive biology curriculum. “There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving. The wood reveals that it is not only the trees that exist, but a whole, interrelated collection of lives. And this earth, this climate, this cosmic power are necessary for the development of these lives. The myriads of lives around the trees, the majesty, the variety are things one must hunt for, and which no one can bring into the school.” Ecole Montessori du Mont-Blanc’s environment backs onto a small farm with chickens, horses and a goat. The children are encouraged to help out with the animals during feeding time, collecting eggs and milking the goat etc., in doing so they can better understand where their food comes from and how to care for animals. The children can then take milk from the goat to make into fresh cheese, and the eggs can be used for cooking lessons. The children will help with the creation of a vegetable garden, where they can learn more about botany as they observe the process from seed to plant, and when to plant and harvest different crops. The school outdoor environment also has many wild plants that they can observe, measure, taste and classify – depending on where their imagination and discovery process takes them.