The Montessori Philosophy
The Montessori system of education, developed by Maria Montessori in the early 1900's, is both a philosophy of child growth and a rationale for guiding such growth. It is based on the child's developmental needs for freedom within limits, and a carefully prepared environment, which guarantees exposure to a wide range of materials and experiences through which a child can develop intellectually, as well as physically and socially.
Montessori education recognizes that the only valid impulse to learning is the self motivation of the child. The Montessori classroom is designed to capture the unique ability of children to develop their own capabilities. The adult prepares the environment, provides the activity, functions as the resource person or exemplar, offers the child stimulation and guidance; but it is the child who learns, who is motivated through the work itself to persist in his/her chosen task.
The Montessori environment invites the child to progress at his/her own pace. Montessori introduces the child to the love of learning at an early age with the hope of building the foundation for a lifetime of creative learning. Montessori is not only a contemporary and progressive method of education, but it becomes a way of life for all that come to know it.
What is Montessori Education?
- The aim of Montessori education is to foster competent, responsible, adaptive citizens who are lifelong learners and problem solvers.
- Learning occurs in an inquiring, cooperative, nurturing atmosphere. Students increase their own knowledge through self- and teacher-initiated experiences.
- Learning takes place through the senses. Students learn by manipulating materials and interacting with others. These meaningful experiences are precursors to the abstract understanding of ideas.
- The individual is considered as a whole. The physical, emotional, social, aesthetic, spiritual, and cognitive needs and interests are inseparable and equally important.
- Respect and caring attitudes for oneself, others, the environment, and all life are necessary.
The Montessori teacher is educated in these areas:
- Human growth and development.
- Observational skills to match students' developmental needs with materials and activities. This allows the teacher to guide students in creating their individual learning plan.
- An open-ended array of suggested learning materials and activities that empower teachers to design their own developmentally responsive, culturally relevant learning environment.
- Teaching strategies that support and facilitate the unique and total growth of each individual.
- Classroom leadership skills that foster a nurturing environment that is physically and psychologically supportive of learning.
A Montessori classroom must have these basic characteristics at all levels:
- Teachers educated in the Montessori philosophy and methodology appropriate to the age level they are teaching, who have the ability and dedication to put the key concepts into practice.
- A partnership with the family. The family is considered an integral part of the individual's total development.
- A multi-aged, multi-graded, heterogeneous group of students.
- A diverse set of Montessori materials, activities, and experiences, which are designed to foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence.
- A schedule that allows large blocks of uninterrupted time to problem solve, to see the interdisciplinary connections of knowledge, and to create new ideas.
- A classroom atmosphere that encourages social interaction for cooperative learning, peer teaching, and emotional development.
How did Montessori Begin?
Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of The Montessori Method of Education, based this new education on her scientific observations of young children's behavior. As the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome, Dr. Montessori became involved with education as a doctor treating children labeled as retarded. In 1906 she was invited to open a daycare center for the children of desperately poor families in the San Lorenzo slums of Rome. She called it "A Children's House" and developed an environment geared to the size, pace and interests of boys and girls between the ages of three and six.
Dr. Montessori's dynamic theories included such revolutionary premises as:
- Children are to be respected as different from adults and as individuals who are different from one another.
- Children create themselves through purposeful activity.
- The most important years for learning are from birth to age six.
What makes Montessori education unique?
- The "whole child" approach. The primary goal of a Montessori Program is to help each child reach full potential in all areas of life. Activities promote the development of social skills, emotional growth, and physical coordination as well as cognitive preparation. The holistic curriculum allows the child to experience the joy of learning and to develop self esteem and independence.
- The "Prepared environment". In order for self-directed learning to take place, the whole learning environment, material and social climate must be supportive of the learner. The teacher provides necessary resources, including opportunities for children to function in a safe and positive climate. The teacher thus gains the children's trust, which enables them to try new things and build self confidence.
- The Montessori materials. Dr. Montessori's observations of the kinds of "toys" which children enjoy and return to play with repeatedly led her to design a number of multi-sensory sequential and self-correcting materials which facilitate the learning of skills and concepts. Our teachers follow the "Montessori principles" as they develop new materials and activities for the classroom.
- The teacher. Originally called a "Directress," the Montessori teacher functions as a facilitator of learning. She is a role model, designer of the environment, resource person, demonstrator, record keeper and observer of each child's growth and development. She encourages, respects, and loves each child as a special, unique individual; she also provides support for parents and joins them in partnership to nurture the development of the whole child.
The Prepared Environment
In practice, the Montessori environment offers a variety of sequenced, manipulative educational materials. This environment is reality-oriented; yet this reality is "child-sized," where materials are developed and displayed on low open shelves so that they are readily available to the children. These materials are designed to encourage thought, exploration, experimentation, and creativity.
The environment is harmonious in color and design, and expresses an open airy feeling of spontaneous activity of children at work and play. Children choose what and with whom they will work, and they are responsible for returning material to the shelves for the next person to use. The teacher circulates among the children, individually helping those who need assistance, and providing the needed link for those who are ready to move into a more advanced or new concept.
Our curriculum includes the Montessori areas of practical life, sensorial, language, and math. The world of the child is further expanded through experiences in geography, cultural studies, science, art, music, foreign language, and large motor activities.
How does it work?
Each Montessori classroom operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules which differs from age to age, but is always based on core Montessori beliefs - respect for each other, all living creatures and the environment. Children are free to work at their own pace with materials they have chosen, either alone or with others. The Reggio Emilia approach developed after WWII holds similar values so their concepts may complement a Montessori classroom.
The teachers rely on observations of the children to determine which new activities and materials they may introduce to individual children or to a small or large group. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning and to strike a balance of individual mastery with small group collaboration within the whole group community.
The three-year-age span in each class provides a family-like grouping where learning can take place naturally. More experienced children share what they have learned while reinforcing their own learning. Because this peer group learning is intrinsic to Montessori, there is often more conversation-language experiences in the Montessori classroom than in conventional early education settings.