What is the Montessori Philosophy?
The Montessori philosophy is based on children's natural developmental needs. Children need space and freedom to learn and grow. Montessori schools provide that space and freedom, but in a well-constructed environment that exposes children to different stimuli and materials that encourage them to develop academically, physically, psychologically and emotionally. Learning is based on the child's self-motivation to explore and grow, but it's guided, subtly, by teachers.
There are four important elements to Montessori education:
Most importantly, children are recognised as individuals. They learn differently to adults and they develop differently from all the children around them. This means that a generic approach just doesn't work. Children's brains are like sponges, absorbing everything in their environment and learning as they go. Their educational settings should be structured to maximise this process. Montessori classes are designed to facilitate the transition from unconscious to conscious learning, which is a very important step in early childhood development. Children love to work with purpose, as you'll know if you've ever watched a child absorbed in a practical activity. The pleasure (and the learning) is all in the doing, which is why the Montessori Method provides activities and materials that will encourage children to develop cognitively, physically and emotionally.
Where does the method come from?
From a brilliant woman who distinguished herself by becoming the first women to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. Dr Maria Montessori was a pioneer in the sorely under-researched field of education for mentally disabled children. She learnt to apply much of what she found to education systems for normally-abled children. Some of the first Montessori schools were opened in a reconstructed slum area in San Lorenzo, Italy. Her system gained an international following as word of her success spread and she was asked to lecture at international venues.
Does the Modern Montessori Method work for all children?
In a word: yes. There is no age group or social class that can't benefit from the Montessori system. It's equally effective for all children, no matter what their level of physical and mental development.
The results speak for themselves: children with a healthy level of self-confidence balanced by a good measure of self-discipline. They are independent and self-motivated and always excited to learn new things. The fact that they haven't been drilled in any prescribed learning methods gives them a unique approach to problem solving.
What sort of freedom are children allowed?
Children learn best in a free environment but free does not mean permissive. Children can roam about the class and play or work with whatever materials grab their fancy. They may talk to other children and they can talk to the teacher. They can't interfere in other children's work or distract them from their chosen activities. They can't indulge in unruly behaviour and they can't wantonly destroy equipment.
There is a lot of structure in a Montessori classroom! It's just a different type of structure than in the traditional classroom. In many traditional classrooms since all the children do pretty much the same thing at the same time, the "structure" is in keeping them focused and quiet. Children are respected as individuals and are given freedom in the environment. It does not mean that he can do whatever he likes, but rather that, within clearly defined boundaries, he has the freedom to choose what activity to work with (once it has been presented to the child), freedom to choose where to sit when working (at a table, on the floor, in large groups, on the child's own, etc.), freedom to move around the environment and freedom for the child to work on his own or with someone, as long as it is is meaningful and purposeful and that will encourage him to think independently and behave responsibly, whilst showing respect for others and the environment.
What exactly is the teacher's role?
Montessori teachers are, essentially, guides. They don't steer children in a particular direction or force them to work according to an agenda. They show the children what materials are available and how to use them and they give help whenever they are asked. Teachers are trained observers. They need to see when a child is struggling with some activity and gently guide them in the right direction. They also need to keep an eye on the different developmental levels in the class and ensure that children always have access to activities and materials that will keep them challenged and allow them to keep reaching new goals.
Can Montessori educated children cross over to traditional learning?
Yes they can. Remember that Montessori educated children have self-discipline, self-confidence and a great deal of respect and enthusiasm for learning. They are naturally flexible and adaptable and shouldn't have much trouble slotting into a traditional classroom. The no-talking rule may come as something of a shock, though.
Do you, as parents, have to do anything special at home?
It's not necessary for you to turn your lives upside down in an effort to accommodate Montessori theory and philosophy. However, it will help your child's development enormously if you practice some of the principles at home. For example, create a dedicated arts and crafts area where your child can work with paint, clay, cardboard, glue and glitter. Ensure that the surface is easily washable and encourage your child to clean up after himself - it's all about discipline and responsibility, remember. Try to avoid brain-numbing toys like video games and encourage your child to do fun, practical activities or read, rather than sit in front of the TV for hours at a time.
You will have to invest time in your children if you want to help them reach their full potential.
Is Montessori for every child?
Yes—there is no child who would not benefit from a Montessori education. Every child wants to learn and each is unique in areas of interest and rate of learning. Montessori addresses this uniqueness because it is an individual program tailored to the strengths and challenges of each student. One child may spend two days learning multiplication while another may require two weeks or even two months. A trained scientist, Maria Montessori spent a lot of time observing exactly how and why children learn. She understood that all children, whether they have strengths or challenges in particular areas of learning, need their own time to master it. They don't need to be constantly worried about being "ahead" or "behind" anyone else. Every Montessori school is the living legacy of this educational breakthrough. Montessori works for every child no matter who they are or where they come from.
Why does Montessori have mixed-age groups in each class?
Maria Montessori discovered that putting older and younger children together helps them learn from and teach each other. This is good for the older children because they can be useful and helpful to the younger ones, which not only reinforces what they have learned but enhances their self-esteem as well. The younger children in turn have role models to follow and are integrated into the class- room by these helpful older children. If you think about it, every normal community has a mixed grouping of ages.
What makes a Montessori Directress (teacher) different?
To start off with, the word "teacher" is not always used in a Montessori classroom. A teacher is someone who knows something and gives it to you. A Montessori teacher is often called a Directress or a Guide, because what they do is direct and guide the child toward what he needs to teach himself. The child does this by using the specially designed materials. The Montessori Directress has been trained to observe your child and to determine his or her level of development, and what guidance the child will need in order to progress to the next level.
In the simplest terms, a Montessori Director teaches individually. In a Montessori classroom your child is taught individually or in small groups. This allows the teacher to get immediate feedback and to be sensitive to how well the child is absorbing the les- son and what questions or needs the child has. Simply put, there is nothing that works so well in education as individual attention. This focus on your child's needs in heightened by the fact that each Montessori teacher has been trained in the science of observing children. They spend time every day observing the class: how it is functioning as a whole and how the children are progressing with their work. They have also been trained on how to teach using the Montessori materials, all of which have been scientifically designed to enhance the learning experience.
If my child has a Montessori education, can he go into another kind of education program that is not Montessori based?
Because Montessori does such an excellent job at creating a love for learning, as well as the ability to focus, concentrate, cooperate with others and work independently, Montessori children thrive in any school, work or social situation.
How does Montessori differ from other forms of education?
Montessori differs in 4 major ways:
Our environments are not separated into single age groups. We have what's called ‘Vertical age grouping'. This means that children are grouped together in 1 shared environment in 3 year age cycles. E.g. 0 – 3 years, 3 – 6 years, 6 – 9 years, etc. The children use ‘Didactic materials' developed by Dr Montessori. Many of these activities have a built in control of error where the child can see for themselves if they have made a mistake. Although some activities require assistance from a qualified Montessori Directress, these didactic materials ultimately enable the child to learn on their own. We work mainly individually with each child as opposed to in groups. By doing this we can meet each child at their individual level and this is why we can bring in the vertical age grouping. The children therefore also have the freedom within a very structured environment to choose work that has been presented to them before, thereby learning through repetition. The educator is referred to as a Directress , not a teacher as we direct the child towards work that will benefit them during a particular time in their development. We facilitate the learning process as the child teaches themselves
Based on helping the natural development of the child
Children learn at their own pace and follow their individual interest.
Children learn from using materials specifically prepared
The child is an active participant in learning
Understanding comes through the child's own experiences and using the materials.
Learning links physical exploration and cognition
Child can work where they are comfortable, move around, talk at will yet not disturb others
Teacher works in collaboration with the children
The child's individual development brings its own reward and motivation
Environment and method encourages internal self-discipline
Child works as long as they wish on a chosen project
Uninterrupted work cycle
Mixed age group
Working and learning is matched to the social development of the child
Shared focus on the acquisition of academic, social, practical and life skills.
Based on the transfer of a national curriculum
Children learn from a set curriculum according to time frames that is set for everyone.
Children are taught by a teacher
The child is a passive participant in learning
Learning is based on subjects and is limited to what is given
Children sit a desks and learn from a whiteboard
Child have their own chair and are encouraged to sit still and listen.
The class is teacher led
Motivation is achieved by a system of reward and punishment
Teacher acts as primary enforcer of external discipline
Child is generally given specific time limits for work
Block time, period lessons
Same age group
Working and learning without emphasis on the social development of the child
Main focus on academics.