Montessori education is based on the work of Italian physician, Dr. Maria Montessori, whose research in the first half of the twentieth century gave birth to an innovative educational system that has grown worldwide. Dr. Montessori developed a philosophy based on the natural development of children and their intrinsic desire to explore, discover and learn from the world around them. Her child-centered educational method was very different from the adult-centered approach to teaching that was dominant at the time and still in many schools today, but her teaching method produced amazing results.
The most effective way to educate the child, Montessori argued, is to meet the developmental and educational needs of the “whole child,” taking into consideration social and emotional needs as well as academic growth. The role of the teacher is to observe the children, support their efforts, and guide them in the exploration of new ideas and the practice of new skills. If we “follow the child,” she said, the child will teach us what he or she is ready to learn and we can provide materials and instruction to facilitate that learning and challenge them further. Allowing children to choose what they want to work on in a given time period increases concentration, which results in greater mastery of the content. It also makes learning fun, because each individual child may pursue his or her own interests while still achieving academic excellence.
Maria Montessori was a medical doctor, an astute observer of children, and a highly disciplined innovator whose educational system is complex in its theory, yet simple and elegant in practice.
Our teachers are trained to create a social learning environment that is peaceful, joyful, and purposeful. In training the mind, these are the conditions under which human confidence gains authentic courage and sustained, self-directed learning takes place. Children cannot learn in an environment that feels threatening or chaotic, or in which the work is uninteresting.
Children learn how to learn in this system. As Aristotle observed twenty-five centuries ago, “We learn by doing.” It is true of the mind as well as the hands. Montessori teachers work from a curriculum in which each step of a sequence is presented to the student in order. The teacher demonstrates the intended practice, then shifts control to the student and provides guidance until the student understands what is required. The child then takes it from there, and shapes his or her own grasp of the new skill, repeating the work over and over until it crystallizes in mastery. This migration of control from the teacher to the student occurs with each lesson, and serves to support a highly efficient and effective approach to learning.
The lessons in the Montessori system are brilliant in their design. Montessori analyzed complex subjects down to the level of individual concepts, arranged these concepts according to the psychological order of the learner, and created projects (known as “works”) in which students would then ground their concept mastery or skill mastery. The brilliance of this system cannot be easily understood without seeing samples of these curriculum materials, but they truly are the key to a system of learning that produces confident, capable, and highly motivated learners.
Montessori worked with the most advanced researchers of her time and understood the developmental patterns of children. She went well beyond standard models concerning the “stages” of cognitive development to an extremely detailed account of when particular skills and abilities became possible, and she matched the progression of her curriculum to those sequences.
By this approach, students are motivated by the intrinsic interest of the materials they work with. Students work hard, yet the learning is joyful, not painful. Students share in the decision making as they learn, and often believe that they are able to do as they wish, yet in fact they are being guided gently along the various curricular pathways in a manner that feels natural, because it has been calibrated to the natural sequence in which their own capacities are unfolding. The result is a system of learning that continues to elicit their very best energies with enthusiasm and a real sense of purpose. Montessori schools operate successfully in cultures all around the world, producing the same consistent patterns of success and independence in their learners.
Children should be respected and educated as individuals. Montessori educators believe that when children are allowed to explore what interests them, their concentration is greater and, as a result, their mastery of skills and concepts is reinforced. That’s why we offer individualized curriculum and encourage student-initiated learning. Individual attention is paid to each child’s unique skills, abilities, interests and needs.
Teaching the “whole child” is foundational in helping each child to reach full potential in all areas of life. His or her physical, emotional, social, spiritual and cognitive needs and interests are considered inseparable and equally important. Under the direction of a Montessori trained teacher, the curriculum provides the resources and atmosphere for exploration and discovery, allows students to experience the joy of learning, promotes the development of self-esteem, and fosters the respect for one’s self, for others and for the environment.
Individual children learn and practice their responsibilities as members of a diverse community where they live, play and work with others. We believe that learning respect and empathy for others is as important as learning academics such as reading and math. That’s why we focus on social and emotional growth as well as academic excellence.
Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are encouraged in their natural tendency to spontaneously explore and learn. The entire learning environment – room, materials, and social climate – must support the children as learners. The environment is calm but busy. The teacher provides the necessary resources and guidance for children to learn in a safe, positive climate. The teacher creates a true community and thus gains the children’s trust, which enables them to try new things and build self-confidence. Classroom learning materials are grouped by distinct subject areas, and typically arranged in order of their complexity. Children are free to move about the classroom selecting materials to work with, taking time out to prepare a snack, interacting with small groups, and asking teachers or peers for assistance when they feel they need it.
Dr. Montessori’s observations of the kinds of activities that children enjoy and go back to repeatedly led her to design a number of multisensory, sequential and self-correcting, concrete materials that facilitate the learning of skills and lead to learning abstract ideas. Montessori materials are designed to teach abstract concepts through hands-on, sequential activities which promote self-learning. For example, glass beads teach children the difference and “weight” of 10 versus 100 units, followed by more abstract and complex mathematical concepts. This progresses to the binomial cube, a cube composed of 8 wooden blocks which fit together in a binomial pattern, representing the cube of two numbers, (a + b). This is first used as a three-dimensional puzzle that teaches pattern recognition. Later, students use it to physically represent the algebraic equation (a+b)3.
We tend to think of a teacher as standing at the front of a room full of desks, teaching lessons to an entire class of students at once. Montessori teachers operate very differently. Montessori teachers function as facilitators of learning. They spend their time moving about the classroom observing the students at work, helping a child choose something to work on, presenting a lesson to one or two children at a time, answering questions, and posing provocative questions that promote learning. A Montessori teacher is a designer of the environment, resource person, guide, role model, demonstrator, observer and recorder of each child’s behavior and growth. Montessori students tend not to act out due to restlessness or boredom because they are actively engaged in activities they themselves have selected. The teacher controls the environment, not the children. Extensive training is specialized for the age group with which a teacher will work. A minimum of a full year following the baccalaureate degree is required for a full American Montessori Society credential, including a year of student teaching under supervision.
A typical Montessori classroom includes children of multiple age levels (within the same developmental plane), teachers who guide and facilitate rather than direct, a low student/teacher ratio (around 12/1 but no more than 15/1) and a wide variety of sensorial materials and activities which are structured sequentially to facilitate natural development and academic growth. Each 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 aligned with a creative and challenging curriculum. Children work at their own pace with materials they have chosen, either alone or with others. The teacher relies on his or her observations of the children to determine which new activities and materials may be introduced to an individual or to a small or large group. The aim is to encourage active, self-directed learning and to strike a balance of individual mastery.
Children remain in the same classroom for three years, moving from being the youngest to the oldest in their classroom community. This approach benefits students in many ways. Older students act as teachers, showing younger children how to do things, which reinforces their own learning. Younger students are often motivated to learn by seeing what others can accomplish, and from observing those who are just ahead of them in skills and age. This approach involves more conversation – language experiences – than in conventional education settings. Children can progress at their own pace without grade level stigma and can take on challenges they are ready for without having to wait until the next school year. The familiarity of a stable environment supports risk-taking, which is essential for learning to occur.