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What is Montessori?

What is Montessori?

I hear you all saying it, agreeing, thinking it is an expensive wooden toy, maybe even pretending you know what it is to others who ask to make yourself sound like a up with the trends parent.

Well we have got this information together just for you!

The popularity of Montessori Method is increasing however it is just one of many educational methods out there, it doesn't meant it should be the only one we use.

The Montessori Method

The Montessori educational system is named after its founder, Maria Montessori. Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) was the first female Doctor to graduate from the University of Rome. She first became world renowned for her work in children’s education after developing a set of educational principles that followed the natural development of the child. She was considered a leader in the field of early childhood education and mentored various other experts in child psychology and education including Anna Freud, Jean Paget, and Erik Erikson.

From her earliest experiences of working with children, Montessori came to develop theories about the development of the child, and how they learned. She then applied these theories in an educational setting and observed how children reacted when provided with different stimulus.

Especially relevant to Montessori’s observations, was how avidly children absorbed information from their environment. She discovered that given developmentally appropriate materials, and the freedom to follow their interests, that children would teach themselves.

Crucial to Montessori’s ideas, was a child-centred approach to education that was hands on, experience based, and followed the needs of the child.

Over more than 50 years, Montessori refined her observations and theories to form the principles and practices of Montessori education.

What Makes an Activity Montessori?

What is it that makes an activity ‘Montessori’? The primary goal of the Montessori philosophy is: “Help me to it myself.” Therefore, Montessori activities promote self-sufficiency, independence, critical thinking, and fine motor development. Most importantly, Montessori activities are tailored to children’s interests and developmental needs.

1. Follow the Child

Montessori activities are self-motivated. Each child is free to follow their interests, choose their own work, and progress at their own pace. As Doctor Maria Montessori stated: “I have studied the child. I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it and that is what is called the Montessori method.”

2. Control of Error

Montessori materials are designed with a control of error which makes them auto instructional. This means that the child can discover and correct their own errors without adult intervention. The Montessori materials encourage independence, freedom of choice, and confidence. Children achieve the outcome of the materials through repetition and practice.

3. Sensory Exploration

Maria Montessori discovered that children learn best when their senses are engaged in a learning activity. The child, to Montessori, is a “sensorial explorer”.

4. Learn By Doing

Children learn by doing. Montessori education introduces complex and abstract concepts through hands-on activities that involve sensory based learning materials.

5. Isolated Skills & Concepts

Montessori activities focus on developing one skill or concept by breaking it down into simple steps. Each step must be completed before the outcome of the activity can be achieved.

6. Independence

The Montessori classroom is a prepared environment that invites interest and activity. Children are encouraged to explore at will, experience their own abilities, and learn to do things for themselves.

7. Concentration

The Montessori work cycle provides children with an uninterrupted opportunity to work with the Montessori materials, repeat activities at will, and develop deep concentration.

8. Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation in a Montessori classroom is not focused on punishments or rewards. Children engage in learning activities because they satisfy their innate desire to understand their world.

The 9 Principles of Montessori Education

Montessori discovered that children avidly absorb information from their surroundings, and that if these surroundings provide opportunities for learning, that children would readily teach themselves. Over more than 50 years, Montessori perfected the teaching principles, key learnings, and educational materials that provided children with the optimal learning environment.

1. Respect for the child

The unique developmental needs and interests of each child are respected. Children are not compared based on merit; they are valued for their individuality. Montessori education embraces multiple styles and pathways to learning and understands that each child’s early learning journey is different.

2. Sensitive Periods

Children pass through specific stages in their development when they are most able to learn specific skills. In Montessori education, these are called ‘sensitive periods'. The Montessori learning environment supports these periods by proving children with hands-on learning experiences that encourage repetition and problem solving to maximise learning during these windows of opportunity.

3. The Absorbent Mind

The first six years of life are crucial in a child’s development as they establish an understanding of themselves and their world. The Montessori environment supports children in this task by providing them with learning experiences that promote their sense of belonging, confidence, independence and agency.

4. Teaching Roles

Children are the centre of the Montessori classroom. The role of the teacher is to observe and guide, being mindful of children’s changing interests, developmental needs, and emotions. Teachers plan daily lessons for each child.

5. Montessori Materials

Montessori Materials are sensory-based learning tools that are designed to isolate one skill or concept. The materials encourage hands-on learning, independent problem solving, and analytical thinking. Especially unique, is that each Montessori material is designed with a visual control of error.

6. Prepared Environment

The Montessori classroom is a prepared environment designed to optimise learning. Characteristics include low open shelves, left to right display of Montessori materials in progression order, defined curriculum areas, child-sized furniture, freedom of movement, and freedom of choice.

7. Three Hour Work Cycle

Students participate in a three-hour work cycle every day. This period of individual learning provides children with the opportunity to choose their work and progress at their own pace.

8. Five Curriculum Areas

The Montessori Curriculum is divided into five key areas of learning: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language and Culture. Each curriculum area has a dedicated space in the prepared environment.

9. Normalisation

Normalisation describes the process where young children come to focus and concentrate on a task for a sustained period of time. This period of development is characterised by: love of work, concentration, self-discipline, sociability.

Benefits of a Montessori education

While the Montessori curriculum originated in the late 19th century, many consider it a modern approach to education. Each child is given an individualised plan for their education, so they are not rushed to learn something they are not ready to learn, nor do they have to wait for their peers to catch up before they can move forward. Since children are given choices in their education, they learn to pursue their own interests. The children learn to learn for learning’s sake, to find their own order, and respect their surroundings.

Because it focuses on children learning at their own pace, many see Montessori education not only for children in the middle of the learning curve, but also for those who are either gifted or have developmental delays. Students also retain the same teacher for three years, which allows for teachers to know the students well and address any concerns that may arise.

Concerns about the Montessori curriculum

While Montessori education is effective in many ways for many children, the method has had its share of criticism. Formal testing does not exist in the early stages, and many worry that the lack of structure will put a child at a disadvantage. Another concern is with the cost of Montessori education. Most Montessori schools are private, and often when parents do enrol their children during their early years they are not able to keep up with the program.

Some children may have difficulty making the transition between Montessori school and a traditional classroom. The culture is different in the regular classroom, and there is less freedom to move around. Children are expected to listen to the teacher above all others, and at times the inquisitive nature that is encouraged in the Montessori system can be disruptive or challenging to some traditional teachers. The pacing can also be an initial problem because a child might be way behind in one area, and way ahead in another.


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